One win doesn’t alter a season entirely, but it can change the trajectory.
This isn’t a revolutionary line of thought, but the notion looms over LSU’s rematch with Georgia today.
A win could put LSU in a tie for fourth place, likely earning the Tigers a No. 6 seed based on tiebreakers for the SEC tournament next week. While the rest of the seeding orbit would still need to align, the Tigers would already come ahead by avoiding Florida’s side of the bracket. If you’re a program in LSU’s situation, any breaks at this time of year are gifts openly received.
From that vantage point, LSU could carve out a path toward the weekend in Atlanta. The No. 3 seed will likely come from the trio of Georgia, Tennessee or Arkansas — all matchups where LSU could conceivably swipe an upset. Surviving the quarterfinals might net a third tilt against Kentucky, a No. 2 seed but also a group the Tigers came within 3.9 seconds of sweeping this season.
Whatever happens, getting to Saturday would be a boon for the Tigers, but we only know that because Johnny Jones affirmed a semi-final run is “pretty good.”
And seeding is certainly part of the equation.
“You want to win as many games as you can and see where you’re positioned,” Jones said. “Because if you’re winning games, that means you’re playing well, and you put yourself in position on a neutral floor (where) anything can happen.”
A victory over the Bulldogs would likely boost the Tigers to No. 59 in the RPI. Factor in a run to the semifinals, and LSU could finish 21-12 and hover around an RPI of No. 50, better known as bubble territory for the NCAA tournament. Snagging an at-large bid is likely not an option, though.
“They will have to make some noise in the SEC tournament to have a shot,” CBS Sports analyst Jerry Palm wrote this week.
Jones would certainly like to force the 10-member selection committee something to stew over in their boardroom at an Indianapolis hotel.
“We have to really I think make it to the SEC tournament and make a great showing,” he said. “I think you have to get in there and play well. You have to leave it up to a committee to decide that.”
Still, a win today might pivot LSU into the right slot in the bracket to cause a ruckus. More likely, it helps shore up the Tigers’ standing when it comes to the NIT. Over the past decade, the SEC has averaged around three teams in the 32-team field. If the conference can get four teams into the NCAA field, it would likely leave Georgia, LSU and either Tennessee or Missouri as the likely contenders for the other postseason tournament. If it’s a run off between UGA and the Tigers, any advantage would help.
What does a loss mean?
There’s a slew of permutations, and it’s unlikely LSU would fall below the No. 8 seed and noon tipoff next week at the Georgia Dome. Forget playing Florida in the second round, though. A first round loss to either Texas A&M or Ole Miss — both of whom enter today at 8-9 in the standings — might imperil LSU’s shot to reach the NIT.
Well, LSU would be an 18-13 under that scenario, with its RPI tumbling to roughly No. 90. Considering the NIT field is set largely based off that number and the number of regular season champions that didn’t win their conference titles getting automatic bids, a squad that some saw as a potential NCAA tournament team might not make the postseason at all.
Perhaps it’s not equal to the bubble drama unfolding in Knoxville, where Missouri and Tennessee are staging an early play-in game for an at-large NCAA tournament bid. But there are still clear stakes when LSU and Georgia take the floor.
“We feel if we go in (to the SEC Tournament) on a two-game win streak, that would be really good for us, and we’d be excited about that,” Jones said. “We feel like wherever we’re positioned at that time would be good for us.”
- When: 4 p.m. today.
- Where: Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
- Records: LSU 18-11, 9-8 SEC; Georgia 17-12, 11-6.
- TV: FSN (Dave Neal, Larry Conley).
- Series: LSU leads 62-43.
- Last Meeting: Georgia won 91-78 on Feb. 6, 2014, at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
NOTE: The NCAA updates its statistical page only once a week, so I’ve decided to forgo using the rankings given that it doesn’t provide a real-time idea of where LSU stands. KenPom.com has player breakdowns and usage stats, so I’ll utilize those metrics in the Players to Watch section. If you have questions about the statistical categories, head here.
