Most people around Baton Rouge were fairly disappointed watching Selection Sunday.
LSU basketball had a formidable regular season showing capped by an even more impressive run through the SEC tournament last weekend. The Tigers took down Ole Miss in the opening round; Arkansas, which is now a 3-seed in the tournament, in the semifinal; and fell just one buzzer beater shy of upsetting league leaders Alabama in the title game.
Many basketball analysts both locally and nationally had LSU pegged as high as 5-seed, but ultimately the selection committee put the Tigers at No. 8 entering The Big Dance.
All that being said, it’s hard to be too upset. After all, LSU basketball is back to being relevant again, making the tournament for the second straight season after just one appearance in the previous decade. As the saying goes, “You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.”
“We’re in the deal. That’s the No. 1 thing,” head coach Will Wade said at a press conference, after learning of his team’s landing spot. “I was surprised. I thought we’d be a little bit better than that, but at the end of the day, we lost to St. Louis and we lost to Texas Tech in the non-conference. We didn’t have a lot of meat on the bone in the non-conference because of COVID and just because of the way everything shook out so we didn’t have the non-conference profile that we needed.”
The Tigers’ attention now turns to its first-round foe in No. 9 St. Bonaventure. Tipoff is set for Saturday, March 20, at 12:45 p.m. from the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
The Bonnies, who play in the Atlantic 10 Conference, have compiled a 16-4 record this season and are coming off a strong run through their conference tournament last weekend. They’ve won six of their last seven games, most recently taking down VCU—Wade’s former coaching stop—to win the A-10 title.
It’ll be the third NCAA Tournament appearance for St. Bonaventure under head coach Mark Schmidt, who has been with the school since 2007 and garnered much respect from his peers in the coaching ranks in that time.
“Mark Schmidt has done a phenomenal, phenomenal job there,” Wade said. “He’s as good a ball coach as there is out there in the country … I have a lot of respect for their program and how they’ve built it and how good they are. They’re ferocious competitors. They’re going to be unbelievably well prepared. Their staff has great continuity, and they’re a tremendous, tremendous basketball program.”
The Bonnies are powered by a strong defense and a serviceable offense, led by junior guard Kyle Lofton’s 14.6 points and 5.5 assists per game.
Five different players average double digit points for St. Bonaventure, including junior forward Osun Osunniyi, who puts up 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.
“We’ve got a huge challenge in front of us,” Wade said. “I’ve actually watched St. Bonaventure play a few times this year. They’ve got some good guard play. They’ve got a great shot blocker. They’ve got a very good team. It’ll be a big, big challenge for us. But we’re excited and looking forward to getting to Indianapolis (Monday) morning and getting ready to go.”
The journey doesn’t get any easier should LSU get past St. Bonaventure. The Tigers’ second round matchup would likely be against 1-seed Michigan, which is currently ranked No. 4 in the country.
The Wolverines are 20-4 on the season and will take on 16-seeded Texas Southern, who beat Mount St. Mary’s in the tournament’s play-in game.
“I think we all got some valuable tournament experience this weekend,” Wade said, recapping the SEC Tournament and looking forward to the NCAA Tournament. “Playing in tournament basketball is tournament basketball. So I think we all got some valuable experience. Certainly, we’ll lean on Darius, we’ll lean on Javonte, who were here a couple years ago and have that experience under their belt, as well. That’s part of the reason it was so important to advance this weekend was to get some guys some positive experience. We’ve got some guys now that have some sea legs under them, and they’re going to be in a good position to hopefully help us here as we try to navigate through this thing.”