Tigers tailing off as reality arrives with top-half SEC opponents

At one point this season, the LSU men’s basketball team was 12-1. There were warning signs going off all over the place at the time, but it was hard to recognize when you are blinded by the 12 and the 1.

Since then, the Tigers are 0-5 and those trouble signs have become too obvious to ignore. So let’s get on-the-court issues out of the way and then try to figure out how we got here.

And you don’t have far to look to find the biggest of all – the Tigers can’t shoot. Ever since James Naismith tacked up the peach basket at the Springfield YMCA, that’s kinda been what basketball has been all about. Put the ball in the basket more times than the other guys and you win.

LSU’s guards don’t shoot well from the outside, which might be OK if they could finish at the rim. But they can’t do that either. As a team, the Tigers are 11th in both scoring and field goal percentage.

Not that blocks are the greatest indicator of defensive efficiency, but they are second-to-last in the conference. They are also 12th in rebounding.

But remember – these stats are for ALL games, not just the conference ones. Those would tell a much more definitive tale of the misery that LSU is now experiencing.

Which is also what the fan base is experiencing. They can claim otherwise all they want, but when every sport is good, men’s basketball is the No. 2 sport in LSU athletics. Not gymnastics. Not women’s basketball. Not … hold on here … baseball.

The reason some might laugh at that is because LSU baseball has had an extended period of success at a high level. That’s a sure-fire way to raise and keep the interest level.

But on the occasional times men’s basketball has risen to those heights – if only for a season or two – it’s been obvious how it can hold its place. It’s much easier to puff your chest out when your school’s teams are successful in a sport that is recognized nationally for four months instead of four weeks.

Everyone loves a winner – that’s not indigenous to Baton Rouge – but the hot start was fool’s gold. The non-conference wins were against one of the worst schedules in the country. When you post big numbers on the left side of the hyphen, fans buy in.

And maybe that’s why the schedule was made that way. Basketball schedules aren’t made like football. In football, you already know some of the opponents you’ll play 10 years from now. Basketball is basically year-to-year, but even that can change as late as mid-summer.

So the Tigers, under new coach Matt McMahon, had two choices: Play Cupcake City and build up fan excitement AND player confidence or take on some of the Big Boys. In the old days, almost every big school played a creampuff schedule and then got ready for conference.

Perhaps these days, it’s driven by TV inventory, but it’s not that way anymore. Some of the biggest names in college basketball play each other in November and December. There are lots of reasons for it, but it does give a coach a chance to see what he’s got and what it will take.

McMahon didn’t know what he had because literally everyone left before he got there (three returned from the portal). The Top 5 recruiting class that was coming to LSU completely disappeared to other schools. So it made sense to play North Carolina Central instead of North Carolina, Texas-Arlington instead of Texas and Kansas City instead of Kansas.

LSU should have beaten a Top 25 Kansas State team in a November tournament but a questionable official’s call took that chance away. The Tigers did beat Wake Forest, who has turned out to be pretty good (currently tied for second in the ACC).

But the SEC did LSU no favors in its schedule-making. Of the bottom five teams in the conference, LSU hasn’t played any of them yet except Arkansas, a team everyone thought was good but has seen its season go south.

The Tigers were always going to be a lower-third SEC team. It’s just taken a while to find that out.

Contact JJ at johnjamesmarshall@yahoo.com