Two years ago, Johnny O’Bryant III boarded a charter flight bound for the West Coast and a first-round NIT matchup with Oregon.
“It was a long flight,” O’Bryant said Monday. “A long ride.”
The return leg was a somber one after a 96-76 drubbing inside glitzy Matthew Knight Arena.
Now the circumstances are eerily similar.
The Tigers slid into the field as a No. 5 seed and were handed a 3,700-mile trip to fourth-seeded San Francisco for a 9 p.m. tipoff Wednesday. And with the nearly transcontinental itinerary comes the question about how LSU (19-13) handles the turnaround to face the Dons (21-11) at War Memorial Gymnasium.
“That’s part of basketball,” guard Anthony Hickey said.
By now, the Tigers are a team accustomed to living out of a suitcase this time of season.
Since the calendar rolled over to March, the Tigers have spent as many days away from Red Stick as they have inside the city limits, with nine days of travel for road trips to Florida, Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“I’m kind of used to it,” O’Bryant said. “Around this time (of the season), that’s just how it is. You’re on flights. You practice in this gym or that gym. You stay in different hotels.”
And it’s a likely reality for the next week, too.
If the Tigers top the Dons on Wednesday, it hardly matters if No. 8 seed UC-Irvine springs an upset of top-seeded SMU.
The women’s program is hosting first- and second-round games of the NCAA tournament, meaning the Pete Maravich Assembly Center is off limits for a second-round NIT game.
So a win means either another long flight back to California or a shorter hop to Dallas on Sunday or Monday.
“When you sign up, this is what you’re going to get: back to back to back,” Hickey said. “You’ve got to love it. It’s something you’ve got to love.”
After all, the Tigers spent last season sitting at home. Meanwhile, sliding into the field when there was a limited number of available at-large berths — just 19 in all — can change perspective.
“It’s a blessing to keep playing,” O’Bryant said. “We could have a second-round matchup against someone like SMU, who probably should have been in the NCAA tournament.”
The scouting report on the Dons, who finished third in the West Coast Conference, will be bare bones.
It qualifies as a breakthrough or sorts for coach Rex Walters in his sixth season on the job. The Dons won six in a row before a 79-77 overtime loss to BYU in the quarterfinals of the WCC tournament.
There has been ample turnover, according to a report by the Oakland Tribune, which indicated that more than 20 players have left the program, including 11 in the past two years and six on one day. In addition, six assistants have exited Walters’ staff.
But San Francisco also has nice assets in senior forward Cole Dickerson, who averages 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds and can stretch the floor by hitting 35.6 percent (42-of-118) of his 3-pointers.
On Sunday night, Jones and his staff cranked out a scouting report and snipped up video clips for players to digest on iPads. By now, questions about adapting on the fly are routine.
“Our video coordinator and coaches have all the technology,” O’Bryant said. “We’ve got our scout.”
Still, the Tigers can’t speak expansively on the foe doled out to them.
“Not too much,” freshman Jordan Mickey said when asked how much the Tigers really know about the Dons’ tendencies. “We’ll know more after today.”
“They like to run, and they can shoot 3s,” the Tigers big man said.
Fortunately, the specifics are easier to lay out when it comes to adjusting to jumping two times zones.
“Just try to get as much sleep as you can on the plane,” O’Bryant said. “Once you get off, just be ready to play.”