BATON ROUGE, La. — The human appendix. Braille instructions on a drive-thru ATM. No smoking signs in an airplane bathroom. All of these things are quite pointless. And yet each serves more purpose than the 2016-17 LSU basketball season.
This program is in the worst place it could possibly be right now — so sorry that it’s not even worthy of scorn. LSU entered Saturday’s 81-66 loss to Alabama ranked 200th or worse in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, turnover margin, free-throw attempts, free throws made, free-throw percentage, 3-pointers per game, 3-pointers attempted, 3-point defense, scoring defense, scoring margin, total rebounds and total steals.
None of those areas are poised to improve any time soon, particularly if leading scorer Antonio Blakeney misses any time after injuring his ankle late in the game.
The defensive problem looked to be solved for the first 35 minutes against the Crimson Tide, but the Tigers’ true colors showed up in the final 4:55 as Bama closed on a 25-10 run. The Tide broke 80 for the second time this season — the other instance coming against Stetson — while LSU surrendered 80 for the fifth time in the past six games.
As poorly as that stat reflects on LSU’s defense, it also demonstrates proof of a sorry, sloppy offense. In all five of those recent losses, opponents have scored at least 20 points off turnovers.
“In the last five minutes, it was more about them doing a good job creating turnovers and forcing the fast break,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “We missed a couple of long shots with long rebounds and they did a good job getting out and scoring.”
Incredibly, things are so low that there is no use in firing Jones before the end of the season. He built this hearse, and he’s the one who should have to drive it all the way to the funeral parlor.
When athletic director Joe Alleva fired Les Miles four games into the football season, there were a couple of factors that made it a prudent decision. The Tigers still had two-thirds of their season in front of them, so there was something to salvage. He also had a coach on staff capable of winning the full-time job in Ed Orgeron, improbable as that seemed at the time.
There is no such body to turn to at the end of Jones’ bench. And there is no way firing Jones is going to recharge the fan base the way promoting Coach O did.
According to KenPom.com, LSU is only favored to win one more game this season, and it’s not until Feb. 21 against Auburn. With or without Jones, that’s not changing. Mr. T would pity the fool stuck with season tickets. At least if you spend your money at a casino, there is a chance at a return on the investment. These Tigers are already a sunk cost.
When mass apathy sets in, the writing is on the wall. There’s no conceivable way Alleva can bring back the man who is, at best, the second-worst basketball coach in the SEC today. It’s hard to believe anyone else is capable of missing the NCAA Tournament with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, as Jones did last year with Ben Simmons.
Just look at the list and tell me who you think Jones is capable of matching wits with. Perhaps there’s the guy he has actually beaten this year, Missouri’s Kim Anderson, but that’s about it.
SEC programs are starting to take hoops seriously, as Alabama’s hire of one-time NBA Coach of the Year Avery Johnson demonstrates. LSU will only fall further behind with Jones in charge.
Unfortunately, there’s no actual benefit to firing him before March. It gives LSU zero edge on its next coaching search and would only serve to make a dysfunctional team an even bigger nightmare that could haunt the program’s future chances by way of a potentially nosediving Academic Progress Rate.
The one positive thing that can be said about Jones is that he handles things in a dignified manner, and that is how he should be allowed to go out. Knowing that this is the end of the road would allow him to teach important life lessons to his players about how to conduct themselves when facing adversity.
And for each of those guys, it’s an invaluable lesson. Because if they play defense overseas or in the D-League like they do for Jones, they’ll need to be familiar with how to handle impending unemployment.