Metric Monday: Tigers near bottom of SEC pileup

After tearing through the final pages of a tattered steno notepad and wearing out a Bic pen, I made sense of the pileup for fourth place in the SEC standings.

LSU (16-10), which is locked in with seven other squads at 7-7 in league play, would sit as the No. 9 seed if the SEC tournament opened up today in Atlanta.

Under the conference’s protocol, a tie involving three or more teams is decided by the parties’ head-to-head records against one another. No, it didn’t take a supercomputer to sort this out.

Instead, it was about 15 minutes, but here’s how the seeding picture shakes out:

  1. Florida (14-0)
  2. Kentucky (10-4)
  3. Georgia (9-5)
  4. Ole Miss (7-7 and 3-1 vs. teams tied)
  5. Texas A&M (7-7 and 4-2)
  6. Missouri (7-7 and 4-3)
  7. Vanderbilt (7-7 and 4-4)
  8. Tennessee (7-7 and 3-4)
  9. LSU (7-7 and 3-4; UT owns edge with victory over Tigers)
  10. Arkansas (7-7 and 2-5)
  11. Alabama (5-9)
  12. Auburn (4-10)
  13. MississippiState (3-11)
  14. South Carolina (3-11)

Whew.

And the waters will only get murkier, too.

Over the next two weeks, the seven teams in that pack play one another a combined 16 times in their final 28 games. Take a look at the finishing stretch for each here:

  • Ole Miss:  Alabama, at Texas A&M, Arkansas, at Vanderbilt
  • Texas A&M: at LSU,  Ole Miss, at Missouri, Auburn
  • Missouriat Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, at Tennessee
  • Vanderbilt: Florida, at Tennessee, LSU, at Ole Miss
  • Tennesseeat MississippiState, Vanderbilt, at Auburn, Missouri
  • LSU: Texas A&M, at Florida, at Vanderbilt, Georgia
  • Arkansasat Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss, at Alabama

My expert analysis: The knife fight isn’t over — not by a long shot.

Now, SEC coaches can try to frame this as parity, but objective metrics reveal that it’s really weaker teams all beating the stuffing out of each other to know real benefit.  The conference is rated sixth nationally by KenPom.com and Jeff Sagarin, and seventh by CBS’ Jerry Palm — ahead of only the American Athletic Conference.

I’ll share the thoughts of those coaches in my weekly SEC notebook on Tuesday, but the race is on for the No. 4 seed and a double-bye in Atlanta. Playing handicapper isn’t easy, either. What we know is all seven teams are awful on the road in conference play, going a combined 13-36 (.361 win percentage) and the inverse (36-13) at home this season. So, I simply looked at the seven squads’ records on road and neutral floors, plus the combined win percentage of their final four foes in parentheses. The results are below:

  • Ole Miss: 6-6 (.561)
  • Vanderbilt: 5-6 (.682)
  • Missouri: 5-6 (.561)
  • Tennessee: 4-8 (.561)
  • LSU: 4-8 (.670)
  • Arkansas: 3-7 (.589)
  • Texas A&M: 2-8 (.600)

No, it’s not exactly scientific. Yet, it would seem Ole Miss and Missouri (barely) have the best chance to snap up the fourth seed. Of course, Missouri lost at Alabama on Saturday night, so what do I really know?

For LSU, the path is a steep incline. The question is whether playing well at Kentucky, where the Tigers on-ball defense was solid but its ability to keep the ‘Cats off the offensive backboards lackluster, is harbinger of a breakthrough at Florida or Vanderbilt. In reality, winning in Nashville is probably the plausible of those scenarios. Keep in mind, too, that LSU doesn’t own tie breakers against Georgia, who closes the season in Baton Rouge, Ole Miss or Tennessee. LSU owns the head-to-head edge over Mizzou, split with Arkansas and will try to pull of the same feat when the Aggies arrive Wednesday.

Chaos seems guaranteed over the next couple of weeks, but right now it appears LSU’s ceiling is low — think the No. 7 seed — unless this pack breaks up a little bit.

As for the bigger picture, missing out on an upset Saturday at Rupp Arena against Kentucky didn’t hurt the Tigers’ overall metrics.

On Monday, LSU sat at No. 72 in the NCAA’s updated Ratings Percentage Index. The longer-term trajectory is about the same, too, per RPIForecast.com:

  • Projected Record: 18-13
  • Projected SEC Record: 9-9
  • Projected SEC Tourney: 1-1
  • Projected RPI: 73
  • Projected SOS: 70
  • Quality Wins: Saint Joseph’s (No. 38), Kentucky (No. 10)
  • Good Losses: UMass (No. 15), Memphis (No. 37), Kentucky (No. 10)
  • Bad Losses: Alabama (No. 117), Texas A&M (No. 118), Rhode Island (No. 160)

Meanwhile, LSU is nominally in Palm’s Bubble Watch, but nowhere near ESPN’s bubble. The Tigers aren’t in the mix, at least according to major bracketologists at CBS, ESPN, USA Today or Sports Illustrated, for a bid, either.

Right now, in an unholy corner of the Internet, the Tigers are considered a lock for the NIT.  If LSU finishes up as expected, and mid-major and low-major favorites don’t drop like flies in their conference tournaments, then it seems hard to fathom this group getting left out of the 32-team field.

Maybe a stunning upset at Florida leads to a recalibration, but LSU appears in need of a deep run at the SEC tournament — or win the whole thing — to get into the mix for a berth. Seeding will matter to a degree. If you don’t have a double-bye, snagging the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in Atlanta is preferred. Why? You’re path is easier to navigate.

For example, if LSU finds a way to finish 10-8 and gets the No. 6 seed (assuming tiebreakers don’t go their way), they would draw the winner of Alabama-South Carolina on Thursday. Win that one, and the quarterfinal matchup is against Georgia (doable) with a potential semifinal tilt against Kentucky on Saturday. Given LSU has beaten the ‘Cats once and scared them last week, it’s not bad. Perhaps, too, UK will be fat and content with its seeding and let its guard down. This scenario is the most feasible way the Tigers get to Sunday.

In reality, all of this puts a slew of horses before the cart.

But there’s a kernel of truth in there, too: LSU is playing for seeding now, a miracle run in Atlanta its likely best option to end a four-year NCAA tournament drought.