LSU Basketball: The Johnny Jones Experiment Will Continue

In Features by Blake Lovell

Ben Simmons officially announced this week that he was hiring an agent and heading to the NBA draft. This surprised absolutely no one.

Simmons had a fine freshman season at LSU, and there was a less than zero percent chance that he was going to stick around Baton Rouge for another year.

The same could not be said for head coach Johnny Jones.

The Tigers were a massive disappointment this season, finishing 19-14 on the year and not even coming close to an NCAA tournament bid.

Yes, the team with one of the most talented freshmen in college basketball history and a crop of outstanding talent across the board didn’t get close to earning a bid.

You don’t have to look far to figure out where things went wrong. LSU was a poorly coached team. Jones supporters can argue it all they want, but it’s true. This team should have been a tournament lock.

But instead, it was one disappointment after another for the Tigers. There was the head-scratching early season loss at College of Charleston that made us a least take notice that something was up. Then it got a little more concerning when they gave up 108 points the next game in a win over North Florida.

However, things really escalated near the start of February. LSU hosted Oklahoma, the top team in the nation, on January 31. Few expected the Tigers to win before the game started. Few expected the Tigers to lose when the game was actually being played.

LSU held a 14-point lead at one point in the second half, but suddenly Simmons became a non-factor. Jones couldn’t find ways to get the ball in his hands in the last 10 minutes, and what could have been the greatest moment of the season became the most heartbreaking in a 77-75 loss.

The struggles were far from over. Simmons and company had back-to-back blowout road losses at Tennessee and Arkansas, two of the worst teams in the SEC.

And then came the 71-38 shellacking at the hands of Texas A&M in the conference tournament.

I was sitting on press row for that game. There was a lot of chatter around me as the game went on. The consensus? It was one of the worst performances that many people had ever seen from a team with that much talent.

38 points. With Ben Simmons on your roster. How was Jones not fired when the clock hit zero?

It wasn’t just that LSU lost the game by 33 points. It’s how it lost the game. There was no fire. There was no passion. At times it looked as though the Tigers had simply given up, which is one of the worst things that can be said about any sports team.

Yet here we are, a day removed from LSU athletic director Joe Alleva confirming that Jones will return as the team’s coach. And there’s some problems.

For starters, Simmons won’t be on the roster. Neither will Keith Hornsby, who had a great year until a season-ending hernia injury kept him out of action down the stretch.

Antonio Blakeney? Could be back, but depends on his NBA draft stock. If he’s not, the situation will be even worse for Jones.

The Tigers boast a decent recruiting class featuring Skylar Mays and Branden Jenkins, and also get JUCO transfer Duop Reath.

But there’s no Simmons or Blakeney in that group. And the floor general in Hornsby will be nowhere to be found.

So realistically, how could LSU possibly have a better season next year than it had this season? Beats me.

Jones is an extremely nice guy. But you have to win games. Considering the amount of talent that has been added to the roster, this program should be further along. One tournament appearance (which resulted in a first round loss) isn’t enough. Not when this legitimately could have been a Top 10 team this season.

So the program will march on with Jones as its leader. Maybe he’ll surprise us all and have the Tigers in the tournament next season.

But given the already changing roster, I wouldn’t count on it.

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.