Dig Baton Rouge

Missed opportunity: LSU Basketball’s season ends with a thud

I host a weekly radio show on ESPN New Orleans 100.3 FM. That’s not just a shameless plug, there’s a method to the madness.

During one of my shows in October, the topic of LSU basketball came up, and a call-in guest asked what were realistic expectations for the Tigers during the season.

I told the caller that the Tigers’ ceiling was the Final Four, and their floor was the Sweet 16. Anything less, and head coach Johnny Jones was in big trouble.

Flash forward to the present, and the Tigers are not going to the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT. That became pretty obvious during the team’s lackluster season. It was then sealed this weekend in a brutal 71-38 loss against Texas A&M in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.

This poses a question.

Was this the most underwhelming, disappointing season in the history of LSU basketball?

My answer? I think so.

This LSU basketball season was supposed to be special. The Tigers became an “on-the-map” college program last spring when it signed No. 1 recruit Ben Simmons and his five-star running mate Antonio Blakeney to National Letters of Intent—scholarships that immediately gave high-scale expectations to the team.

But the Tigers never lived up to the lofty preseason expectations.

First, it was the slow start, which included early-season losses to Marquette, North Carolina State, Houston and the College of Charleston.

Those games were bad, but LSU fans remained hopeful that there was a rainbow coming after the storm. That’s because a lot of that early action was played without senior guard Keith Hornsby and sophomore transfer Craig Victor II – key pieces that became regular starters.

Fans were right—at least at first.

LSU did start SEC play on a high note, defeating Vanderbilt on the road, and then shellacking Kentucky in the PMAC. It was short-lived, however, and the Tigers quickly reverted back to their same old, inconsistent play.

The Tigers entered the final month of the season firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and that quickly burst into flames with blowout losses to Arkansas, Tennessee and the aforementioned slaughter at the hands of Texas A&M this past weekend.

Throughout the course of the season, the speculation wheel has spun around Baton Rouge, as analysts have attempted to theorize why the Tigers have struggled.

The two most common theories are, first, that Ben Simmons isn’t quite the polished, can’t miss, prospect we thought he’d be. Second, it’s widely speculated that even if he were, LSU coach Johnny Jones wouldn’t have known how to use him, which, of course, is the root of the problem.

I think the LSU problem is somewhere in the middle, which, doesn’t make it any more or less embarrassing.

This was LSU’s year—the time that Jones would show critics that he had the moxie to take his alma mater and push them deep into the NCAA Tournament.

That opportunity never came to fruition, and LSU couldn’t even muster a spot in the 68-team dance.

Simmons says he wants to stay in Baton Rouge, but he won’t.

Why would he? He’s been poorly coached long enough. If LSU were competing, sure, but why play for free for a loser, when you can make millions?

Even if you’re the worst team in the NBA, that’s still better than being outside of the Top 68 in the NCAA.

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