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May 19, 2014

Mainieri states LSU's case

As far as coach Paul Mainieri is concerned, his LSU team along with four other Southeastern Conference teams have done enough during the regular season to secure NCAA tournament regional host spots.

However, Mainieri also knows that it is not likely that the NCAA Baseball Committee will name five SEC teams as hosts. In the 15-year history of the current postseason setup, only twice has the SEC had five of its teams selected as regional hosts.

"It all depends upon the philosophy of the (NCAA Baseball) Selection Committee," Mainieri said. "Do they want to give the regionals to the best teams or do they want to spread them around the country?

"We have five teams in the SEC who deserve to host. They have beautiful stadiums. They have put a lot of money into their programs. Do you reward those teams?"

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Entering the week of conference tournaments, SEC champion Florida has nailed down a national seed and a regional host spot. The Gators have not won 40 games, while four other SEC teams have hit the 40-win barrier - LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

In the SEC tournament, Ole Miss is the No. 2 seed, while LSU is the No. 3 seed. South Carolina is seeded fourth and Vanderbilt is seeded sixth.

Mainieri was on the opposite side of the argument when he was the head coach at Notre Dame. Mainieri watched the Big East Conference get just one or two bids, while eight SEC teams were going to the NCAA tournament.

"I can't deny there was jealousy when I was in the Big East and the SEC was getting eight or nine teams in the tournament," Mainieri said. "What bothered me the most was when Notre Dame would win the regular season and not get in when we lost in the championship game of the (conference) tournament.

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"You saw an 11-19 SEC team get a bid. That left you with hard feelings. But, since I've been in the SEC, I realize that the top eight teams in this league were better than the Big East champion."

Mainieri has no idea what the NCAA Baseball Committee will value the most. LSU finished third in the SEC standings - behind only Florida and Ole Miss. However, the Tigers have a lower RPI than Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Ole Miss.

"We were the third best team in the SEC," Mainieri said. "That's why we play a 30-game schedule. You can argue that the other teams had a higher RPI or a better strength of schedule. I think that the third-place team in the SEC deserves to host. Whether we will, I don't know."

LSU does have the opportunity to improve its body of work this week in the SEC tournament at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium. The Tigers will play the winner of Tuesday's Tennessee-Vanderbilt game Wednesday morning.

If the seeds hold, LSU will meet Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in its first two games. The Tigers need to put together a stronger resume than at least one of those two teams or South Carolina in order to get a regional host spot.

Winning the SEC tournament will have no effect upon LSU's chances of hosting a regional. The 16 regional host sites are announced on the day the SEC tournament title game is being played. But, it would benefit the Tigers if they reach the Sunday championship game.

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"I really believe what we've done already is enough (to host)," Mainieri said. "Three more good wins on our resume would help."

LSU has the worst non-conference strength of schedule among SEC teams. That fact is probably the main reason the Tigers' RPI is lower than that of the other top teams in the conference.

"It's very frustrating when people use strength of schedule against us," Mainieri said. "The RPI already takes strength of schedule into account. So, don't hold strength of schedule against us too. That's double jeopardy."

Mainieri scheduled four games against Purdue (three) and Virginia Tech (one) - teams who have hosted NCAA regionals in recent years. Both of those teams had horrible 2014 seasons.

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"Both those teams finished last in their conferences," Mainieri said. "You have no control over how things are going to turn out. When you make the schedules, you don't know what's going to happen."

LSU has some momentum going into the SEC tournament with its road conference sweep of the year against Auburn. LSU outscored Auburn 29-4. In the game before the Auburn series, the Tigers crushed Northwestern State 27-0.

"A lot of the pressure is off," Mainieri said. "When the last day of the regular season comes, I'm pretty relaxed. The whole goal of the regular season is to put yourself in the best possible position for the postseason. I see postseason baseball as fun. We now go to Hoover and play to have fun."

Of course, in the process of having fun, the Tigers would like to impress the NCAA Baseball Committee so they can play a regional tournament at The Box.

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