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Friday, May 30, 2008

Randolph draft talk

This week's Sporting News has a mock NBA lottery.

And yes, former LSU forward Anthony Randolph is in the magazine's mock lottery.

You can't blame Randolph for going pro if he's going to be a lottery pick. But you have to wonder if the NBA folks know what they're doing.

Randolph is listed as a small forward, even though he was listed at 6-10 at LSU. He played well for LSU but he certainly didn't lift the Tigers into any great heights. And the last two LSU lottery picks, Stromile Swift and Tyrus Thomas, haven't exactly set the league on fire.

Still, the magazine predicts Randolph going to the Clippers with the seventh pick of the draft. We shall see.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mainieri nearing coach of the year honors

BATON ROUGE - Georgia coach Dave Perno is a very deserving Southeastern Conference coach of the year. The Bulldogs were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East and won the regular season title handily with a 20-9-1 record. His team exited the SEC Tournament quickly, but it had the best overall regular season. His team was more consistent than LSU, which finished with a 20-0 run after a poor start.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri, meanwhile, should be the national coach of the half-year after climbing from an 11th place slot in the SEC to a second place finish and from fifth in the West to the West title. His 20-game winning streak really is phenomenal, considering that it happened late and mainly against SEC teams. Many of the longest streaks in the SEC happened early in the season often against weaker, non-conference teams.

Mainieri's team was picked to finish fifth in the West. Coaches of the year are usually based on accomplishment versus expectation. This is why Sylvester Croom was deservingly the SEC football coach of the year last season. LSU coach Les Miles won the national championship, but he was expected to do so or get close to it since the talented and experienced Tigers entered the 2007 season ranked No. 2 in the nation.

The real college baseball season starts Friday with the opening of NCAA Regional play. As hard as it was to imagine LSU making the SEC Tournament just about a month ago, it is now hard to imagine this team not making it to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. LSU could lose a game in this regional. Watch UNO, which has already beaten LSU twice this season, knock off the Tigers Saturday night in Alex Box Stadium. If that happens, though, look for LSU to go through the loser's bracket with much more pitching than perhaps any team in the nation and winning the regional on Monday.

Then it will be on to the Super Regional, also in Alex Box. I can't see Nebraska or any other team from the Lincoln, Neb., regional coming down here and beating LSU in the Super.

Should LSU get to Omaha, your national coach of the year is Paul Mainieri. He has authored a remarkable turnaround and an uncanny winning streak. He is also only in his second year after inheriting a program that was going downhill. Like Miles, he has a lot of talent on this team. But it just got here and it took time for that talent to mesh. It had not been playing together for years, which was the case with the football team.

College baseball is much different than college football. Rosters change dramatically over a year or two. Players rarely stay in the program for four and five years as in football. Nearly this whole LSU team was recruited and signed by Mainieri and his staff. More importantly, his players have gotten better under him.
And it doesn't look like that's going to cease any time soon.

I'll say it again, outgoing LSU athletic director Skip Bertman needs to start his own coaching search business. It's not a reach to say his hires - Miles and Mainieri - could win back-to-back national championships within less than six months of one another.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Baseball's back

LSU baseball is back.

You know it's back because the sport is relevant on a statewide basis again. It's back because people care. They want to know what TV station is carrying the game. They're calling for score updates.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri isn't quite ready to say his team is back just year.

"I don't think we are all the way back yet. I think we have accomplished some things and I'm very proud,'' Mainieri said. "The goal is to get to Omaha and to win when we get there.''

So there's still some work to be done for Mainieri.

For LSU fans, baseball is back.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Anybody see this coming?

Raise your hand if you thought LSU would win an SEC Tournament championship a month ago? Or two months ago?

LSU's run to and through the tournament has been an amazing story, maybe as amazing as a 20-game winning streak.

I recall blogging earlier that LSU was making progress it just wasn't fast enough. Apparently, it's pedal-to-the-metal progress now.

Do I think LSU is as good as the Tigers have been playing in this streak? Probably not. But they probably weren't as bad as they played at times earlier in the year as well.

Regardless, the accomplishment of the tournament title should not be diminished.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Early's right on time

Former LSU star Early Doucet was in town today, signing autographs for Alltel.

If anybody on LSU's national championship team had a gripe with life it may have been Doucet. A groin injury cut into his senior season. Another injury kept him out of the Senior Bowl. When the NFL draft came, he lasted until the third round when the Arizona Cardinals finally picked him. This for a guy who many thought would be a first-round pick heading into his senior season.

Yet you won't hear any complaining from Doucet.

