As the regular season draws to a close, it’s putting the spotlight on which teams have the kind of fight needed to win tough games in March.
But LSU, a team seemingly teetering on the NCAA tournament bubble since conference play began? It played with the indifference of a team that has already reached a conclusion on its future.
Your weekly campus tour into what is and what was in college hoops begins with a number to know for LSU:
The Tigers’ RPI is 81.
After losing at home to Alabama 76-69 on Wednesday, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva acknowledged a bleak outlook. He told Your Morning Drive on ESPN Radio 104.5 FM in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that he was “concerned about where we are at this point in time.”
“There has never been a team picked in the tournament at-large with an RPI over 80,” said Alleva, who is on the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee. “As of right now, I don't think [the chances are] very good.”
LSU freshman forward Ben Simmons set the wrong tone with whatever he did or didn’t do academically that caused coach Johnny Jones to keep him out of the starting lineup against the Volunteers for disciplinary reasons.
Tournament conspiracy theorists believe that Simmons’ star power would be the decisive factor in getting LSU into the tournament as an at-large bid. But there’s really no need to debate reasons for LSU’s inclusion when the Tigers aren’t making much of an argument on the court.
Coach of the week:
The mood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was as depressing as it’s been in any of the past few seasons after Wednesday’s 74-73 loss to rival Duke. It stung because for 89 percent of the game, North Carolina led the Blue Devils, and a full 100 percent of the time, the Tar Heels believed they were the better team. Roy Williams drew the blunt of criticism and the questions were many: Why didn’t he get more touches for Brice Johnson, who scored 29 points against Duke’s depleted frontcourt, but only attempted one shot in the final 13 minutes of the game? Why didn’t he use a timeout to set up a play in the closing seconds? Williams apologized to the team after the game, but did he lose the locker room?
Williams and Carolina put that notion to rest by dismantling Miami 96-71 in a game for first place in the ACC. The Heels played with a fire and focus that has been lacking at times this season. Unlike in many of its losses, Carolina expanded its second-half lead instead of allowing Miami to stick around.
Williams showed a bit of his fire, too, when after concluding his postgame remarks, he returned in front of the media assembled to blast CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb’s speculation about his future: “Doug Gottlieb … said that I was going to retire and Hubert [Davis] was going to replace me. That’s sinful. Sinful. You have no frickin’ idea what you’re talking about.”
Williams showed he still has some fight left in him, as do the Tar Heels.
Big man on campus: Louisville guard Damion Lee has said and done all the right things since the school announced its self-imposed postseason ban on Feb. 5. He’s said that he would have picked the school all over again even if he knew about the sanctions before the season. He even told coach Rick Pitino to give part of his playing time to freshman Deng Adel to prepare him for the future.
Part of the reason Lee transferred from Drexel to Louisville as a graduate student was to have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. It goes without saying he also transferred to play in games like Saturday's against teams like Duke. The Cardinals still have a chance at winning the ACC regular-season title. They are tied with Virginia and Miami, one game back of North Carolina in first.
Lee made up from his abysmal 3-for-15 outing at Cameron Indoor Stadium and scored a team-high 24 points against the Blue Devils in the Cards’ 71-64 win. He also had a team-high 15 points in Louisville’s 72-58 takedown of Syracuse. Lee is a good reason why, with seemingly nothing left to play for, the Cardinals are showing no signs that they’ve lost motivation despite not having a postseason to look forward to playing.
The place to be: Cintas Center. Cincinnati. No. 8 Xavier has been waiting for its chance at redemption ever since walking off the floor of a 95-64 smackdown at Villanova on Dec. 31. The Musketeers were never in that game. They lost starting guard and leading scorer Edmond Sumner within the first two minutes to a wicked fall. They fell behind by 16 within the first 10 minutes, shell-shocked as Nova shot its way to 13-of-25 from 3-point range. The Wildcats, who have since risen to No. 1 in the nation, sent the message that they remain No. 1 in the Big East. Xavier will try to make its own statement on Wednesday that not so much separates the two teams -- definitely not 31 points.