(Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)

LSU parting ways with Johnny Jones after SEC Tournament

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LSU is ready to part ways with head coach Johnny Jones after this season, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The news of Jones was first reported by Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com.

The 55-year-old Jones is coming off of a disappointing two-year stretch in which the Tigers failed to make the NCAA tournament despite having No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and then piling up a 10-20 record so far this season.

Jones will coach the Tigers in the SEC Tournament this week. A former LSU basketball player who spent 12 years as an assistant coach at the program under Dale Brown, Jones spent five seasons as the head coach of his alma mater.

Jones is 89-70 during his tenure at LSU, including a 41-47 mark in SEC play. After arriving from North Texas, the native of DeRidder, Louisiana guided the Tigers to the NIT and NCAA tournament in this second and third seasons, respectively, before generating a lot of buzz by getting Simmons and a great recruiting class around him.

Despite having Simmons and a top-10 recruiting class that included another McDonald’s All-American in guard Antonio Blakeney, the Tigers came woefully short of expectations as they finished 19-14 and opted for no postseason after missing the NCAA tournament. Things got worse this season without a superstar like Simmons as LSU finished 2-16 in the SEC.

Jones has amassed a 294-232 career record as a head coach as that includes stops at Memphis (in an interim capacity), North Texas and LSU.

LSU and Missouri are now both open jobs in the SEC after the two programs finished at the bottom of the league this season.

Ben Simmons becomes LSU’s second-ever top overall draft pick

Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP
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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

(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

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

(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.