Harris: Can Tigers turn the corner? Hard to say

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND --  LSU's Andre Stringer prepares to leap for the goal around Auburn's defense Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- LSU's Andre Stringer prepares to leap for the goal around Auburn's defense Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Forgive the LSU men’s basketball team for what seemed like apathy.

After an 87-80 bounce-back victory over Auburn on Saturday, none of the young men sitting on stools and circled by reporters appeared anxious about the Tigers’ fate moving forward.

Perhaps it’s ignorance about how white-knuckled basketball in February — and the stakes attached — can truly be. Or maybe it’s bliss.

We’re about to find out in the final month of the Southeastern Conference slate.

Break down the current roster, and my point becomes clear: Only three players — Andre Stringer, Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant III — have experienced postseason basketball. And that was a 96-76 beating at Oregon in the opening round of the 2012 NIT.

Think about it, though.

How can you talk about handling the rigors of making a push for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament when nobody donning a jersey has endured that strain? You don’t know what you don’t know.

And that applies to us who report on the Tigers. At best, LSU is going to rely on feel alone while trying to position itself for a tournament bid.

Contrast what happened at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with what happened in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday night.

Missouri, once considered a safe pick for an NCAA berth, lost to Ole Miss, and the tension was palpable. Players talked openly about fighting for their tournament lives. Anxiety was laid bare for all to see.

In Baton Rouge, though, LSU was openly miffed about a bad road loss to Georgia on Thursday, one that all but negated their quality win over then-No. 11 Kentucky the week before and left them sitting in seventh place in the conference.

Everyone stuck to a bland script Friday and after Saturday afternoon’s win: The Tigers are simply taking it one game at a time.

A trip to Texas A&M looms Wednesday, followed by a journey to Arkansas on Saturday. Victories in those games won’t help LSU’s chances of sneaking into the 68-team field, but a couple of losses could all but scrap those plans, too.

Part of the inherent drama of college basketball during this time of the season is the psychology of those involved in the scramble to be slotted in the bracket. Watching a team scrap and claw to change its fortunes injects more urgency into the late grind of conference play, and scouring for hints as to whether a team is up to the challenge or will crumple under the pressure is fascinating.

But the personality of LSU’s roster — quiet and even-keeled — largely leaves everyone in the dark. And that makes it hard to forecast whether they can string together road wins this week, maybe swipe an upset at Kentucky or Florida after that and whether they can sidestep a bad loss that would doom their bubble status.

On Saturday, LSU simply did something it has been adept at all season: It bounced back after an ugly showing. Unfortunately, that skill isn’t one you want to keep turning to. No, LSU needs to find some elusive consistency down the stretch.

In the grand scheme, divining deeper meaning from a victory against Auburn is futile. We know LSU has struggled on the road and that, in SEC play, the Tigers haven’t won more than two games in a row.

That has to change going forward.

Unfortunately, hints about the Tigers’ ability to do that are hard to find.