- Points Per Game: 76.1
- FG %: 44.6
- 3FG%: 33.9
- FT%: 68.0
- Rebounds Per Game: 40.3
- Assists Per Game: 14.3
- Turnovers Per Game: 14.0
- Adjusted Efficiency: 109.8 (No. 82)
- Adjusted Tempo: 70.9 (No. 21)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 16.8 (No. 61)
- Effective FG%: 49.9 (No. 152)
- Turnover %: 19.5 (No. 257)
- Off. Reb %: 36.0 (No. 39)
- FTA/FGA: 34.6 (No. 310)
- Points Allowed Per Game: 71.4
- FG% D: 40.7
- 3FG% D: 35.4
- FT%: 71.7
- Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 36.2
- Rebound Margin: +4.1
- Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.0
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 13.1
- Adjusted Efficiency: 98.7 (No. 64)
- Effective FG% D: 45.8 (No. 44)
- Turnover %: 18.3 (No. 183)
- Off. Reb. %: 31.2 (No. 158)
- FTA/FGA: 38.6 (No. 128)
- Points Per Game: 69.2
- FG %: 44.0
- 3FG%: 34.6
- FT%: 67.3
- Rebounds Per Game: 37.6
- Assists Per Game: 10.5
- Turnovers Per Game: 12.8
- Adjusted Efficiency: 107.3 (No. 120)
- Adjusted Tempo: 64.4 (No. 280)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 19.4 (No. 306)
- Effective FG%: 48.7 (No. 209)
- Turnover %: 19.5 (No. 255)
- Off. Reb %: 35.4 (No. 49)
- FTA/FGA: 53.1 (No. 10)
- Points Allowed Per Game: 66.6
- FG% D: 39.6
- 3FG% D: 32.1
- FT%: 72.0
- Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 32.7
- Rebound Margin: +4.9
- Assists Allowed Per Game: 9.8
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 10.3
- Adjusted Efficiency: 98.8 (No. 66)
- Effective FG% D: 45.2 (No. 29)
- Turnover %: 15.7 (No. 319)
- Off. Reb. %: 29.7 (No. 95)
- FTA/FGA: 43.6 (No. 248)
- Mann down: I wrote about this already today, but the Tigers need in to find a way to keep Georgia out of the lane. Mann shoots nearly 43.7 percent of his shots at the rim, and converts 57.9 percent of them. But he also gets to the line in bulk. He’s shot 232 free throws, which is roughly double the amount of the next highest total on the Bulldogs roster. He went just 3 of 8 from the floor in the first meeting, but knocked down 9 of 13 attempts from the charity stripe. He put Johnny O’Bryant III and Jordan Mickey in a bid trying to rotate at the rim after he slashed into creases. But he also dished out four assists, which hints at why he’s tied for fifth in the conference at 3.5 per game. Almost half of those are kickouts to the perimeter for 3-pointers, and guard Kenny Gaines (35.9 percent) and Nemanja Djurisic (47.8 percent) are capable jump shooters. But halting Mann requires bottling him up on the wing, and LSU’s guards again will have to find a way to keep him lashed down.
- One-and-done: Lost in the woeful effort defensively was LSU getting walloped on the backboards. Georgia entered that first matchup with a minus-8.1 rebounding margin. Yet they mustered a 37-30 edge against the Tigers front court that night. Much of that had to do with foul trouble among LSU’s big men (taking us back to the first point about keeping Mann out of the lane), but over the past eight games that Bulldogs have become a strong rebounding group. They have a plus-4 rebound margin since their first victory LSU. And it’s traveled, too. Georgia has a plus-5 rebound margin in their last four SEC road tilts. LSU has proven to be a better defensive team at home than on the road, and keeping the Bulldogs limited to one shot per possession is vital. It’s not the first thing fans will want to watch, but monitor how well O’Bryant and Mickey can keep Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams off the boards, a tandem that’s posting 11.8 rebounds per game over the lat half of the SEC slate. Both have been solid on the offensive backboards, sporting rebounding percentages of 10.7 (Thornton) and 10. 2 (Williams) this season.
- Bring the blitz: In its past two home games, LSU has landed a right hook early. Against MississippiState, it was a 24-4 opening run. Trailing Texas A&M by eight, the Tigers tore off a 21-0 run to take a 28-15 lead. Since a loss to Tennessee, one where they never really contended in an 18-point setback, the Tigers have won seven in a row at the PMAC, countering the road woes they finally sloughed off their weary shoulders with a victory at Vanderbilt on Thursday. It will be senior day in Baton Rouge. O’Bryant said the Tigers are eager to see the Bulldogs again, hinting there’s a notion of vengeance taking root. Does that translate into a fast start? Will ending their seven-game road losing streak inject the kind of confidence veterans said might be the final ingredient needed for LSU to reel off a run? We’ll see.
In this section, we pick out a player for each side that could be pivotal or interesting to watch. It’s not always a starter or a star, either.
- F Johnny O’Bryant III, Jr., 6-9, 256: The big man’s struggles at Georgia were arguably one of the worst outings of his career. It’s also a blip on the radar. O’Bryant’s averaged 17.2 points and 9.2 rebounds over the past eight games, a stretch where he’s also had three double-doubles. Andre Stringer offset his roommate’s absent production with 19 points off the bench, but imagine how different the outcome might have been with O’Bryant on the floor an additional 15 minutes. Clearly, having him in the fold, and protecting him from foul trouble, will be something LSU needs if it’s going to even the score against UGA.
- F Nemanja Djurisic , Jr., 6-8, 230: The sophomore seems due. He went off for 17 points against LSU in Athens, and has been quiet ever since. Silent in that he’s averaged just 5.2 points in between the two meetings with the Tigers. That’s been offset recently with the increased production of Thornton, who’s posting 13.3 points per game the past two weeks. Still, Djurisic is a matchup issue because he’s more of a spot-up shooter as a stretch four. His 67 3-point attempts are second on the roster, and he’s shooting 47.8 percent from distance. He can platoon with fellow forward Brandon Morris but draw a post defender out slightly to space the floor for driving lanes, too. On the plays where Mann slashes, he can spot up and make opponents pay a price for paying too much attention to Gaines. LSU is still the worst team in the SEC at defending the 3-point line (38.6 percent allowed) during conference action. But inside the PMAC, they’ve yielded just 27.0 percent shooting from behind the arc in their past four games. Djurisic’s stroke might be a way to end that success.
KenPom Prediction: LSU 73, Georgia 68 (71-percent confidence).