NASHVILLE — Ben Simmons still has a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, and LSU still has an outside chance of not going down in history as having wasted his one year on campus.
The likelihood is still that the likely No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft won’t make the NCAAs, as LSU – incredibly, despite its talent – needs to win the SEC tournament to get a bid. The Tigers (19-13) aren’t even a shoo-in for an NIT bid, so the next loss could be the final game of Simmons’ brief – and so far unfulfilling – college career.
Tennessee threatened to make that last day Friday. But LSU, thanks largely to players other than Simmons, survived, 84-75, in the SEC quarterfinals.
Simmons was only a bit player in the win, finishing with 15 points. He played just five minutes in the first half thanks to foul trouble, then took a backseat to guards Antonio Blakeney (22 points) and Tim Quarterman (18 points), who helped the Tigers pull away in what had been a back-and-forth game.
Simmons’ talent is compelling. He showed it early in the game, grabbing rebounds and then dribbling the length of the court and attacking the basket.
But even in victory, there were numerous examples of why LSU has been a frustrating team and way off the bubble despite having perhaps the nation’s best individual talent.
For one thing, that talent wasn’t used enough. It was tied with under eight minutes left when LSU had a possession where every player except Simmons touched the ball. The possession ended with a turnover.
LSU’s offense lacked organization, with too much one-on-one play. Some of that might have been the fault of Simmons, who at 6-foot-10 is athletic and physical enough to be a mismatch against whoever is guarding him. But he isn’t particularly aggressive on a consistent basis.
It’s also confounding that he doesn’t get more touches. Simmons had just eight field goal attempts in Friday’s game. He made six of them. The rest of the team combined to shoot 22-for-54.
And when the game should have been put away late, LSU committed some silly mistakes, such as fouling a 3-point shooter with 58.5 seconds left.
Still, LSU finished off the win and moves on to face top-seeded Texas A&M in Saturday’s first semifinal.