Postseason overview: What are the possibilities for LSU men’s basketball?

Postseason overview: What are the possibilities for LSU men's basketball?
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LSU has had a season of remarkable improvement, from coming a game shy of tying the program record for consecutive losses with 14 last year to now finding itself solidly in the middle of the SEC.

Head coach Matt McMahon’s approach from the very beginning has been to preach steady gains, and that has materialized for the team. 

LSU began the season as a struggling team, but got a spark with the return of the previously ineligible Jalen Cook and won its first two games in the SEC. That was followed shortly after by a 1-6 stretch, but now the Tigers are back playing positive basketball even with Cook sidelined by injury.

The team has made great strides, but with only three regular season games and the SEC tournament remaining, the question now becomes how LSU will be involved in the postseason.

Read more about the possibilities below:

Can LSU make the NCAA Tournament?

After back-to-back wins over ranked teams in South Carolina and Kentucky, the idea of LSU making the NCAA Tournament began to be more widely discussed. If the Tigers could finish strong, maybe they could sneak in as an at-large team.

The truth is that idea was always far-fetched. One of the most important criteria for the NCAA Tournament selection committee as it decides which teams make it into the tournament is the NET rankings, an analytical metric that ranks each team.

The components that go into the NET rankings include strength of schedule, a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of its wins and losses, with everything adjusted for opponent quality and the location of the game (i.e., a road loss is penalized less than a home loss).

LSU’s placement in the NET rankings, even after those marquee wins, is far from tournament range. The Tigers currently rank No. 89 (they were in a similar spot before their loss to Mississippi State). 

Had LSU beaten Mississippi State, a team solidly in the tournament field, it still would be unlikely to have significantly moved LSU’s ranking because it would be just one data point in a season’s worth of them.

Furthermore, LSU’s ranking is even more unlikely to change with its closing four games being against the bottom four teams in the SEC. 

The committee occasionally makes decisions contrary to the NET rankings when it’s clear that the ranking doesn’t reflect the team’s resume or quality, like when a team has played a particularly weak schedule or is playing its best basketball at the end of the season, but it doesn’t deviate much.

It’s true that LSU has improved lately (and is night and day from the team it was in November or December), but that improvement hasn’t been large enough to justify tournament consideration.

The more important thing to look at with LSU is that it missed opportunities throughout the season to notch wins against tournament teams. It narrowly fell short in games against Dayton, Texas A&M and Florida.

It also nearly mounted comebacks against Texas, Auburn and Tennessee and twice kept pace with Alabama for a half before running out of steam.

Add an embarrassing loss to Nicholls State, and LSU just didn’t put together a tournament resume despite having its chances.

Barring a miracle run in the SEC Tournament to steal an automatic bid, which would likely require LSU to win four straight games, LSU won’t make the NCAA Tournament.

Will LSU be selected for the NIT?

If LSU doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, the consolation could be a berth to the National Invitation Tournament. The NIT is typically where the “first four out” from the NCAA Tournament go and is considered the next most prestigious postseason tournament.

The NIT field is made up of 32 teams. For much of its history, it guaranteed a spot for regular season conference champions that didn’t win their conference tournament, which is valuable for mid-major teams that come from one-bid leagues. 

In October 2023, the NIT announced it would be changing its selection format and instead guaranteeing a spot for the top two non-NCAA tournament teams from each of the major six conferences (SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big 10, ACC and Big East). 

LSU has a chance at securing one of these automatic bids if it ends up as one of the top two non-tournament teams in the SEC in the NET rankings. Doing so would also guarantee that LSU would host its first round matchup in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

However, that happening depends on the performance of two other teams in the SEC: Texas A&M and Ole Miss. A few weeks ago, both were firmly in the NCAA Tournament field, but both have come on hard times recently and are now on the bubble.

A&M and Ole Miss stand as the two SEC teams directly above LSU in the NET rankings, as No. 59 and 77 respectively. If neither make the NCAA Tournament, LSU won’t receive an automatic bid to the NIT.

That means LSU fans have reason to root for Texas A&M and Ole Miss going forward to finish strong and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Even if LSU misses out on the automatic bid, it may still be offered a bid to the NIT as one of the 20 at-large teams. However, that would depend on the committee’s decision (with LSU’s NET ranking weighing against it) and would likely mean no games in the PMAC.

LSU’s best path to making the NIT is hoping for an automatic bid, which it is well-positioned for should A&M or Ole Miss make the NCAA tournament. The next-closest team in the NET rankings is Georgia at No. 97, who LSU recently beat.

Playing in the NIT would be a valuable experience for a young LSU team to play meaningful games in March. Though major programs occasionally decline NIT invitations, citing injury or seeing it as below them, it seems unlikely LSU will pass up the opportunity.

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About Marc Lemoine 1470 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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