LSU’s basketball team has been described as a “Shakespearean tragedy in sneakers.” Home games are said to be about as much fun as a wake.
So, buck up Big Blue Nation. Kentucky falling to No. 15 in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll after three losses in four games is merely a problem to solve. It’s not a … tragedy.
You want to talk Trouble in Basketball City? LSU, Kentucky’s opponent in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, has lost nine straight games, and 11 of the last 12. In one recent stretch, the Tigers did not lead for 117 minutes and 45 seconds.
“It’s been difficult for us,” embattled Coach Johnny Jones said on a Southeastern Conference teleconference Monday.
Scott Rabalais, a columnist with the daily newspaper in Baton Rouge, The Advocate, abandoned understatement several weeks ago. A month ago, he wrote about how the Tigers had “quit on the season.” He called the LSU season a “Shakespearean tragedy in sneakers” and said Jones sat on a “mighty hot seat.”
LSU, 9-13 overall, has lost by double digits 11 times. Four times the margin of defeat was 30 or more points: 82-47 to Wichita State, 110-76 to Wake Forest, 92-62 to Texas A&M and 106-71 to Florida.
“Going to games is like going to a wake,” Rabalais said Monday.
LSU ranks last among SEC teams in home attendance (average announced attendance is 7,075).
“It’s definitely an apathetic situation overall … ,” Rabalais said. “Everyone expects that (Jones is) going to be let go at the end of the season.”
Jones acknowledged having to coach in an atmosphere filled with negativity.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I try to keep our guys going. We just have to keep battling and fighting. I think our guys understand what we’re dealing with. Just try to make sure we can win in the film room. Then from the film room to practice. Now, from practice, we’ve got to keep battling on the floor.”
Jones cited several reasons for the state of LSU’s program in his fifth season. Craig Victor, a double-figure scorer last season, was dismissed from the team after eight games. The Tigers also lost Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman in addition to No. 1 pick Ben Simmons from last season’s tumble from preseason darling (LSU had the coveted spot as UK opponent on Senior Day on CBS) to non-invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Overall, LSU has lost four non-seniors to the last three NBA Drafts. It’s a big turnover for us,” Jones said.
After LSU gave up 19 three-pointers to Florida, SEC Network analyst Pat Bradley called the Tigers’ defense an “all-you-can-eat buffet.”
In the next game, Texas Tech, which played without its leading scorer, gorged itself with 12 three-pointers against LSU.
LSU has given up 92 or more points in six games (five times against SEC opponents).
In league play, the Tigers rank last in average points allowed (89.7 per game), field-goal defense (opponents shooting 49.1 percent), three-point defense (40.1 percent), three-pointers allowed (9.7 per game) and point differential (minus 14.7).
Guards must rebound
Assistant coach Tony Barbee, who substituted for John Calipari at Monday’s day-before-the-game news conference, said UK’s 54-29 rebounding disadvantage at Florida was about more than effort.
“We’ve got to get better rebounding from our guards,” he said, “because our ‘bigs’ are doing a fairly good job holding it down in there.”
Barbee noted that Chris Chiozza, who is listed at 6-foot, grabbed nine rebounds against UK.
Malik Monk had no rebounds.
When asked about UK guards needing to rebound more, Monk said, “Way more. It’s basically me. He should have said me. I should stick my head in the lane and stay in the lane way more instead of trying to leak out.”
Monk has had one rebound or none in eight games.
Florida outrebounding Kentucky 54-29 is believed to be the worst beating on the boards suffered by UK since Notre Dame enjoyed a 53-27 rebound advantage on Dec. 3, 1988.
Barbee, a proponent of zone defense, said the zone got seven straight stops against Florida. UK got out of the zone when Florida made two three-pointers, he said.
A zone changed the tenor of UK’s game against Georgia earlier in the week.
Barbee disputed the notion that Calipari dislikes zones.
“He’s not adverse to zones,” Barbee said. “He just likes to say that. He likes the accountability of man-to-man.”
Calipari lamented the “cute” plays UK tried at Florida. Barbee explained.
“Another term for the highlight type of play instead of the right play,” Barbee said. “When I can make this simple play, it’s got to be a look-away or it’s got to be a highlight lob pass.”
Such plays can lead to turnovers, which lead to transition points for opponents, Barbee said.
Monk pleaded guilty.
“Trying to make the extra, no-look,” he said. “Stuff like that. People are going to make mistakes. He just doesn’t want superstar plays or ESPN-type plays.”
When asked if he attempts those plays, Monk smiled his winning smile and said, “Of course.”
Joe Tessitore, Sean Farnham and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung will call the game for ESPN.
LSU at No. 15 Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
Records: LSU 9-13 (1-9 SEC), Kentucky 18-5 (8-2)
Series: Kentucky leads 87-26
Last meeting: UK won 94-77 on March 5, 2016, in Lexington
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1