Today marks one of the nation’s most marvelous unofficial holidays.
Hello and welcome to March Madness.
The 2016 NCAA Tournament tips off in earnest as the Round of 64 gets underway, but there is a team noticeably absent from the field this year.
LSU missed out on an invitation to the tournament after bowing out in ‘embarrassing’ fashion to Texas A&M in last weekend’s SEC tournament semifinals. A lopsided double-digit loss put the exclamation mark on what can only be considered a disappointing season in which the Tigers failed to capitalize on the talents of arguably the nation’s best player — Ben Simmons.
After getting shellacked by the Aggies, a group that LSU beat only a month earlier, fourth-year coach Johnny Jones opted to decline invitations to any and all postseason tournaments.
If LSU wasn’t going to partake in March Madness, then it wasn’t going to enjoy any other playoff tournament.
This year’s tournament has a unique feel to it. Sure, there are no true dominant teams included in the bracket and it appears to be one of those tournaments that any team can win.
But what separates the 2016 edition is that Simmons won’t be involved.
The prospective No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft could not will his team to the tournament, unlike some of college basketball’s other elite players — Buddy Hield, Tyler Ulis, Denzel Valentine, Brice Johnson, Perry Ellis or Brandon Ingram — who spearheaded their teams to high seeding.
Simmons, on the other hand, was an afterthought once LSU dropped four of its final six games leading up to the conference tournament.
No one is placing all of the blame on Simmons, who can only do so much as one individual, but it’s a bit unprecedented for the presumptive top pick to be unable to lead his team to the Big Dance.
Year after year, the nation’s elite NBA prospects make a name for themselves in the NCAA tournament. It’s not a given that they wind up cutting down the nets, but it’s usually a certainty they’re a part of the madness.
Simmons’ inability to lead a talented team (that had a handful of signature wins) into the dance immediately raises a red flag.
There is no doubting his talents; that’s clear by all of the hardware he’s brought in over the past few days. There’s no overlooking his upside, as he has already drawn comparisons to the likes of LeBron James for his ability to be a point-forward.
Perhaps Jones mismanaged all of the talent at his disposal. Perhaps the burden of being pegged as a tournament team led to the eventual demise.
Or perhaps the onus is on the team’s most polarizing player.
This March Madness absence has exposed a lack of hunger from the young prospect, one that seems to come naturally for many that distinguish themselves as either college basketball’s or the NBA’s elite.
If winning was everything to Simmons, then perhaps we’d be seeing LSU tip off in the NCAA Tournament today.