Feb 23, 2019; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers guard Ja'vonte Smart (1) celebrates with forward Naz Reid (0) after their game against the Tennessee Volunteers at the Maravich Assembly Center.

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LSU faces impossible task against Florida

The Tigers face the Gators in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals

Seth Dunlap
March 14, 2019 - 7:39 pm
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Forget Will Wade.  Forget Christian Dawkins, the FBI, and spectre of doom hanging over the LSU basketball program.  Just go play basketball, and compete again a team that's taken you to overtime twice this season, beating you once, with the eyes of the country and NCAA selection committee squarely on you because, hey, that's what you came to Baton Rouge to do.  Right?

That's what the other LSU players and coaches, team staff and managers, statisticians and SIDs are asked to to tomorrow when they take on the Florida in their SEC Tournament opener in Nashville.  Forget your humanity and just go ball.  An impossible task in an impossible situation. 

A week from hell for Tigers basketball has led to their opponent from hell, the Florida Gators, who have given LSU more problems than any other team in the Southeastern Conference this season.  Two games.  Two overtime thrillers.  One win for each team.  This is the gift LSU is given after winning the regular season conference tournament for the first time in a decade?  "Not fair!" is surely the rallying cry for LSU fans tonight, after Florida set up the rematch by walloping Arkansas 66-50 in their conference tournament opener on Thursday afternoon.  Heck, it's been the fan base's rallying cry throughout this circus.

If college, and college athletics, is partly about teaching young men and women life lessons while building character before they set sail into the real world, then there's no bigger trial-by-fire than what this team has gone through in the past week.  No, it's not fair.  Life's not fair, or so we've been told.  That date with the Gators tomorrow? Ask anybody in the ACC about the fairness of conference tournament scheduling.  

Whatever pending apocalypse awaits the LSU basketball program, it hasn't completely arrived yet.  Their season isn't over, after all, and they'll be taking part in the NCAA basketball tournament next week.  "March Madness" has never more aptly described a situation than this.  The Tigers have a chance to show the world they can rise above this madness and still ball.  An impossible task, perhaps, but an imperative one.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee will be watching LSU with a keen eye this week.  Most projections currently have the Tigers as a #2 seed, but nobody knows exactly how that committe will penalize the team for Wade's alleged misdeeds.  If LSU goes one-and-done in Nashville, expect the Tigers to take a swift tumble in those projections to a three or possibly four seed.  Make a miraculous run to an SEC tournament title then even a #1 seed isn't completely out of the realm of seeding possibilities, although that's probably a little too pie-in-the-sky considering the current circumstances surrounding the program. 

Then there's Javonte Smart.  Fans were promised, prematurely, that the school would make a decision by Wednesday.  A full day past that and still no firm indication on whether he'll play against Florida.  Some reports suggest he will, but that's just speculation.  Most people were speculating at this time last week that Wade would be allowed to coach through the season.  If LSU is to make an improbable run the next few weeks without their coach, they'll surely need their phenomenal freshman.  Smart has averaged 11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 steals per game on the season.  That production is unlikely to be found in Marlon Taylor or Marshall Graves, the duo expected to see a minutes increase should Smart be held out.

Will Wade may not like it, but his season is likely over.  So, too, is his time as head basketball coach at LSU.  However, the season isn't over for the Tigers team.  If Smart returns as expected, they remain just as talented as they were before Wade's suspension.  Even without Smart this is a team that can give almost any team in the country fits when they play well.  They'll have a chance to prove it on the court, beginning tomorrow in their rubber match against Florida in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.

Listen to WWL Radio's coverage of LSU vs. Florida in the SEC Tournament, beginning Friday at 11:30 a.m. on WWL 870am/105.3fm.

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