LSU is stuck.
This was a program on the rise. This was supposed to be a year to re-establish Tiger basketball in Baton Rouge. This, we heard from every corner of the team, was the season when Johnny Jones would start the path back toward the Daddy Dale Brown days.
To borrow a phrase from the program across Nicholson Dr., big swing and a miss. LSU closed out a demoralizing regular season with an eight-point loss to Georgia, and boy was it ever a microcosm of this team's ills. The Tigers actually finish the year one game worse than last season's promising 18-11 record. The SEC tally was the same, a middling 9-9 in a middling year for the league. For the 17th time in 23 years and the fifth straight season, LSU couldn't muster a winning conference record.
Georgia came out firing, taking advantage of the Tigers' lax perimeter defense to make eight of its first nine threes. The Bulldogs ended the game shooting 60 percent beyond the arc and 47.9 percent overall. LSU finished the season dead last in the SEC in 3-point field goal defense at 39 percent. The Dawgs may not have hit 70, but they still controlled their fate offensively, with LSU largely a pesk for turnovers only.
And yet, the Tigers weren't ever truly out of the loop, as some oddities kept the game closer than maybe it should have been, especially with LSU's offense. Dear God, that offense. When the Tigers get in transition this season, it's on. When they're hitting 3s, it's on. If they're not? Well, better watch Johnny O'Bryant III.
And watch LSU did on Saturday. Too bad JOB came up empty. Playing perhaps his final game in the PMAC, O'Bryant turned in a career-staining stinker. He refused to accept Georgia's double and triple teams as effective defenses, ramming toward the basket with little skill. He committed three traveling violations. The junior forward was asked to carry the offense one more time, but he was hapless. His final line: five points (2-for-8 shooting), eight rebounds, five turnovers, four fouls. This game was further proof that JOB is not ready for the NBA, though it's doubtful that will stop him from leaving.
It was all in the pudding for LSU, never more so than on Saturday. This team never truly gelled, playing well in November and December before scoring a few nice home wins in January but doing little else of merit. The ingredients were always a tad off. Tim Quarterman's airball, muffed rebound and brutal turnover were par for the course for him. He was far and away the biggest disappointment on the roster. Jarell Martin was serviceable, but his 0-for-4 3-point shooting prevented LSU from stretching the floor. Anthony Hickey disappeared for most of the game. He finished 1-for-6 beyond the arc and committed some frustrating, if necessary fouls.
Only Andre Stringer, the lone four-year letterman on Senior Day, came to play. But the sub-6 foot guard can only do so much and his 22 points were ultimately limited by some ugly off-balance hoists in the paint. Still, the Mississippi native has been a consummate player for LSU through a rough era. He's not a Tiger great, but he's definitely a true Tiger.
Ultimately, that didn't matter much. Another year, another failure. Yes, LSU could theoretically run the table in the SEC Tournament next week, making this all moot. But you've seen the same team I have for the last six weeks. Would you even put a $20 bill on that? I'd even give you great odds.
No, of course not. You probably wouldn't take that bet. That's a sobering place to be at the end of Johnny Jones' second season. This program desperately needs some consistency, just not the kind of mediocrity that Jones is one more season from cementing. Look, Jones is still early in his tenure. Even SEC football coaches get three years usually. I'm not advocating firing the man. But his seat should be warm next year for the same reason I gave when expressing confidence in LSU prior to the season:
Basketball is not football. You can turn things around so quickly, especially with the right recruiting class. LSU seemingly had that class last year, bringing in one of the nation's dozen best. Combine that with an experienced backcourt plus a returning All-SEC player, and anything less than the NCAA Tournament was a bust.
Well, LSU sure delivered a bust in 2014, destroying a good start to the season with an immature and maddening stretch run. It's the same kind of frustration seeping from this program's pores for 20 years now. Saturday's loss just exposed even more cracks, and the Tigers can't plug them fast enough, just like under Trent Johnson and John Brady. It's exhausting to like this team. That's not a program that holds any appeal.