LSU program has learned to deal with the distractions
Posted: Sunday March 11, 2007 1:16PM; Updated: Sunday March 11, 2007 3:03PM
It could be some time before LSU players and fans get a definitive explanation as to why their head coach quit less than a week after the Tigers' appearance in the SEC championship game.
More information is bound to surface about the alleged inappropriate relationship Pokey Chatman had with a former player. But as the women's basketball committee prepares to announce the seedings for the NCAA tournament on Monday, the immediate question is what effect will Chatman's departure have on LSU's place in the bracket.
Ironically, LSU senior associate athletics director Judy Southard is the chairperson of that committee. Because of her ties to the school, Southard will have to recuse herself when discussions turn to her university.
LSU shouldn't need her there, anyway. The scandal surrounding Chatman's absence should in no way impact the Tigers' seeding. They deserved a No. 3 seed before Chatman left. They deserve it now.
They earned it by finishing tied with Vanderbilt for third in the Southeastern Conference and reaching the championship game of the tournament. They earned it by playing better defense than anyone else in the country all season. They earned it with a 26-7 record.
And while this particular situation is unprecedented in women's basketball, LSU is not the first team to lose a vital member before the tournament. In a conference call Tuesday (the day before Chatman's announcement), Southard said that the committee takes injuries to key players into consideration when seeding teams.
That doesn't always mean a drop in seeding.
In 2001 Tennessee and Connecticut were awarded top seeds despite the absence of All-America caliber players, including Lady Vols forward Tamika Catchings, who suffered a knee injury in January that year. Connecticut went into the tournament missing Svetlana Abrosimova, who was injured earlier in the year, and then had to overcome the loss of guard Shea Ralph just days before the bracket selection. Ralph, who had been the MVP of the previous Final Four, was injured in the Big East championship game.
LSU, in fact, went through a similar situation in 2004 when coach Sue Gunter fell ill. The Tigers went on to reach the Final Four for the first time. Even last year's trip to the Final Four was not without distraction. With each round came more questions about Hurricane Katrina and the school's place in helping the state recover. Last year was LSU's third trip to the Final Four in as many seasons. There is no reason they can't do the same under these conditions.
That's not to say the road will be easy for them. The Chatman story is a major distraction for the players. The former coach appears to have gone into hiding, leaving nothing but unanswered questions and a group of confused kids to field them. LSU said this week it would not make its players available to the media until further notice. They won't be able to control such access come tournament time.
This situation would tear some teams apart but the Tigers have shown in the past how well they come together. Acting head coach Bob Starkey points out this is a close-knit group. He should know. Starkey is in his ninth season with the team. That might not come close to the tenure Chatman had in Baton Rouge as a player and coach, but Starkey knows the program. More importantly, he knows this team and can help it through the off-court distractions.
So, let him do just that. And let the selection committee focus on what the Tigers have done on the court.
The LSU situation is bound to affect other programs. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey will likely be one of the initial names regarding possible replacements for Chatman. She's an excellent leader with ties to the state as a player and longtime assistant coach at Louisiana Tech. After building Baylor into a national champion, Mulkey is a name on many wish lists.
NCAA or bust
The WNIT has been a stepping stone for many programs on their way up. While the postseason tournament provides young teams a chance to gain valuable experience, it doesn't seem to have much appeal to those who have already achieved success. To wit, Louisiana Tech coach Chris Long and Texas coach Jody Conradt have said their teams would not participate in the WNIT.
The Lady Techsters' hopes of a 26th straight trip to the NCAA tournament ended on Wednesday with a loss to New Mexico State in the quarterfinals of the WAC Tournament. Texas lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals, but are still holding out hope for a NCAA bid. The 18-14 Longhorns are ranked No. 31 on collegerpi.com and have played one of the toughest schedules in the country. The school is hosting the first and second round of the tournament.
"You set your goals on going to the NCAA and that's still in the back of our minds," Conradt said after her team's loss to OU. "Hopefully something will happen and we'll get there."