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LSU Basketball

Tigers will be hunted and hated in Nashville

March 14, 2019

The LSU basketball team departed for Nashville on Wednesday afternoon and its appearance in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Tigers were without head coach Will Wade, who remains on suspension. According to published reports, Wade will be suspended until he talks with school officials. It seems that Wade and his attorney will not meet with LSU until after the FBI basketball corruption trial, which starts in late April.

Freshman guard Javonte Smart, whose name has been mentioned on the FBI wire-tapped telephone class, did make the trip to Nashville. However, Smart has not been cleared by the university to participate in the SEC tournament.

So, the Tigers may or may not have Smart in uniform when they face either Arkansas or Florida in the SEC tournament quarterfinals Friday (noon Central/SEC Network). The Razorbacks and the Gators, the two teams who beat LSU during the regular season, meet in a first-round game Thursday afternoon.

The Tigers will head to Bridgestone Arena as the hunted team. LSU won its first outright SEC championship in ten years. As a result, the Tigers will be the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament for the first time since 2009. LSU has not won the SEC tournament since 1980.

“It would be huge to be the first LSU team since 1980 to win the SEC tournament,” interim head coach Tony Benford said. “You would love to have both titles. We could improve our NCAA tournament seedings too. I don’t know where we’re at now. We could probably play to a No. 1 seed, who knows?

“We’re just going to take it one game at a time. You want to be playing meaningful games in March and we are playing meaningful games in March.”

Even though LSU won the SEC championship after being picked either fifth or sixth in preseason polls, it will not be embraced by the fans in Nashville. Understand the teams who finished one game behind the Tigers are Tennessee and Kentucky, who will have a majority of the fans at Bridgestone Arena.

The supporters of the Volunteers and the Wildcats, both of whom suffered losses at the buzzer to LSU, are not speaking highly of the Tigers due to the perception from the Yahoo Sports story. Benford knows LSU will probably be greeted by boos in the arena.

“I told the guys that we can’t control the noise outside of our circle,” Benford said. “We can control what’s in the circle. Let’s listen to our voices. Trust the guy to your right, to your left. They’ve been with you all year.

“Try to block the other stuff out. You read stuff and you see stuff, but you’ve got to move on. Don’t take anything personal. Just focus on the task at hand. That’s try to get better every day and try to win a SEC tournament championship.”

Winning a SEC tourney title will be difficult starting with the game against either Arkansas or Florida. The Tigers split games with both teams – winning on the road in overtime and losing at home. The defeat at the PMAC against the Gators also went into overtime. LSU lost at home by one point to the Hogs.

“The two teams present different challenges,” Benford said. “Let’s take Arkansas. Daniel Gafford is probably the best big man in the league, especially on the defensive end. Against us, he’s been really good offensively. He’s averaged 28 points and 14 rebounds against us.

“Even though Florida is small, they are the most physical team in the league. They really do a great job changing up their defenses. They really try to control the tempo with their offense and defense. That’s why they are the best defensive team in the league. They want to keep the game in the 60s.”

LSU has not enjoyed much success in the SEC tournament. Besides not the capturing title in 39 years, the Tigers have not won two games in a SEC tourney since 2003. LSU beat Arkansas and Florida before losing to Mississippi State in the semifinals that year.

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