Storm Clouds Hovering Over SEC Basketball Tournament

LSU has put itself and the SEC in a no-win situation going into tournament week

It should be a great time of year for the Southeastern Conference. Kentucky and Tennessee are a pair of worthy No. 1 seed participants in next week's NCAA men's basketball tournament, LSU, the regular season champion,, has a Final Four worthy roster and the league has at least 8 teams who are also of NCAA tournament quality.

And the chatter in Nashville this week will be no doubt focused on those areas. But the overwhelming story will focus on LSU--not the talents of the Tigers, but the circumstances in which they arrived in town.

They will be here without their coach, Will Wade, and they very well could be missing Ja'vonte Smart, the Tigers point guard.

Both absences are related to the FBI sting operation in which Wade and Smart were implicated on tape of a case in which they were part of an ""offer and "deal'' arrangement to play at LSU.

Wade has been suspended indefinitely by LSU officials, while Smart was held out of the Tigers' final regular season game last weekend against Vanderbillt and is in limbo for the Tigers' SEC tournament opener on Friday.

LSU and the Tigers and to some extent the NCAA are in a Catch-22 situation.

Serious charges with what appears to be some damaging evidence have been made against Wade and indirectly to Smart, one of the Tigers' prime recruits, who has had an exceptional freshman season in Baton Rouge.

Innocent until proven guilty is still the path being followed, but pending the outcome of the investigation, don't expect Will Wade back coaching the Tigers any time soon.

Smart could be cleared to play in the next few days, but it raises another perplexing issue. If he is found to have accepted extra benefits, he will be ruled ineligible and the Tigers will forfeit all the games he played this season, which means the regular season title will also be gone.

A​nd if he plays in the SEC or NCAA tournaments, any wins LSU manages will also be forfeited.

LSU is good enough to win both the SEC and NCAA tournaments which makes the prospect of a champion vacating its spot more than uncomfortable.

Neither the SEC or NCAA is likely to announce a suspension of any kind because of a threat of possible litigation, which leaves LSU of self imposing sanctions from holding out Smart to withdrawing from the SEC and NCAA tournament.

Don't count on that happening because that would send the vocal LSU fan base into a feeding frenzy of outrage.

So the clouds increase and the feeling of uncertainty grows as the games commence.

Beware of the Ides of March a soothsayer warned Julius Caesar.

The SEC and NCAA should take note.

***

NCAA bubble watch is interesting this season because in the first 10 tournament selection slots decided by lower and mid major conference tournaments, the No. 1 seed only emerge with two championships--Wofford in the Southern Conference and Iona in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference....Saint Mary's upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference finals on Tuesday also took away another at-large slot....

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