LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives past Arkansas forward Moses Kingsley (33) during an NCAA college basketball game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)   MAGS OUT; INTERNET OUT; NO SALES; TV OUT; NO FORNS; LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT (INCLUDING GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT, 225, 10/12, INREGISTER, LBI CUSTOM); MANDATORY CREDIT
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Ben Simmons becomes LSU’s second-ever top overall draft pick

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Thursday night the worst-kept secret in the 2016 NBA Draft became official news, as the Philadelphia 76ers selected former LSU forward Ben Simmons with the top overall pick. Simmons was expected by many to be taken first overall, and with his selection he becomes the second LSU product to be taken first overall in an NBA Draft.

The first was Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, who was taken by the Orlando Magic in 1992. In total nine former LSU players have been top five draft picks in program history, with Bob Pettit (1954) and Stromile Swift (2000) going second overall in their respective drafts.

Simmons posted gaudy numbers in his lone season at LSU, averaging 22.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game despite the absence of a perimeter shot. And the team wasn’t as successful as expected either, as the Tigers failed to qualify for the 2016 NCAA tournament and sat out postseason play.

LSU’s Ben Simmons not eligible for Wooden Award for academic issue

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(Hilary Scheinu(AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)k/The Advocate via AP)
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LSU freshman Ben Simmons is putting up huge numbers and is widely considered to be the leading candidate for the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft but he won’t be on the final ballot for the Wooden Award. According to LSU head coach Johnny Jones, Simmons didn’t meet all of the academic requirements for the award and Simmons wasn’t certified by the school to be included on the 15-person final ballot.

“From what I was told, he didn’t meet all of the requirements,” Jones said to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “He wasn’t certified by the school to be on the ballot.”

LSU spokesman Kent Lowe also told Goodman that Simmons “did not have the necessary criteria to be eligible.”

The Wooden Award has a criteria that student-athletes must meet to be eligible, including academic pursuits. Simmons is averaging 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game but he was benched to start LSU’s loss against Tennessee on Feb. 20 for an academic-related issue.

Here are the Wooden Award’s guidelines:

  • Consideration should be given to scholastic achievement and aspirations. All candidates must have a cumulative 2.00 grade point average since enrolling in their current university.
  • Candidates must exhibit strength of character, both on and off the court.
  • Candidates should be those who contribute to the team effort.
  • Candidates must excel in both offense and defense.
  • Candidates should be considered on their performance over the course of the entire season (pre-conference, conference and tournament play).

LSU has an important bubble game against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. With a win and some help, the Tigers could be the No. 1 seed in the SEC conference tournament next week. A loss to the Wildcats on Saturday could drop LSU to the No. 5 seed in that same tournament, and more importantly, potentially on the wrong side of the bubble for Selection Sunday.

LSU’s Ben Simmons playing with finger injury on shooting hand

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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In the aftermath of LSU’s home loss to Alabama Wednesday night, head coach Johnny Jones noted that his best player has been playing at less than full strength.

Thursday afternoon Jones stated to the media that freshman forward Ben Simmons has been playing with an injured finger on his left hand according to Sheldon Mickles of The Advocate. It’s unknown which finger Simmons injured and when the injury occurred, with Jones not providing any clarity on either front Thursday.

When asked during his twice-weekly media availability if Simmons was playing with an injury, Jones said, “Yes, it happened a couple of games ago. It’s on his shooting hand.”

Jones did not elaborate on which finger was affected and whether it hindered his shooting touch, and Simmons did not attend the media session.

Simmons has shot 50 percent or better from the field in seven of LSU’s last eight games, with the Tigers’ loss to South Carolina being the only exception. Wednesday night Simmons scored 20 points, shooting 5-for-10 from the field and 10-for-19 from the foul line.

LSU, which is part of the bubble conversation while also just a game behind Kentucky in the SEC standings, plays its next two games on the road beginning with Saturday’s contest at Tennessee.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: No. 20 Duke visits No. 5 North Carolina

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 20 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina, 9:00 p.m.

This choice is a simple one, with one of the best rivalries in all of sports taking place. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils have won four straight games, with their defensive improvements being a key reason why (our Rob Dauster has more on that here). Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram have led the way offensively for Duke, but getting stops will be key for them not just tonight but in March as well. How well Duke fares on the defensive glass against the bigger Tar Heels will be a key, but UNC has its own questions to address.

