One of the trickiest teams to evaluate this week for the NCAA Tournament selection committee will be wiretap-tainted LSU.
The ninth-ranked Tigers, who won the SEC regular season for the first time in 10 years, will surely be in the mix for a seed as high as No. 2 when the 68-team field is revealed on Sunday. What’s less clear is whether coach Will Wade will take them to the tourney and if fourth-leading scorer Javonte Smart will be allowed to play.
The determination about where the Tigers deserve to be placed in the bracket, however, will rest solely with the results in the SEC tournament and how the other high-seed hopefuls fare around the country this week and not with any judgment of off-the-court activity.
LSU suspended Wade indefinitely last week after Yahoo Sports published excerpts of the coach’s phone conversations with a person convicted last year of funneling money to families of basketball recruits. The university then held Smart out of the team’s last game out of an “abundance of caution,” according to senior associate athletics director Robert Munson.
“They’re working through their process. But as far as we know, they’re eligible for the tournament. Then we’re going to evaluate how they perform this week and then make our judgments as it compares to the rest of the field,” NCAA Division I Basketball Committee chairman Bernard Muir said Wednesday. “We’re not speculating on anything. We don’t reserve judgment. It’s really what the team has done, who is available, how we think they’re going to play in the postseason, the NCAA postseason. That’s all we have to go on.”
Muir said the 10-member committee will spend extra time evaluating teams with injured or otherwise unavailable players and, in LSU’s case, a potentially absent coach. The SEC office will be consulted about the Tigers, said Muir, who is also the Stanford athletic director.
LSU next plays in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday.
By then, the committee will be two days into the process, holed up in a New York hotel. As soon as Muir finished the conference call, he was headed to join his fellow members to begin casting initial ballots.
Teams need all but two eligible votes from the committee to be locked in, a first wave that typically fills about 25 of the 36 available at-large bids. Members can’t vote for their own schools; Duke, which has athletic director Kevin White on the board, would need to be on seven of nine ballots, for example. Virginia, on the other hand, needs eight of the 10. Both teams, obviously, are sure bets.
From there, the bubble is assembled to include teams that either received at least three votes or won their regular-season conference championship. Usually, Muir said, that produces a group of 40 to 45 teams to ponder for the remaining at-large spots.
The committee is using some different metrics this year as teams are graded on a case-by-case basis, with conference record not in consideration and no preference, Muir said, between the high, mid or low majors.
As the weekend approached, six or seven teams were under the microscope for the four No. 1 seeds, Muir said without identifying them. Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Duke, Michigan State and, yes, LSU are currently the consensus top eight.
“I think we’re going to have a heck of a tournament just because there’s so much parity in the game,” Muir said. “I think that’s what makes this championship so alluring to many. Anything can happen on any given day.”
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