A handful of observations from LSU’s season wrap-up
By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Johnny Jones took the podium for the final time in the 2015-16 season, fielding questions for 45 minutes on Tuesday, just two days after LSU’s disappointing 2015-16 season came to its bitter end.
Here are five takeways from Jones’ chat.
1. My bad, guys
Just as he did in the release from Sunday that announced LSU’s withdrawal from postseason consideration, Jones fell on the sword Tuesday, taking the blame for LSU’s 19-14 season. Thanks to the addition of Ben Simmons, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015 and a likely top-two pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, as well as fellow five-star freshman Antonio Blakeney and a returning cast of proven veterans, the Tigers entered the season with hopes of making a deep run in March. Instead, they’ll watch from home, and Jones pointed the finger first and foremost at himself.
“We were certainly filled with a lot of excitement, a lot of hopes, aspirations, and a lot of expectations,” he said. “Unfortunately we fell short of the mark of returning, getting back to the NCAA Tournament, and I certainly assume all responsibility for our shortcomings there.”
Asked to self-evaluate and consider how he could have gotten more out of this unit, Jones pointed immediately to LSU’s lackluster defense. The Tigers gave up 102.1 points per 100 possessions on the season, according to KenPom.com, ranking them 143rd nationally in defensive efficiency. In conference games only, that fell to 107.2 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the league.
“As the season played out, night in, night out, we weren’t consistent enough defensively,” Jones said.
Looking strictly at raw numbers, LSU gave up 77.1 points per game, 13th of 14 SEC teams, and ranked last in field goal defense at 45.3%. Their primary deficiency was an inability to protect the rim. Jones couldn’t offset the loss of Jordan Mickey’s shotblocking from a year ago, when the Tigers got blocks of 14.0% of opponents’ possessions, the 19th best ratio nationally. In 2015-16, that percentage was nearly halved (7.1%), allowing LSU’s foes to hit 51.3% of their two-point field goals, including a league-worst 54.7% in league play.
“It’s all around,” Jones said of LSU’s defensive deficiencies. “I think because it all works in unison, you don’t need to have a shot blocker. A lot of people believe you’ve got a great shot blocker, you’ve got a lot of blocks and people aren’t getting by you, and he’s out of position one because he has to come over and block a shot and he’s rotating in different positions, and somebody obviously got beaten off the dribble if it’s not his man, and it’s a matter of being able to stay down between your man and the ball, and if you screen, how does those post guys position themselves and put themselves in a position where they’ve got to make sure that guys are not driving by them. So it works in unison, so it’s not perimeter guys, it’s not just the post guys. It’s those five guys out there have to really be connected together for us to get better.”
3. N(ot) I(n) T(ournament)
LSU’s decision to opt out of contention for the NIT stirred up some controversy among fans and media, some of whom felt Jones and his team quit on the season after a 71-38 thumping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. Jones clarified on Tuesday on how and why that decision was made, noting that Blakeney was battling an illness that trainers thought could hospitalize him.
“We get back home and check on him on Sunday, and we don’t know, according to the trainer, if we’re going to have to put him in the hospital or not, and at that time on Saturday night, there were questions we were going to have an opportunity to advance to the NCAA or possibly NIT, and we made a decision to meet on Sunday morning,” Jones said. “We met, had a chance to meet with a few of the captains, talked to them, a couple of the underclassmen about possibly if we had an invitation from the NIT, where would that set us, and with the season-ending injury to Keith Hornsby and not knowing if we would have Antonio Blakeney available for us in the tournament…I wasn’t sure we’d be a true representative of the LSU Tigers, putting ourselves in that position, and we chose to make sure that we put ourselves in position to now really concentrate on several things that we can fulfill, and that’s getting better and preparing ourselves for next year, and our guys have had an opportunity to get back here and start focusing in academically and hopefully finishing strong this semester.”
Jones said he realized that the decision might rub some fans the wrong way, but that wasn’t his primary concern.
“With these guys, I’ve got to always make sure that I’m doing what’s in the best interest of our players at the end of the day for them as we always move forward,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not a popular decision, but you’ve got to always feel that you’ve got to do the right thing by them.”
4. On Ben Simmons
Let’s just split this section up into its own subsections.
- First of all, Simmons is leaving LSU. Jones said he’s not talked to or “laid eyes” on Simmons since Sunday, and said “there’s a chance we’re going to lose one guy for sure. That’s pretty clear.” Don’t look for Simmons to step foot inside a classroom at LSU anytime soon.
- Second, Jones addressed the criticism that’s come his way in light of missing the NCAA Tournament with the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. As in, he doesn’t pay attention to it. “I don’t worry too much about people judging me,” he said.
- Finally, Jones brushed off any notion that LSU wasn’t ready for Simmons, or that Simmons’ presence negatively impacted the program. “Ben was an ideal guy that you would want to have an opportunity to coach if he was going to be a one-and-done,” Jones said. “He comes from a tremendous family, a young man that’s well-grounded, a team player, so much as to people were fussing at him for not shooting enough. He was a pass-first guy. He was a guy that winning was extremely important to him. So if you have an opportunity to coach someone and you want to bring him into a team environment and system that you don’t think is going to disrupt your team, he would be that guy.”
5. Chemistry Issues?
Finally, Jones discussed the team chemistry, specifically a report that he’d brought in sports psychologist Dr. Joe Carr “to help…try to create a culture of accountability and work with Simmons.” Jones specified that bringing in someone like Dr. Carr isn’t out of the ordinary for any team he coaches. “Any time we can bring someone else in maybe with a little bit different approach…that’s something we always do, and that’s not something that’s unusual for us to do,” he said.
However, asked about the team chemistry, specifically, Jones at least hinted at some underlying concerns. “I can tell you, no, we weren’t always clicking on all cylinders together, and when you have newness to your team, that’s something that certainly happen,” he said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
On if he’s spoken with Joe Alleva since the season’s end…
“We have had an opportunity to talk, and I can tell you obviously [he’s] not thrilled and excited probably how things ended. And we’re feeling the same way, and the feelings are the same, that we all wanted more and to do a much better job. Again, we fell short.”