"It was tough,'' he said today, "but things happen for a reason. God has a plan for me. He never puts you in challenges in life that you can't overcome. That was just one challenge in my life that helped me grow as a person and helped me understand and appreciate the game a lot more. When it's taken away from you, you appreciate a lot more.''

And for the rest of us,you appreciate the attitude Doucet has shown. Actually, falling to the Cardinals may be a good thing with Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner at quarterback. While the team hasn't been a consistent winner in a lifetime or two, Doucet could be part of a team that is about to turn things around.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mainieri -- another great hire by Bertman

HOOVER, Ala. LSU’s 8-2 victory over Vanderbilt Thursday night gave LSU its 18th straight win, but it also pushed coach Paul Mainieri’s record to 15-12-1 against coaches who were either candidates to get the LSU job after the 2006 season or were fan favorites to get the job.

At the time two years ago, following the firing of Smoke Laval by athletic director and former coach Skip Bertman, many Laval loyalists and subsequent Bertman haters said the big names out there did not want the job because Bertman micro-managed the program and was always breathing down Laval's neck. That was not true. In fact, had Laval sought out Bertman's advice more, as Mainieri has, he probably would have done better.

Mainieri is thankful to Bertman for hiring him instead of being bitter toward him and clearly does not mind Bertman being around the program, which is something Bertman very much deserves and will always deserve since he built the program. Mainieri also embraced the pressure of the job. He knows he has to get to Omaha regularly and win national championships. Other candidated feared that and preferred to stay put.

Like Les Miles before him, Mainieri is proving to be another great Bertman hire who was at first criticized before it was realized that Bertman indeed has the magic touch in the athletic director's chair as well as on the baseball diamond.

Mainieri will try on Saturday to match Bertman's school record winning streak of 19 games, which was done to open the season by the 1997 team that went on to win Bertman's fourth national title. No. 2 seed LSU (41-16-1) plays at 1:30 p.m.

Saturday against the winner of tonight's 6:30 game between No. 5 seed Alabama (33-25) and No. 4 seed Kentucky (42-16). Kentucky lost to No. 8 seed Ole Miss 8-7 late Thursday on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth by Michael Guerrero.

Ole Miss, like LSU, enjoyed Friday off and joins the Tigers as the only 2-0 teams in the field, which has been reduced from eight to six teams with Georgia and Florida eliminated. In the first of two games today, No. 7 seed South Carolina plays No. 6 seed Vanderbilt at 3 with the winner playing Ole Miss Saturday at 10 a.m.

How fitting would it be for LSU to reach the College World Series this year with Bertman passing his final days as athletic director in his home away from home - Omaha, which is also known as College Baseball Heaven.

Here's the rundown on Mainieri versus the candidates.

-4-2 against Alabama coach Jim Wells, who was very interested in the job and traveled to Omaha, Neb., to the College World Series to talk to athletic director Skip Bertman about it.

-4-2 against South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, whom LSU was interested in but that interest was not returned. LSU fans really wanted Tanner and assumed he would just leave what is a great program. He did not want to do that.

- 3-2-1 against Kentucky’s John Cohen, a rising young coach who was very interested in the job and would have taken it.

- 3-3 against Ole Miss’ Mike Bianco, a former LSU player and assistant coach who was a very popular choice among LSU fans and athletic department officials. But Bianco has had the Rebels on the cusp of great things and took his name out.

- 1-3 against Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin, who interviewed for the job with Bertman. Corbin publicly took his name out of the running, but in reality Bertman decided to go another direction. Bertman knows Corbin is a great coach and would have probably done a great job, but he didn't think he was quite the fit.

Mainieri, at the moment, is fitting like your favorite baseball glove.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is it the clean living?

HOOVER, Ala. - The LSU baseball team won its 17th game Wednesday and goes for win No. 18 tonight against Vanderbilt.

We have heard many of the possible reasons why the Tigers suddenly went from an 11th place team in the SEC to the hottest team in the nation with the nation's longest winning streak. Chemistry, better pitching, smarter playing, the team concept, timely hitting, confidence are all potential reasons as well as the lack of global warming.

They are very talented, but that injection was just before this season. It takes time even for No. 1 recruiting classes to mesh.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri thinks there is another reason - clean living. And he may have a point.

This LSU baseball team has set school records for grade point average over the last two semesters at 2.83 and for the last semester at 2.89. They have also turned in the most community service hours of any male team on campus over the last two semesters with 345. These were not court mandated community service hours either.

"I think that means a lot," Mainieri said. "There is a direct correlation on how guys perform off the field to how they perform on the field."

