The great Pete Maravich never played in the NCAA tournament.
At this rate, the great Ben Simmons won’t, either.
LSU dropped to 4-4 Sunday with a 105-98 overtime loss at Houston, the Tigers’ fourth loss in their past five games (all away from home) and second straight in which they’ve given up 100-plus points.
All the losses had some similar traits: poor shot selection and ball movement, bad rebounding, soft defense. Three of the losses were games the Tigers could have won — they also lost by one to Marquette and in overtime to North Carolina State in New York — though an inability to close out games isn’t exactly something positive, either.
LSU’s RPI has slipped to No. 210. Southern, by comparison, is No. 67. It’s not a stretch to say that the Jaguars have a better team than the Tigers, who right now look so much like a collection of talented playground ball pickup all-stars lacking the chemistry to succeed as a team.
Coach Johnny Jones has drawn a load of criticism for where the Tigers are now. While he isn’t breathing fire like a Bobby Knight might have in a similar spot, Jones wasn’t pulling punches Tuesday.
“We’re all kind of guilty,” he said, “including the coach here, for where we are right now. There’s not one person you can point the finger at.”
Some may fault Jones for not taking more blame, but he is 100 percent correct. There is plenty of blame to go around, just as there are solutions to be found within the program.
Things could start getting better soon for LSU. They must. Their pre-Southeastern Conference schedule has reached critical mass. The Tigers have only four games, all at home, left before opening SEC play at Vanderbilt, at home against Kentucky, then at Florida. It’s crucial if the Tigers want to climb the RPI ladder back into NCAA contention that they need to start winning now.
The opportunities are there. Senior guard Keith Hornsby finally got into action at Houston after sitting out with a sports hernia, pouring in 32 points and providing the kind of toughness the Tigers have been lacking.
Forward Craig Victor is finally clear of his transfer-mandated exile and will be able to play starting with Wednesday’s game against Gardner-Webb.
“We have all the tools necessary,” Jones said.
It would be unfair to expect miracles, and Jones clearly said Victor’s addition won’t be a “cure all” for the Tigers. But he should give them some braking power around the basket, someone to soak up what have been loads of offensive rebounds that LSU’s opposition have turned into toxic second-chance points.
Victor, like Hornsby, is a tough-minded, intense player.
“We really need that,” Hornsby said.
It’s easy to write off the Tigers as a pre-Christmas failure, but it’s too early to do so before they got all their pieces in place.
Now they are all in place. Now there are no more excuses.
There are opportunities, however, in SEC play and in a non-conference slate that still holds home games against No. 19 RPI Oral Roberts, No. 52 Wake Forest and No. 3-ranked Oklahoma (No. 18 RPI).
“These things are capable of being fixed,” Hornsby said. “We have to do that now.”
Now. Right now. For LSU, there needs to be a red-alert sense of urgency. Youth and experience and midseason reinforcements have to come together in a tough-minded, cohesive whole — before it’s too late.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.