The biggest: how engaged will Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson be? Johnson made his way into the ACC POY conversation and Jackson saved the Heels at Boston College, but both have to bring consistent effort for Roy Williams’ team to reach its full potential. North Carolina played well in its win over Pittsburgh Sunday, but can they build on that momentum?

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 15 Dayton at Saint Joseph’s, 6:00 p.m.

There are two big games in Philadelphia tonight (more on the other one below), and this one will have a major impact not only on the Atlantic 10 race but on NCAA tournament profiles as well. Archie Miller’s Flyers are well positioned to land a good seed next month, and a win here would keep Dayton (who’s won nine straight) alone atop the A-10 standings. Dyshawn Pierre’s return has been key, but the contributions of Charles Cooke III and Scoochie Smith should not be overlooked either. Saint Joseph’s will counter with the incredibly versatile DeAndre Bembry and the A-10’s most improved player in forward Isaiah Miles, who’s been a key option in the front court for Phil Martelli’s Hawks.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No. 1 Villanova will step outside of Big East play as they visit Big 5 rival Temple (7:00 p.m.) in a critical game for the home team. Fran Dunphy’s Owls sit atop the American, and a win here would (barring a collapse) in all likelihood sew up an NCAA tournament bid. Villanova, on the other hand, is once again in the mix for a one-seed and can wrap up the outright Big 5 title with a win.

2. Unless Villanova falters down the stretch, No. 8 Xavier is the only team capable of chasing down the Wildcats in the Big East standings. The Musketeers, two games back, will need to avoid any losses if they’re to accomplish that beginning with their game against No. 23 Providence tonight (7:00 p.m.). The Friars lean upon the tandem of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they’ll need more against the deeper Musketeers.

3. One team that may not be receiving as much “bubble” chatter as they deserve is Alabama, which has won four straight including wins over Texas A&M and Florida. The Crimson Tide visit LSU tonight (9:00 p.m.), with both teams in a position where another quality win would help their cause. LSU won the first meeting by two points in Tuscaloosa, with Ben Simmons going for 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

4. After getting swept last weekend USC looks to get back on the right track with a win over Colorado (11:00 p.m.) in Los Angeles. Andy Enfield’s Trojans have yet to lose at home this season, and their offensive balance (six players averaging double figures) is one reason why. Colorado, which is also well positioned to reach the NCAA tournament, did not have Josh Scott (ankle) last week and his status for tonight has yet to be determined. That’s a key for the Buffs, given how good USC’s front court with the likes of Nikola Jovanovic, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu has been this year.

5. Texas Tech, which beat two ranked teams in Iowa State and Baylor last week, has another opportunity to get a marquee win as they host No. 3 Oklahoma. Keenan Evans is averaging more than 17 points per game over the last three for Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders, who can also call upon Devauntagh Williams and Toddrick Gotcher on the perimeter. Buddy Hield and company are looking to rebound from their loss to No. 2 Kansas, but that won’t be easy to do in Lubbock.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 4 Iowa at Penn State, 6:30 p.m.
  • Virginia Tech at No. 11 Miami, 9:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at No. 12 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
  • Syracuse at No. 18 Louisville, 7:00 p.m.
  • Nebraska at No. 22 Indiana, 8:30 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Stony Brook at Albany, 7:00 p.m.
  • George Washington at Duquesne, 7:00 p.m.
  • Seton Hall at Georgetown, 9:00 p.m.
  • Boise State at New Mexico, 10:00 p.m.

LSU knocks off No. 15 Texas A&M as the Aggies’ freefall continues

Texas A&M guard Alex Caruso (21) lays up a shot after stealing the ball as LSU guard Antonio Blakeney (2) watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
(AP Photo/Bill Feig)
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LSU earned an important SEC home win and continued a recent slide for No. 15 Texas A&M as the Tigers pulled off the 76-71 win on Saturday afternoon. The win means that LSU (16-9, 9-3) is tied atop the SEC standings with Kentucky after both teams won on Saturday afternoon. With the loss, Texas A&M continues its recent struggles as they’ve now lost five of their last six games and don’t look like the potential Final Four contender we were glowing about a few weeks ago.