Now, winning coaches tend to think that everything they do justifies itself during periods of success. Obviously, winners are not always good people. Just look at some of the criminals and spies who have had success in the NFL. Chemistry also tends to be overrated. The great New York Yankees teams of the 1970s tended to hate one another. The coaching staff of the Alabama national championship team in 1992 did not get along famously. And some of Skip Bertman’s best baseball teams were not all model citizens and choir boys.

But you are what you believe in, and Mainieri’s way is working for him. Last year at this time he was being criticized for getting rid of some talented players who did not fit his mold. He's getting the last laugh. He's won everywhere he's been, and it’s hard to argue with 17-0 and a SEC West title after the last two LSU teams finished below .500 in the SEC.

“This year we were able to bring in some players that are high character kids,” he said. “And I’ve always believed that if you start off with high character kids that have some baseball talent that are willing to do things the right way that things will turn around and you can have success on the field.”

Mainieri believes the best managers surround themselves with good people.

“That’s what I’ve tried to do here,” he said. “All of a sudden you’ve got some well rounded kids that are about the right things and they define a team in an unselfish way. I just figured the success was inevitable.”

What's in a name?

LSU added a football recruiting commitment with a familiar last name.

Slidell Northshore offensive lineman Chris Faulk committed to the Tigers. He also had offers from Arkansas, Nebraska and others.

Since missing on Marshall Faulk, LSU has enjoyed a lot of recruiting success with players named Faulk.

Running back Kevin Faulk and linebacker Trev Faulk went on to All-SEC and NFL careers.

Not saying Chris Faulk will match those players but he has a name to live up to at LSU.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When you're hot, you're hot

OK, what LSU did against South Carolina may be the most defying (or defining moment)of the 17-game winning streak.

Down 4-0 going into the bottom of the ninth, we joked here in the office if LSU had a five-spot in it.

The Tigers didn't.

They had the next best thing - a four-spot to tie.

Scoring four runs after having just two hits in the first eight innings just doesn't happen. Hitting walk-off home runs in the 10th to win suggest a team with more than just talent - one with confidence and mojo as well.

Who knows if this game will be a defining game for the season. Regardless, it's a memorable moment for the 2008 season.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When was the vote?

The SEC released its All-Conference baseball team today.

There are no players from LSU on the first or second team All-SEC squads -- zero, zilch, nada. And the coach of the year, that's Georgia's Dave Perno.

So an LSU team that won the Western Division has no representation on the team.

When was the vote for this team? March. Early April.

I understand LSU's success came in a four-week span, but those four weeks still matters.

Surely someone was deserving of at least second-team consideration. And if not, then shouldn't the coach be the Coach of the Year if no player made the All-SEC team and they still won the division?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

No surprise in San Diego

This week's issue of The Sporting News lists "Five rookies who weren't first-rounders but made good impressions.''

On the list is Jacob Hester, formerly of Evangel and LSU and now with the San Diego Chargers.

Wrote The Sporting News, "This third-round selection may never be the lead blocker Lorenzo Neal was, but he is a better athlete whose pass-catching ability and versatility could be big pluses in Norv Turner's offense.''

This should come as no surprise to anyone around here. The kid was a winner in high school. He was a winner in college. He'll likely be a winner in the NFL.

Nick Saban saw enough in him to sign him. Les Miles saw enough him to make him a feature back.

He may not be a feature back in the NFL, but here's betting that he'll be a contributor for a long time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Improbable champions

Let's have a show of hands of people on April 15 who thought LSU would win the SEC baseball championship?

If your hand is up,you're probably lying.

Let's face it, 15-game winning streaks, 11-game winning streaks in the conference, this is almost 2007 Colorado Rockies like.

Improbable or not, LSU is closing in on a possible regional host site. A win on Saturday would surely raise LSU inside the top 16 and make hosting a more realistic possibility with a good showing in Hoover.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kudos to Paul Mainieri

As journalists, all you can ask from the people you cover is honesty and accountability.

Give LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri major kudos on the accountability part. Mainieri was operating on very little sleep when the SEC baseball teleconference began at 10 a.m.

But Mainieri didn't skip out. He was first up.

Granted, it's a little easier talking to the media when you're winning. But still, getting into Auburn at 7 a.m. after driving throughout the night and getting on that 10 a.m. call earns some media points.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bobo we hardly knew you

Forgive me for not being fazed one bit by the departure of J'Mison Morgan from this year's basketball recruiting class.

LSU is, after all, a school that never got to the Sweet 16 with Shaquille O'Neal. And as Trent Johnson has said repeatedly on his Tiger Tour, Morgan is no Shaquille O'Neal.

