Though the Final Four was ultimately fairly chalky, it was a wild NCAA Tournament this year as a whole. There were a number of high-profile upsets, especially during the first weekend.
One such victim was LSU, who lost its opening matchup as the No. 6 seed vs. 11-seeded Iowa State. The Cyclones ultimately made a Sweet 16 run before falling to Miami.
It was a disappointing way for the season to end, but it also wasn’t exactly surprising. The Tigers entered the tournament with bigger concerns, as head coach Will Wade had just been fired as a result of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations regarding violations within the program. Interim coach Kevin Nickelberry led the team into the postseason.
While any postseason exit short of a national title hurts, especially when it comes in upset fashion, it’s hard to fault LSU too much for this one given the circumstances. ESPN agreed, and in it’s “pain index” for every loss in the tournament, the Tigers’ ranked just No. 52 out of 66. It was also ranked the lowest of any loss by a power conference team.
How they lost: No. 11 seed Iowa State defeated the Tigers 59-54 in the first round
Peak win probability: 74.0% (LSU 5, Iowa State 4, 17:22 mark of first half)
How much it hurts: LSU’s NCAA tournament circumstances were bizarre, and not for the first time, as the school finally ousted scandal-plagued coach Will Wade on the eve of the 2022 tournament and was led by an interim coach for the second time in four years. It was hard to know whether a talented but inconsistent Tigers group would rally around interim coach Kevin Nickelberry or would have one foot in the transfer portal. The results were somewhere in between. LSU fell behind 24-12 in the first half but didn’t quit, tying it at 31-31 in the second half and heading into the final two minutes down 51-50 and holding a chance. But the Cyclones’ Tyrese Hunter hit two dagger 3s in the closing minutes, the Tigers missed a couple of key free throws, and the game went to ISU.
“We were in the game until the end,” Nickelberry said afterward. “I said all week it’s just basketball, but the distractions were a lot and these guys still fought through those distractions, went out and gave LSU a chance to win tonight.”
Given the events that immediately followed, it’s no surprise the Tigers were distracted. Every player on the roster either entered the 2022 NBA draft or the transfer portal following the season, meaning LSU will literally be starting from scratch next season.
New coach Matt McMahon will certainly have his hands full, but regardless, the NCAA Tournament loss with an interim coach likely isn’t one that will sting Tigers fans for years to come.
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