Despite dropping its first game of the SEC Tournament and playing without its head coach, the LSU basketball team earned a No. 3 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers (26-6) will take on 14th-seeded Yale on Thursday at 11:40 a.m. CST in Jacksonville, Fla.
“First of all, we’re extremely excited to play in the NCAA Tournament,” said LSU interim head coach Tony Benford. “We just had a private get together. Once our name flashed up, our guys were extremely excited. The hard work that they’ve put in from day one, going back to the summer when everybody arrived in June, to all the adversity that they’ve gone through and now having the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Should they beat the Bulldogs, they will take on the winner of a game between Maryland and either Belmont or Temple — who will play in a First Four play-in game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio — to earn a spot in the Sweet 16, which will take place in Washington D.C.
The seeding is the highest LSU has ever had in the modern iteration of the tournament, and the last time the Tigers were seeded this highly they were a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region of a 48-team field. The Tigers made the Final Four that season.
The Tigers also have a significant connection to host city Jacksonville, Fla. The last time LSU opened its postseason in VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena was in 2006, the last time it reached the Final Four.
Like the 2006 Final Four run, the top-seeded team is a Duke team chosen as the Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. The Tigers beat that J.J. Reddick-led squad in the Sweet 16 that season on its way to the Final Four.
If LSU were to meet the Blue Devils — led by a litany of freshman phenoms, most notably Zion Williamson — they would meet in the Elite Eight.
But Benford said the Tigers aren’t looking that far ahead.
“I don’t know who we’re playing in the second round,” Benford said. “I don’t know. Obviously, nobody knows. I’m just focused on Yale and focused on us.”
The only player on LSU’s roster who has played in an NCAA Tournament before is senior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams, who came off the bench in Oregon’s run to the Final Four in 2017.
The Tigers will go into the tournament hoping to avoid an early exit less than a week after getting bounced from the SEC Tournament in its first quarterfinal game against Florida in a 76-73 loss.
“We have some guys who could play better, like Emmitt Williams, Tremont (Waters) and Skylar (Mays),” Benford said. “We have a lot of guys who could play better than they did the other night, and they understand that.
“We’re 0-0 now. It’s win or go home. There’s no more tomorrow. Our guys know you have to leave it all out there. That’s what we’re going to do.”