A foggy crystal ball: What do the next two weeks have in store for LSU?

With Texas A&M dispatched, LSU arrives at a difficult three-game closing stretch over the next 10 days.

Among, the roughly nine teams vying for either NCAA tournament bids or a trip to the NIT, the Tigers’ troika of foes — Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia — have an average RPI of 57.8. (The Gators, who sit at No. 3, do act as an outlier). Only Vandy, which visits Tennessee, hosts LSU, and goes to Ole Miss, has a tougher docket.

Earlier in the week, a glimpse at the Tigers’ profile revealed Johnny Jones’ group on a trajectory toward the NIT. One of the tools I use is RPIForecast.com. It’s an interesting site, one that admits its long-term projections are more ballpark estimates, and can let you sift through various outcomes to get a sense for a team’s ceiling.

So with LSU hovering at No. 68 in CBS analyst Jerry Palm’s simulation of the RPI on Thursday morning, I figured it might be worth (or at least enlightening) to go explore what the future might have in store for the Tigers.

Here’s is the setup: After each scenario, I put down the Tigers overall and SEC record along with their potential RPI. Each bullet point represent an outcome in the SEC tournament, along with LSU’s resulting RPI projection. If the Tigers don’t lose a game in Atlanta, well, they get an automatic berth and their RPI is irrelevant.

(It’s not perfect, either. As you can see, RPIForecast only breaks down projections based on final records. What I’ve done is tried to figure out various pathways to those marks.)

Scenario 1: LSU stumbles to a 0-3 finish, putting a NIT berth at risk.

  • Record: 17-13, 8-10 SEC, RPI: 83
  • 0-1: 100.2
  • 1-1: 81.5
  • 2-1: 67.7
  • 3-1: 57.9
  • 4-0: Automatic bid

Analysis:  The SEC tournament would be about salvaging a NIT bid as much as wandering near the NCAA tournament bubble. LSU’s RPI coming into Atlanta would sit in the low 80s — a somewhat dicey position, especially if favorites in mid-major and low-major conference start losing and gobbling up spots. More than likely, they’d need to reach the weekend to shore up their NIT chances. If the Tigers can’t solve their road woes in the next week facing Georgia at home in the season-finale could carry important implications.

Scenario 2: LSU finds a way to finish 1-2, most likely holding serve at home against UGA.

  • Record: 18-12, 9-9 SEC, RPI: 70.1
  • 0-1: 88.1
  • 1-1: 70.8
  • 2-1: 57.9
  • 3-1: 42.0
  • 4-0: Automatic bid

Analysis: If the Tigers can survive until Saturday at the SEC tournament, their RPI creeps into bubble range. In most cases, finishing at 9-9 puts LSU in line for a No. 6 or No. 7 seed heading to the Georgia Dome. From there, they’d probably draw Georgia or Kentucky in the quarterfinals, a victory over the latter bolstering their profile. Still, there are likely too many blemishes to overcome. Based on probability, RPIForecast has LSU finishing up at 1-1 as the most likely result at around 18.50 percent. With an RPI of around No. 70, the Tigers still seem set for the NIT.

Scenario 3: LSU steals a road win and knock off UGA on the final day to finish 2-1.

  • Record: 19-11, 10-8 SEC, RPI: 57.5
  • 0-1: 76.7
  • 1-1: 61.7
  • 2-1: 47.1
  • 3-0: Automatic bid
  • 3-1: 33.0
  • 4-0: Automatic bid

Analysis:  I’ve said for the past two weeks that LSU’s visit to Nashville is about more than simply ending a road skid. It would potentially position LSU for a double-bye at the SEC tournament. Look at the Tigers’ RPI, too. That’s on the fringes of getting consideration for a NCAA tournament bid. Getting to Saturday, if you don’t have a double-bye, would mean knocking of a top-four seed in the quarterfinals, the kind of boost a RPI could use and at least get your portfolio in the stack for review by the selection committee. Regardless, simply winning on Day One would put the Tigers in a safe space for the NIT. An upset at Florida on Saturday would be great, but LSU’s trip to Vanderbilt is one to watch.

Scenario 4: LSU sweeps, knocking off top-ranked Florida and rides momentum through next week.

  • Record: 20-10, 11-7 SEC, RPI: 47.6
  • 0-1: 63.5
  • 1-1: 48.1
  • 2-1: 33.5
  • 3-0: Automatic bid
  • 3-1: 25.2
  • 4-0: Automatic bid

Analysis: Let’s start with the odds of beating the top-ranked Gators at home, where they’ve won 30 in a row: 11 percent, per KenPom. The chances of winning at Vandy? Try 44 percent. Boiled down, this might be a pipe dream. But As you can see, the Tigers would have to all but bomb out in the first round not to have a RPI that merits a glance. Plus, they’d have quality wins over Kentucky and Missouri at the PMAC, a road win over Florida, and a neutral site win against Saint Joseph’s. Throw in quality losses to UMass and Memphis, too. The road loss at Georgia would be nixed by beating the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge. It would also give LSU an 8-6 record against the RPI top 100. You can’t get rid of sub-100 losses to Alabama, Texas A&M and Rhode Island, but perhaps there’s enough there to be vetted by 10 people in an Indianapolis hotel conference room.

Now, after parsing all the potential outcomes, here’s what RPIForecast considers the most probable:

  • 19-13, RPI: 70.8 (18.5%)
  • 18-13, RPI: 88.1 (17.1%)
  • 19-12, RPI: 76.7 (11.1%)
  • 20-12, RPI: 61.7 (10.6%)
  • 17-14, RPI: 100.2 (8.9 %)