Shambolic LSU could struggle to earn a bid … to the NIT

LSU lost again on Tuesday night, this time at home to Wake Forest. The Tigers’ season is now relevant primarily due to the grease-fiery component that swells with each negative outcome. You can’t help but gawk at the ineptitude in play.

Given the roster, it’s astonishing Johnny Jones’ team is only 7-5 — and now on the wrong side of the bubble … for the NIT. Forget the NCAA Tournament. That’s a pie-in-the-sky stuff until big changes materialize. LSU’s bottom line: It has lost to the five best opponents it’s played (Marquette, NC State, Wake, Houston, Charleston), and Tuesday night’s 77-71 outcome to the Demon Deacons was especially bad given Jones can no longer play the we’re-not-fully-healthy card.

Craig Victor and Keith Hornsby, two Tiger starters who missed a combined 15 games earlier this season, were in uniform and contributing plenty against Wake. Yet despite Victor’s 19 points, Hornsby’s 13 and elite freshman/likely No. 1 NBA pick Ben Simmons’ 21 points and 12 boards, LSU goes home with another loss. It’s abnormally mesmerizing.

Plus, it can get much worse — and just might — because now the Tigers are staring a sub-.500 reality right in the face. Jones’ team will begin SEC play on Saturday at Vanderbilt, the Commodores representing what LSU should have been this season: a top-three SEC team. After that, the Bayou Bengals welcome in the best program in the league, Kentucky, to the Maravich Assembly Center on Jan. 5. After that, Jones’ team goes on the road against Florida, which was ranked No. 25 in KenPom entering Tuesday.

Three losses there (LSU will be an underdog in each game) and the Tigers will then be 7-8. If it gets to that point, LSU will qualify as one of the all-time failures in recent college basketball memory. You just don’t see teams with this much talent, including a near-consensus No. 1 overall pick, fail to even be in the NCAA Tournament mix by the start of league play. It’s not just the Simmons factor. And it’s not just and Hornsby and Victor. The Tigers also have a possible future NBA pick in Tim Quarterman. Let’s also not forget that Tigers starting point guard Antonio Blakeney played in the McDonald’s All-American game earlier this year.

Yet here’s LSU, flailing and confounding all the way. The defense is inconsistent, and Simmons, despite being a stat stud, isn’t exactly commanding the Player of the Year march.

Wake Forest, meanwhile, is like LSU’s negative. The Demon Deacons didn’t enter this season with star-studded hype and/or barely any pub regarding an NCAA Tournament showing. But at this point, Danny Manning’s team is 9-3 and beating good teams, now owning wins over UCLA and Indiana, in addition to Tuesday night’s road win. The ACC will afford the Deacs a lot of chances to make good on staying in the bubble conversastion, and maybe even eliminating that down the way. We’ll see. Wake is very interesting and has opportunities galore to come. You can’t say the same of the Tigers, who signify the most dumbfounding team in college basketball this season.

Johnny Jones and LSU could be in danger of missing the NIT. (USATSI)


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