**Ed. Note: Joe Alleva has confirmed what most of us suspected, that Johnny Jones will coach LSU next fall.**
What a roller coaster of a season that was. With the expected news of Benny hiring Rich Paul, formally withdrawing from the university (which he might as well have never been officially enrolled in, amateurism everybody!), and declaring for the draft, the BS Experiment has finally concluded in Baton Rouge. Based off a number of hypothesis I myself made going into the season ("this could be a top 25 team by the end of the year," "they'll make the tournament with a solid seed," "Simmons should be right there in the conversation for Player of the Year") This season seems like abject failure. But that may not be digging deep enough.
Where it all began: Simmons closes his recruitment before it even begins in earnest (because he's effectively forced to attend a year of college as opposed to going straight to the NBA, which many felt he would be better suited for), and earmarks himself for LSU due to his close connection with David Patrick, his godfather and an assistant coach with the program. Retrospectively, this has been twisted and turned to be made to look like a bad decision, which it maybe was, but at it's heart, how can you go against a kid wanted to be in the same program as a family member? Especially given that LSU has never been regarded as a likely destination for a top recruit before, how can anyone fault him for giving it a shot, and even convincing another high-level talent to do the same in Antonio Blakeney? I think it speaks very positively to his character, as many kids would have either bid themselves out (sorry, "amateurism" crowd, it's the truth) or pick between Lexington and Durham as their "one-year NBA development degree" options. Simmons chose the road less traveled, and I think it says a lot of positive things about him, regardless of the outcome.
The Australia trip ended up probably being the high-point of the year, for both Benny and the team, as they held their own against grown-men and seasoned professionals in Simmons' home country. When they returned though, things started to come off the rails. What happened in Brooklyn, missing Hornsby, this team had chemistry issues from the jump. Losing to College of f-ing Charleston in the manner that they did was the first real bad omen, even though we knew that Jones teams generally play to the level of their competition from past experience. The "it" factor was just never there with this team. I'm not going to speculate on why, and I'm not going to put all the blame on Johnny Jones, but these guys never really seemed to be on the same page the whole season.
As the stretch run waned on, and it became clearer and clearer that this was not a tournament team of any consequence, Simmons focus on the court seemed to wane as well, especially on the defensive end. He's an incredibly smart basketball player, and I think he struggled to muster up the enthusiasm to play night in and night out in a system so ill-suited for his, and his team's, style of play. Jones bases his offense on the UCLA High-Post Offense (or so he claimed), which is dependent on having a center who can flash to the high post and conduct the offense from there (a la Marc Gasol), and that each player be able to post-up their man.
LSU's issue's with that; they only had one guy who's a natural post-up scorer (Craig Victor) and Simmons reluctance to shoot jumpers allows his defender to play free safety off him when he's the one at the free throw line. Hornsby was the only guard who showed a consistent ability to make an entry pass, and Simmons didn't show the willingness to make a move and get a shot when he did get the ball in position. The other thing is that the system is reliant on off-ball movement and "fake" off-ball movement (cuts that are started before the player bounces quickly back out to the perimeter; LSU had very little of the former and almost none of the latter. In offensive sets that aren't suited to the player's strength in the first place, how can you expect to maximize the utility of that player if you aren't even running said sets correctly?
Defensively, the human-firework dud that was Elbert Robinson was what really hurt what the Tigers were able to do on that end of the floor. If he had lived up to the hype, been a rim-protecting defensive centerpiece that his body suggests he could be, this team would have been half decent on defense (maybe.) Without him, Simmons and Victor are asked to protect the rim, and weren't coached on how to do so correctly, so they dealt with foul trouble pretty much all season. The guards were turn-styles on the perimeter, guys got in the lane with consistency, and teams found corner threes and easy drop-ins on the Tigers all year. It was a tour de force in how NOT to play defense. The fact that Simmons managed to grab almost 12 boards a game is shocking when you take into account he boxed out with little to no consistency.
Despite the horribly average start to the season, they still had a real shot after getting that win the day before Valentines Day against A&M. They then proceeded to mentally melt-down right before our eyes. That, unfortunately, is what's going to stick with me more than anything else about this LSU Basketball season. They were faced with a do or die stretch to get in the tournament, and they approached those games with the same apathetic demeanor they had for the rest of the season, if not an even more defeatist attitude as a whole. And I don't blame Simmons for that, because he'd been going balls to the wall all year to keep this team in contention for games they didn't have business playing in. There was no major innovation or change in strategy, they just kept banging their heads against the wall expecting it to eventually breakdown. That final game against A&M was the ugly, ugly result. Advantage, wall.
But as for Simmons...The kid averaged 19, 12, and 5 as a freshman, and in another offensive system those 5 assists would likely be even higher. Simmons held up his end of the deal; he showed up, played hard as often as you can expect any NBA shoe-in to, and said all the right things the whole way through. Anyone who has anything negative or critical to say of him before having many, many more things to say about the situation and the coaching is missing the point entirely. The kid was forced into a bad situation (go play "student" for 9 months with zero intention of getting a degree at all or at the least within any foreseeable time-frame, see how much you like it), and honestly probably made the best of it. I mean, 19 12 and 4 doesn't scratch the surface of what he contributed to this team, and he had them in contention for a tournament spot until the bitter end, despite the coaches best efforts. I'm not sure how you could ask for anything more.