Tigers adjusting to expectations

BATON ROUGE, La. -- There's a new vibe around the LSU men's basketball team during media sessions these days.

With four games to go in the regular season, players are fielding questions about winning streaks and postseason hopes and finishing the home stretch.

It's because for the first time in two years, the Tigers (16-10, 6-6) have a chance to play a role in the NCAA postseason. Having won their last three games, the Tigers now boast more SEC wins in 2012 than they managed in 2010 and 2011 combined. With just about two weeks until the SEC tournament, LSU sits in a four-way tie for fourth place in the SEC with a chance at a tournament bye.

"It's been very different. We're right here where coach said we would be," said sophomore guard Andre Stringer. "We have a chance, depending on how things go, that if we finish this thing right, then we can be in the postseason -- NIT or NCAA, something like that."

Never one to look beyond the here and now, LSU coach Trent Johnson was hesitant to compare his current squad to the past two editions, which were SEC also-rans by this point in the year.

"It's a different year, it's a different team, it's different personnel -- older, more experienced guys," Johnson said. "A year ago is a year ago, and what happened in the past is in the past."

Johnson did acknowledge, though, that after the struggles of the past two seasons, in which LSU went a combined 5-27 in league play, the Tigers have come out stronger. For all the effort his group has taken to reach .500 in SEC play, Johnson said he's confident they know how to maintain the success.

"I told them this prior to us going out against South Carolina that I personally was as relaxed as I've been since I've been here," he said. "The reason is that this group has been through a lot, and the bottom line here is that you know what you need to do and you know what you're capable of."

With a so-so record, there's still plenty of work to do if the Tigers have any chance to make postseason noise. Dampening the excitement of the SEC tournament -- being played just 60 miles away in New Orleans -- is the reminder that all five of the teams above LSU in the SEC standings have posted double-digit victories against the Tigers this season.

But with the calendar inching closer to March, it can be seen as refreshing that LSU is even in the conversation.

"The SEC tournament is going to determine what we do in the postseason after (conference play), so we can't wait," Stringer said. "Obviously we're going to play some tough teams, but we're working hard to make sure we're ready."