So. Before the game, we found out Simmons wouldn't be starting due to what was later called "an academic issue", and sat until the first break. He played the rest of the game, with pretty much zero breaks. Much of that time, his performance lacked real effort, especially on the defense end, and he was clearly out of his groove. Blakeney was the only player on the court who showed a consistency in the energy he expended, and the body-language was really bad all-around. It seems as though Johny Jones has lost this team (you know, if hadn't already lost them back in 2015.)
LSU also got some good news pre-game as Tennessee was without Kevin Punter (their unquestioned best player and leader) for the contest. Still, the Tigers got off to a slow start, and couldn't get any separation early in the first half. Really poor defensive showing to start the game, and throughout. Their lack of a rim protector is starting to get glaring. They got really poor opportunities in the half-court (don't get me started.) After trading buckets early, they fell behind around half-way through the first half, looked really out of sync on offense and soft on defense. The talent disparity alone (with Punter out) should have led to a blow-out win. This team is becoming an out and out failure in terms of composure under pressure.
They played much of the rest of the game with a considerable deficit, and seemed to be deferring to Simmons on the block when they did have an objective with the ball in their possession. If you're relying on Ben Simmons to take over and score to win you the game, you're going to lose. It's simply not who the kid is. They don't post him in easy situation's all year, or with any consistency really, yet when they're down 10 he's suddenly supposed to be Karl Malone? Not a great strategy. This team starts games slow with consistency, and it's killed their tournament hopes. LSU has had more talent than the other team every game of this season besides maybe 4 or 5 of them, at most. Jones just has no idea how to manage it.
Look at how hard those Tennessee kids played for Rick Barnes without their unquestioned leader on the floor and best player. This shouldn't have been a winnable game for them, even at home. They played hard all night and came away with a huge win, that really means nothing to them. They aren't a tournament team. They'll have no real shot to win the NIT. This game was meaningless for them, and they out-competed LSU on every possession.
The Tigers tried to press late in the second half, and they got picked apart. Nothing is working for this team right now. No, they aren't completely out of it yet, but they're certainly on life-support, which is unbelievable given where this team was just a week ago. I don't see how you can put the blame anywhere but Jones. Time and time again, this team has been put in key situations that test their true mettle and potential as a unit (both Legends Classic games, home against Wake, losing the lead in the 2nd half to Oklahoma, and these past two abominations against Bama and the Vols) and again and again have completely melted under the pressure. Committing stupid fouls again and again, giving up open corner threes, having no idea what to do in terms of rotations after the first guy is forced to help, are all the marks of a losing team. And that's exactly what happened.
What's next: Basically, you need to win out to guarantee yourself a spot in the tournament. I don't just mean beat Kentucky (which isn't happening) and Florida, I mean go grab the SEC automatic-qualifying spot. Maybe a run to the championship game and a close loss to Kentucky could get you in, but unlikely. This unequivocal failure of a season should mark the end of Jones' tenure in Baton Rouge, but who knows. Joe Alleva almost fired Les Miles, after all, and has continued to ride with Jones through this absolute meltdown of what was a much-hyped campaign despite early signs of terminal issues (personally, I'd have made the switch after the loss to College of Charleston.) Given the abundance of resources, marketing dollars, and media attention, devoted to Simmons this year, this one really has to hurt. And there's no one I feel worse for than Simmons.