Five thoughts in the wake of LSU’s 71-38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals:
1. There are losses, and there are losses. This was a historic defeat for the Tigers, the worst shooting percentage in SEC tournament history by any team and the fewest points scored by a major-conference school this season. That such an epic rout happened in a game in which LSU was playing for its NCAA tournament life practically defies description.
2. Certainly the season-ending reinjury of scrappy senior guard Keith Hornsby has been a massive blow to the Tigers physically and mentally. But it is looking for excuses with a magnifying glass to pin LSU’s lifeless effort on the absence of the best leader it had. The Tigers have put the “M” in “mercurial” all season long. They’re up, they’re down, they seem into a game one day (Tennessee on Friday) and the next not. Again, with their NCAA tournament hopes at stake, a little more effort, hustle and desire was expected. Instead, the Tigers, with a few exceptions, showed anything but.
3. For those wondering, every indication has been that Johnny Jones will be given the opportunity to return as LSU’s coach next season. That said, the Tigers’ effort, particularly in scoring just 13 first-half points, and Jones’ halftime comment on ESPN that his team had good energy are likely going to haunt him going forward. This game was the ultimate fodder for Jones’ critics who say his players don’t play with a cohesive plan at either end of the court — and sometimes look like they’d rather be on a tennis court.
4. In picking through the wreckage of this defeat, it is in a way a relief that we no longer have to debate whether the Tigers have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. They don’t. Some may (for some inexplicable reason) wonder whether LSU will get to open the NIT at home. For the record, LSU doesn’t look to be a top four regional seed, so probably not. The way this season has ended, maybe it’s for the best. Anything to hasten the end of this house fire.
5. This loss will add to the referendum on Ben Simmons as well. Some say he’s been spectacular, a generational talent. Some say he’s been a disappointment and possesses a game (lack of defense and a jump shot) that is flawed. Yes, he is all of these things. Whatever you think of Simmons, the truth is he is talented enough that there is no real excuse for a team with him on its roster with the other players at its disposal not to make the NCAA tournament. Yet that is exactly what will happen.