In fact, I'm of the belief LSU fans shouldn't care too much what happens to this recruiting class. (Well, I mean you want some of the players. But if you lose a recruit, so what, this class wasn't going to be all that was needed.)

Here's what I see. Johnson came into a situation where recruits -- some of them, at least -- saw a way out. For Morgan, Kevin Love's departure to the NBA made UCLA a viable landing post.

But all indications are that Morgan isn't a one-and-done player. In fact, very few players from next year's freshman class are supposed to be that way.

This incoming class shouldn't be a measuring stick for Johnson. That should come next year and the year after.

If Johnson's track record is indication, next year may be rough for LSU fans, but consistent winning could be just down the road.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Christmas at the Box

BATON ROUGE - It was Mother's Day. It was Goodbye Alex Box day. It was the last home game of the regular season. It was a Sunday to never forget. And oh yeah, I almost forgot, it was Senior Day on Saturday.

LSU's baseball weekend of May 9-11, 2008, should be treasured forever. All rolled into one, it was basically Christmas Day in May. There are 12 days to Christmas, and the Tigers won their 12th straight game on Sunday. They haven't done that since 2000 - back when this was the first family of college baseball and the Tigers won their last national championship.

LSU also swept its third straight Southeastern Conference series for the first time since 1991, which was the year the Tigers won their first of five national championships. The Tigers scored 40 runs on 40 hits in the three games. They hit eight home runs.

One of the tough things about Christmas is we compare every Christmas to that perfect Christmas or two we remember as kids. LSU even had that this weekend. It was like a 1990s Christmas of Gorilla Ball all over again. Balls were flying out of the Box as if the Tigers were still guzzling Creotin like Eggnog off those fat bats.

The family patriarch - Skip Bertman - was at the head of the table as usual, carving a big baseball and working the crowd in every room. His daughters were there. So was his grandchild. So were many of friends and about 100 former players, whom he always calls "the boys." Albert Belle and Smoke Laval were not there. They should have been for they were responsible for many trips to Omaha as well, but every Christmas has its family omissions to avoid those uncomfortable moments.

Skip and the matriarch - Sandy Bertman - drove the family golf cart out to left field to take down the numeral 1, signifying the last game in the Box. Unless, LSU gets a home NCAA Regional, which it probably will. That announcement will be made on Sunday, May 25. The NCAA owes the Box one more regional. The Box, more than any other stadium in the country except Rosenblatt, has made College Baseball. LSU and a guy named Warren Morris made Rosenblatt, too. Just look at the statue. So, fair is fair.

Bertman was all over the field before, during and after the game. I don't know why he didn't coach a few innings. No one ever called a game better, and that includes the managers in the Big Show.

Bertman actually did carve a slice out of a big baseball near the pitcher's mound in a unique postgame ceremony that sent Alex Box off like a Brandon Larson home run off Tiger Stadium.

Bertman had the fans yell, "Go Tigers" four times supposedly into the baseball, then closed it. The big ball was then taken away in a police car. (Was that Ryan Perrilloux in the back? Just kidding.) The ball will not be opened again until the new Alex Box is open down Nicholson next season.

This Bertman guy has still got it. He could still coach and he could still be athletic director. He's going out on top. And so did Alex Box.

Like many a great family Christmas, everything didn't go perfectly. And those unplanned accidents make it better and even more memorable. The old Alex Box sound system didn't work. Few could understand what Bertman and some of his players who spoke were saying. It was like your mother trying to take that perfect picture just as you open your Skittle Pool present, but she forgot to turn the camera on. Then she demands an immediate re-opening and fake smile.

Bertman told a story about his first visit to Alex Box.

"There were less than 200 people watching and the PA didn't work very well," he said, forgetting that the PA was still not working very well. Everyone started laughing.

This final ceremony dragged on like one of your aunt's bad toasts at Christmas, but nearly all of the crowd of 6,556 - the largest all season - stayed through it all. They didn't care. They were just happy to be there. And when it was nearly all over - Thank God - they yelled those "Go Tigers" for the baseball for the new Box as loud as they did for any NCAA Regional rally over the years.

"Alex Box is a special place to me," pitcher Doug Thompson said. "The times that I've had here and the times that all my teammates had here were the most special times of our lives."

Merry Christmas to Alex Box and to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Regional anyone?

Here's how crazy this LSU baseball season has been. About a month ago, LSU fans had serious questions about coach Paul Mainieri and were wondering why he wasn't able to turn the program around any quicker. The SEC Tournament was still a goal.

Now, a month later. Mainieri is a genius. The SEC Tournament is a given and dreams of hosting one last regional at Alex Box dance in the minds of LSU fans.

Just goes to show what happens when you sweep three consecutive SEC series.

