If LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas was seeking support that her 9-13 team was NCAA tournament worthy, she found it last Friday after No. 2 Texas A&M eliminated the Tigers from the SEC tournament.
A&M coach Gary Blair, whose team suffered its lone regular-season defeat at the hands of LSU in overtime, said a Tigers’ team led by All-SEC first team point guard Khayla Pointer and senior center Faustine Aifuwa deserves a spot in the NCAA tournament when the brackets are announced March 15.
“I think they’re still an NCAA team,” Blair said after his team dispatched LSU 77-58 in the quarterfinal round of the SEC tournament. “When you’ve got somebody as good as Pointer and Aifuwa out there, that says a lot about our league. But I think Nikki has done everything she can with this team.”
In the release of his latest 64-team bracket, ESPN’s Charlie Crème doesn’t believe LSU has done enough to merit a spot in the field. He has the Tigers listed as one of the last four teams out of the tournament along with Oklahoma, Seton Hall and Villanova.
Fargas believes her team has earned the right for an NCAA tourney at-large berth.
With the NCAA having waived its postseason guidelines because of COVID-19 for at-large teams a requiring a winning record for inclusion, Fargas is a big advocate of a deep dive into her team’s resume instead of simply being affixed on the Tigers’ win-loss record.
“If you’re saying look at who we’ve played and some of the top teams that we’ve beaten, then we’ve got to be in the conversation,” Fargas said after last week’s loss to Texas A&M, the SEC’s regular-season champion.
Fargas’ contention is this: LSU’s played two of the nation’s top teams – South Carolina and Texas A&M – a total of five times with a win over the Aggies.
That’s the driving force in the Tigers’ No. 2 rated strength of schedule.
LSU’s second Quad 1 victory, a road win over SEC tournament runner-up Georgia, is another source of contention for Fargas, whose team has a NET rating of No. 61 in the NCAA.
Moreover, the Tigers wound up the regular season eighth in the SEC and with a 6-8 league record, weren’t afforded the opportunity to achieve a .500 record when scheduled games with Vanderbilt and Kentucky were cancelled because of COVID-19 related issues.
“We have quality wins over top-ranked opponents,” Fargas said, mentioning Texas A&M and Georgia (both of whom have Top 15 NET ratings). “In the NET from 26-50, we have four wins. Our opponents NET strength of schedule is top five in the country. What metrics are you putting teams in?
“Historically, they’ve put eight and sometimes nine teams, and we potentially have two No. 1 (seeds) in our league,” Fargas said. “LSU has played Texas A&M three times and South Carolina twice. We’ve also showcased that we can go on the road and beat Georgia on its home court. Seven wins in our conference at one point was automatically in and we’ve got two less games in our conference.”
In addition to its wins over A&M and Georgia, LSU has a road win over No. 38 Missouri, No. 42 Ole Miss (twice) and No. 45 Mississippi State, which is listed in Crème’s 64-team field. The Tigers also have a non-conference home win over UL-Lafayette (No. 134), which won the Sun Belt Conference regular season championship and was the SBC’s tournament runner-up.
Among the Tigers’ losses, seven of which have been by 10 points or less, are No. 14 Tennessee, No. 20 Arkansas, No. 34 Alabama in SEC play along with No. 23 West Virginia and No. 59 Brigham Young in non-conference matchups on a neutral floor.
“I think our body of work, when you look at the numbers, we’ve done some great things,” Fargas said. “I feel like this is a tournament team.”