NASHVILLE — Johnny Jones’ abilities as a coach have come under withering criticism this season. So much talent on that LSU roster, including the likely No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, and yet the Tigers find themselves well off the NCAA tournament bubble.
Jones was asked directly Friday what he thought of critics of his coaching, who claim that he’s not getting enough out of his team. He smiled, then provided a defense that centered on his team’s supposed youth, and LSU’s record in SEC play.
“I know I coach up against a great bunch of guys that are in this league and we’re sitting there with an 11-7 record,” Jones said. “And those are the guys I know I have to be really concerned and focused on and challenge against on a weekly basis. So we try to make sure that we put a great group of kids out there.”
That group includes Ben Simmons, whose talent appears to be wasted at times, and a supporting cast of junior Tim Quarterman, sophomore Craig Victor and freshman Antonio Blakeney.
“We have one of the youngest teams in the league,” Jones said. “We don’t go around blowing our horn on what we can and can’t do. We just have to perform at a certain level. I’m not sure all the talent people talk about. I know the talent other teams have that are in our league. We’re excited to be in the top three of that. So we don’t get caught up with critics, we just try to get caught up with what we can execute night in and night out.”
Jones also pointed out that when LSU went 7-6 in non-conference play, it didn’t have Victor for the first seven games and Keith Hornsby for the first six. (Hornsby, perhaps the team’s best outside shooter, is now out for the season with an injury.)
“I think if you look at our record, and you know much about our team, who we played without in the early part of the season, it speaks for itself, our won-loss record,” Jones said.
But so does LSU’s overall record, and its RPI rank, which was 90th entering Friday. If LSU doesn’t make the NCAA tournament, and that appears likely without winning the SEC tournament, then Jones’ critics will have even more ammunition.