And the madness doesn’t usually wait for the NCAA Tournament to begin before rearing its ugly head.
Conference tournaments began tipping off this week, and we’ve already seen some of the craziness of the college basketball postseason come into play with thrilling buzzer beaters and shocking upsets happening across the country.
Third-seed LSU will do its part to make some noise this weekend when it begins its journey through the SEC tournament Friday night against sixth-seeded Ole Miss. First tip is scheduled 25 minutes after the 6 p.m. quarterfinal game at approximately 8:15 p.m. CST at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
The Tigers have already topped the Rebelsonce this season, beating their SEC West Rival 75-61 in Oxford back in January. LSU jumped out to an early 15-2 lead in that meeting and never looked back, with sophomore forward Trendon Watford’s 21 points leading the way.
Despite the Tigers’ success throughout the regular season the past three years, head coach Will Wade hasn’t been satisfied with his team’s performances in the conference tournament—an issue he’s emphasized throughout LSU’s preparation this week.
“We haven’t been very good historically (in the tournament), and we haven’t been very good since we’ve been here,” Wade said in his final press conference in Baton Rouge before heading off to Nashville. “The last frontier for us within the SEC is to perform well and play well in this tournament. … Tournament basketball is different. What happens in a tournament setting—whether it’s the SEC or the NCAA tournament—you’ve just got to stick to your formula and execute your formula as best you can.”
For the Tigers, that formula has been a high-scoring offense centered around freshman guard Cameron Thomas. LSU finished the regular season No. 2 in the conference averaging 82.7 points per game, led by Thomas’ league-leading 23.1 points per game.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Chesapeake, Virginia, native is the first freshman to lead the conference in scoring since 1989 and the only freshman this season to score 20 or more points in 19 games. His showing has earned him his first-team All-SEC honors and placed him on the SEC All-Freshman team.
“He’s just so mature,” Wade said of Thomas. “He’s 18-19 years old going on 25-26. He’s just got a very mature approach to everything. He’s got as sure of self discipline as I’ve ever seen in a freshman with what he does. His mother being in the military, she’s instilled a lot of that in him. (He’s) very disciplined, very mature, and it’s allowed him to have success. He hasn’t had a lot of huge highs or huge lows. He’s remained consistent, and that’s the most amazing part.”
Thomas’ ability to score will certainly play a major part in the Tigers’ success this postseason, but Wade has set his focus on a different area as LSU heads into tournament play.
“Rebounding. Rebounding. Rebounding,” Wade said. “That would be great.”
The Tigers finished middle of the pack in the SEC with 38.1 rebounds per game, led by junior forward Darius Days (7.5 rpg) and Watford (7.4 rpg).
Wade says they’ll need a more concerted effort in that department if they hope to continue to advance throughout the weekend. The top two seeds in the tournament—Alabama and Arkansas—are the top two rebounding teams in the conference.
“(If) we got to be a little better rebounding in March, we’d be in business,” Wade said. “If it’s front-of-mind, I think that can certainly be helpful. When it’s been front-of-mind we’ve been able to do it so we need to keep it that way here in tournament play.”
If LSU wins, it’ll advance to the semifinal round, where it will play the winner of second-seeded Arkansas and seventh-seed Missouri on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The SEC championship is slated for Sunday at noon.