Let's just come right out and admit it: this is a bad basketball team. This is not a team that "shows promise" or is "just putting the pieces together". No, this is a bad team. LSU currently sits at 4-4, which doesn't seem so bad. It's 500, right? Well, here is a list of every team in one of the six major conferences (Power 5 + Big East) boasting a record of 500 or worse:
Boston College (4-6), Minnesota (5-5), Ohio St (4-5), Rutgers (4-6), Mississippi St (4-4), Tennessee (4-4), LSU (4-4).
That's the whole list. LSU is in a group of seven teams out of the 73 teams which play in a major conference which are collected in the basement of the standings. And it's not like LSU has lost to 1990 UNLV either. LSU is yet to play a ranked team, and its best loss is to an 8-2 Marquette squad that lost to Iowa by 28 points.
And we're used to LSU basketball being bad. This year is different because for the first time since the season following the unexpected Final Four run, this team has expectations. And like that 2006-07 team, this one is likely to miss postseason play. You can talk about "wasting" Leonard Fournette in football, but the team is ranked and spent most of the year in the national conversation. Ben Simmons is the likely #1 overall pick in next year's draft, and LSU basketball has been virtually eliminated from tournament contention before Christmas.
That's what wasting talent looks like. Ben Simmons has been pretty much everything as advertised. He boasts an impressive range of skills and he's averaging 19.0 PPG and 14.8 RPG. He even leads the team in assists at 5.9 APG. Any complaints about this team completely exempts Simmons. This isn't on him, as he has delivered the goods.
LSU basketball has been largely irrelevant ever since the end of the Dale Brown era, and I've gotten used to the team's quiet mediocrity. It's not that the team has been completely awful, it's just that the team has barely mattered. This team aspires to mediocrity, but it is doing so quite loudly. This was LSU's moment in the national spotlight, and we've pretty much showed them what the program is: a shell of its former self. But instead of slipping in late to the party and then quietly leaving out the back door before anyone even notices, LSU is now failing in front of the national audience.
This is a loud failure, and one that can set the program back yet another half a decade or so. Getting Simmons to come to LSU was a major coup, but what self-respecting nationally ranked prospect is going to consider LSU after this faceplant? LSU is on course to miss the NIT, forget the NCAA, with the best player in the country on its roster. That's about as big as failures get.
This was the chance to get the program back to the heady days of Dale Brown and the Deaf Dome. From 1977-1993, LSU made the NCAA tournament 13 times (including 10 times in a row), won 4 SEC titles, reached 2 Final Fours, and at the minimum standard, posted a winning record in SEC play 14 times. Since Daddy Dale left town in 1997, LSU has 6 NCAA tournament appearances, 3 SEC titles, 1 Final Four, and only posted a winning record in SEC play 5 times. Five.
Outside of the occasional great year that seems to come out of nowhere, this is a bad basketball program, and it has been for twenty years. There is simply no consistency, and any step forward has been immediately succeeded by two steps back. Just look at those three SEC titles. Every single one of those teams was followed by a year in which LSU not only missed the tournament, but finished at the bottom of the standings. Two of those three teams went 2-14 in SEC play, just a year after winning the conference title. Since the end of the ten-year tournament streak, LSU has only made it to the tournament in consecutive years once.
Well, LSU made it last year, so you know what that means for this year. It's time for LSU to throw up another clunker of a season, this time with the added degree of difficulty of doing so with one of the best players in LSU history on the squad.
It's going to be tough to enjoy Ben Simmons' one year on campus, but you should try to do so, even if the team gives us little to cheer about. He is an amazing talent, and he deserved better than the collection of mediocrity around him. Then again, so do LSU basketball fans.
This is the same song we've been singing for two decades, just a different verse. LSU basketball was better off being irrelevant. At least no one noticed the team stunk outside of the SEC.