Coming off of a road loss to South Carolina earlier this week, LSU bounced back with an impressive, balanced effort as this game wasn’t just freshman superstar Ben Simmons having a big outing. While Simmons finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, he had plenty of help from his teammates as Craig Victor (16 points), Keith Hornsby (13 points) and Antonio Blakeney (10 points) all finished in double-figures.

Texas A&M (18-7, 7-5) struggled once again as senior point guard Anthony Collins barely played due to a stomach virus and Jalen James (12 points) wasn’t 100 percent healthy either with a hip pointer. The loss of Collins was especially hurtful for the Aggies as his absence helped contribute to 19 Texas A&M turnovers as they were once again sloppy with the ball. Despite shooting a solid 55 percent (29-for-52) from the floor the turnovers killed Texas A&M. Danuel House paced the Aggies with 18 points while Alex Caruso contributed 14 points.

This win was very timely for LSU because they stay in the SEC race and their schedule is rather favorable for the rest of the regular season. The Tigers still have Florida at home (where LSU has been very tough) and Kentucky on the road, but the rest of the schedule looks like winnable games and the Texas A&M win should boost LSU’s postseason profile.

It doesn’t get any easier for Texas A&M the next few games as they get Ole Miss and then have to host red-hot Kentucky. Turnovers have been a huge issue for the Aggies during this five-game SEC losing streak, as they’ve averaging 15.4 per game during that stretch. Clearly, Texas A&M needs to tighten things up on offense and get more quality looks for their potentially potent group because the miscues are really hurting them.

No. 1 Oklahoma denies LSU a much-needed signature win

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) drives to the basket as LSU guard Antonio Blakeney (2) defends in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
AP Photo/Bill Feig
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With a front court rotation that consists largely of senior Ryan Spangler and sophomore Khadeem Lattin, No. 1 Oklahoma doesn’t have the elite post players that many recent national champions have called upon. However they’ve got the nation’s best player in Buddy Hield leading a deep perimeter rotation, and that’s what makes Lon Kruger’s team a serious threat to not only reach the Final Four but win two more games once there.

Saturday evening the Sooners shook off some cold (by their standards) shooting to beat LSU 77-75 in Baton Rouge. Not only did the Tigers enter the game with freshman phenom Ben Simmons and some other talents capable of hurting the opposition, but they were in a position where this was a critical game for their NCAA tournament hopes. LSU didn’t accomplish a whole lot in non-conference play, and Saturday represented the opportunity that could have made up for all of that.

Instead, it was Isaiah Cousins who took advantage, as his shot with 3.8 seconds remaining gave Oklahoma the victory.

Hield, who scored 32 points and grabbed seven rebounds in another outstanding performance, has received most of the attention when it comes to Oklahoma and rightfully so. He’s put in the work throughout his career in Norman, and shooting better than 50 percent both from the field and from three the senior from the Bahamas has turned into a player who’s damn near impossible to limit for a full 40 minutes.

But he doesn’t lack for help offensively either. Cousins added 18 points, shooting 8-for-12 from the field, and Spangler held his own in the post to the tune of 16 points and ten rebounds. The Sooners can attack teams from multiple areas, and in the game’s decisive sequence it was Cousins who was entrusted with making a play. And at different points this season if it wasn’t Cousins or Hield, Jordan Woodard proved himself capable of stepping forward as well.

Oklahoma’s ability to take advantage of LSU mistakes, be it turnovers or second-chance scoring opportunities, helped the visitors get back into the game in the second half. Oklahoma scored 18 of its 41 second-half points off of LSU turnovers or offensive rebounds, and that combined with Hield getting hot set the stage for the climactic finish.

The Tigers have some positives to take from this game, most notably the play of Tim Quarterman as he led four player in double figures with 18 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists (two of which were on key Antonio Blakeney three-pointers). But ultimately this game will be about missed opportunities, be it their inability to get a stop down the stretch or the many questions as to why Ben Simmons (14 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five turnovers) didn’t have the ball in his hands more down the stretch.

LSU has the potential to be a dangerous team should they get into the NCAA tournament. But “potential” isn’t about a finished product. Oklahoma’s farther along in that regard, which enabled them to make the plays that needed to be made regardless of who had the ball in his hands.