Is this team a national contender? No. But it has shown enough progress to say the Tigers are in a turnaround. And Mainieri does have more impressive recruits on the way.

That's all pretty crazy, huh?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Grade A hire

The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy has a column in this week's edition rating the college basketball hires this offseason.

He hands out an A to Indiana for hiring Tom Crean.

His next highest grade? LSU.

He gives the Tigers an A- for the Trent Johnson hire.

While Johnson and the Tigers program are going through the inevitable transition period, it certainly helps him and his program to have national credibility for the hire.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Goodbye to the Box

Alex Box Stadium's final regular season series is this weekend when LSU hosts Mississippi State.

Some folks are getting nostalgic.

Let me be the first to remind you that until 1984, the Box was an eyesore on campus. LSU often played day baseball games in front of students studying for exams. Until Skip Bertman came along, the atmosphere was almost nil.

So this weekend's celebration is as much about what LSU baseball became at the Box under Bertman as it is the stadium itself.

This isn't the Green Monster of the ivy on the walls at Fenway. This is an old stadium. The time has come for a move into the new.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tour time

LSU's Tiger Tour has begun.

This is a special tour this year that should have lots of appeal to fans. The football national championship trophy is on display so fans can get an up close look at the crystal ball.

New basketball coach Trent Johnson is making the tour. So there is some appeal there to hear the new guy.

And, of course, Les Miles will be on the tour as well.

For LSU fans, it should be a can't miss event.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

There is a baseball god

BATON ROUGE - Just in time for LSU's last regular season baseball series in charming and historic Alex Box Stadium, suddenly the Tigers have a baseball program again.

Somehow, LSU (32-16-1) is in first place in the Southeastern Conference West with a 12-11-1 mark and fifth in the overall SEC standings. On the morning of April 25, LSU was in 11th place in the SEC overall and a long shot to reach the SEC Tournament, which takes only the top eight.

LSU has won nine in a row, including its first back-to-back, three-game sweeps in the SEC since 1998 when it was THE power of college baseball. Now, it looks like a sure thing for its first SEC Tournament since 2006 and appears headed to an NCAA Regional somewhere, if not Alex Box. The Tigers, who will move into a new Alex Box next season just a block or two down Nicholson Drive, are also ranked for the first time since April of 2006. LSU is No. 22 in Baseball America and USA Today and No. 23 in Collegiate Baseball.

With the elderly Alex Box trying to hang on for one more weekend, the baseball gods have smiled on LSU again. The Tigers will open their last regular season series in the Box as West leaders against Mississippi State, which is clearly the worst team in the league at 7-17 in the SEC and 19-28 overall. Another struggling SEC team will host LSU to end the regular season. That's Auburn at 26-23 and 10-14.

Two more sweeps look very possible, which would put LSU at 18-11-1 in the SEC and with at least 38 wins. There is a non-conference game against UNO in Zephyr Field on May 13. So LSU could be hovering around 40 wins as it plays in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., on May 21-25.

Just a few weeks ago, the Alex Box finale looked like a lost weekend or a last weekend. How sad that would have been - LSU trying to exit the SEC cellar in the stadium where it earned 11 trips to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Now it is starting to look like LSU could say farewell to Alex Box in a more suitable way - with a home NCAA Regional.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Was it drugs?

LSU coach Les Miles kicked quarterback Ryan Perrilloux off the team for good Friday because of another failed drug test, according to LSU representatives close to the football program.

LSU's student-athlete drug policy includes a three-strike format.

Without Perrilloux, an extremely talented dual-action quarterback whose play in the SEC championship game put LSU in the national championship game, the Tigers' quarterback situation is not strong. But in the end, it could be better off.

Quarterback Jarrett Lee, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall, will be the starter this fall. He is about where former quarterback Matt Flynn was when Flynn was a redshirt freshman - raw, talented and smart. LSU, which will have a very good offensive line, backs and receivers, can win with Lee. The problem is if Lee goes down. Then all LSU has is Andrew Hatch, a junior who walked on from Harvard last year and took his first few snaps in major college football in a relief role last season at LSU, and incoming freshman Jordan Jefferson.

Lee and Hatch got all the work during spring drills as Perrilloux was suspended for all of the practices. LSU's well-paid coaches have all summer to get them ready. If they can play smart, that could end up being better than Perrilloux playing spectacular but likely running into trouble again during the season - like the night before the Alabama game.

Some of LSU's players have already said they can win without Perrilloux, who would have been a junior this season. Now they can rally around the other two quarterbacks and breathe a sigh of relief. The three-year headache that has been Perrilloux is gone.