Lethargic LSU is playing their way out of the NCAA tournament

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Ben Simmons did not start for LSU against Tennessee — head coach Johnny Jones termed it an “academic matter” — instead entering the game with 15:30 left in the first half.

But based on Simmons’ effort on Saturday night, he may as well have spent the entire game on the bench. The potential No. 1 pick sulked throughout much of the game, putting in as much effort on the defensive end of the floor as you would playing the day’s last game of pickup at the YMCA.

Despite Simmons putting up 21 points and nine boards — to go along with his eight turnovers — Jonathan Givony of Draft Express described Simmons’ Saturday as disgraceful, and that’s probably being kind. Because his effort permeated the rest of the roster, as the Tigers were run out of Thompson-Boling Arena by a Tennessee team that had lost two in a row and five of their last games.

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Oh, and they were playing without their leading scorer and best player, Kevin Punter.

Tennessee’s season is more or less over. They’re playing for SEC tournament seeding.

LSU?

They have an at-large bid on the line.

The Tigers have been one of the most discussed bubble teams in the country for a couple of reasons, the most obvious being they have the nation’s most talented player on their roster. But early in the season, when they were waiting for Craig Victor to get eligible and Keith Hornsby to get healthy, LSU took three bad losses. It was easy to write those losses off as the Tigers simply not being at full strength.

When their starting five is intact, they can do things like beat Kentucky and beat Texas A&M and win at Alabama, which is a tougher thing to do than you probably realize (Mississippi State not withstanding).

That was the argument.

But now they’ve lost to Tennessee by 16 points on a day where Tennessee didn’t have their best player. And they lost to Wake Forest when they had their entire team available. They now have five sub-100 losses — and that doesn’t include their loss to Houston — compared to just three top 50 and six total top 100 wins. Their RPI was 81 entering the day, and getting an at-large bid with an RPI of 81 would already have been a record.

In other words, this was a must-win game for LSU because this was a game that they absolutely could not lose.

And they came out with that effort.

Which makes me believe they don’t care about playing in the NCAA tournament.

So why should we continue to argue for them to get in?