Is it safe to come out yet? Is it over?
LSU basketball finally closed the Ben Simmons era not with a bang, but a whimper, as the team decided to decline any postseason tournament invitations in the wake of missing the Big Dance. It's a good thing, too, because pretty much all this team did all year was whimper.
Let's get one thing out of the way first: Ben Simmons was everything he was billed to be. He averaged 19.2 PPG and 11.8 RPG, tossing in 4.8 APG and 2.0 SPG as well. He led the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He also had the team's highest field goal percentage, and had more offensive boards than any other player on the team had defensive rebounds.
There's a lot to take aim at this year, but Ben Simmons is not really on that list. He didn't let LSU down, LSU let him down. He delivered on his end.
Really, the only other player to deliver on his promise was Keith Hornsby, who shot .415 from three-point range and ranked second on the team in PPG at 13.1. He was a viable second option on a team that desperately needed one, particularly on the exterior. Of course, he only played in 20 games and finished the year unable to play due to injury. And that's the second most successful player on the roster.
LSU refusing to accept an NIT bid before it was even offered, which was no sure thing, is not an act of arrogance. It is an act of mercy. This season needed to end, and it needed to end as soon as possible. Simmons can move on to the NBA, Hornsby can move on to the recovery ward, and Jones can hopefully just move on. But there was not a large contingent of LSU fans hoping they could catch one or two more games of this edition of the team.
This was a singularly painful year for LSU basketball fans, who let's face it, are no strangers to pain. Outside of one flukish great team that played its way into the Final four before getting pasted, LSU basketball has been short on good news since Shaquille O'Neal left town.
In the past twenty years, every bit of good news has come with even larger bad news coming down the way. Super recruits Randy Livingston and Ronnie Henderson commit to the program, continuing the Dale Brown legacy? Both would experience career ending knee injuries. Lester Earl spurns Kansas to revitalize the program? Nope. He stayed just one year, and brought with him NCAA probation. LSU digs out of probation to win the SEC title? Only to finish back in last place the next season. Brady makes the Final Four and the tourney four times? He also finished in last place in the West five times. And the Final Four team built on its success by missing the tournament? Steal Trent Johnson from Stanford? He can't recruit. Bring back Johnny Jones to revitalize the Dale Brown era? He can recruit, but can't coach. And now, Ben Simmons arrives with much fanfare, and leaves with much less.
This season was an unmitigated disaster. You can't blame hoops fans for believing that the program had finally turned some sort of corner. Or, at the very least, this year would be different and give them some reprieve from the near constant string of misery that is LSU basketball post-Dale Brown. A big time player can make such a huge difference, and fans weren't getting greedy. No one was asking for the national title, we just wanted a fun year and maybe a nice little Sweet 16 run.
Even that small sliver of happiness is too much to ask for.
And where do we go from here? Antonio Blakeney showed flashes of the promise that made him a top 100 recruit, but now he will be asked to carry the team. Simmons, of course, is gone. Hornsby and Gray will both graduate. That leaves LSU with Blakeney, Victor, Quarterman, Sampson, and Patterson as the returning players from its usual rotation. That's not a bad group of talent, but it should have been enough to back a generational talent. How will they perform without him?
Next year's class is already in the barn, and it contains zero four-star recruits. The class was ranked 53rd in the 247 composite. Some will tell you recruiting will not dry up because Jones is just that good at it, but a guy can only sell magic beans for so long before the clientele realizes those are just regular beans. Eventually, you need some results.
The failure of LSU to even make the field of 68 with the likely #1 pick in the draft is a catastrophic event, and one that signals to all recruits to stay as far away from Baton Rouge as possible. The well has dried up, unless Jones can pull out some magic from the pieces left behind next season.
It seems LSU basketball still has some whimpering left to do.