With Kentucky taking on struggling LSU on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN) here are five things about the Tigers:
1. LSU is not a good basketball team
The Tigers are 9-13 overall and 1-9 in the SEC. They have lost nine straight games, including eight straight SEC games. They’ve lost four games by 30 or more points. An 82-47 loss to Wichita State in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November was just a sign of things to come.
With Missouri’s win over Arkansas last Saturday, LSU is the only team that hasn’t won a conference home game. It has lost its six SEC home games by an average of 18.5 points.
Defense is the main problem. LSU ranks 295th in defensive field goal percentage, at 46.2 percent. (LSU is shooting 45.5 percent.) The Tigers are 350th in scoring defense, allowing 81.2 points per game. They have lost 110-76 at Wake Forest, 96-89 to Vanderbilt, 95-78 to Mississippi State, 92-62 at Texas A&M, 99-86 to Arkansas and 106-71 to Florida.
“We certainly owe our fans an apology who came out to watch us tonight or who had an opportunity to witness it through TV or radio,” said head coach Johnny Jones after the 35-point loss to Florida, which made 19 three-pointers.
It didn’t help when starting forward Craig Victor was dismissed from the team on Dec. 29 for a violation of team rules. Through eight games, the former Arizona Wildcat was averaging 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds and had led LSU in rebounding for five straight games before being dismissed. The Tigers are 1-10 since.
2. Johnny Jones is on the hot seat
The 55-year-old coach played at LSU and was an assistant under Dale Brown from 1984 until Brown’s retirement in 1997. During that time, the Tigers went to 10 straight NCAA Tournaments. Jones played in the 1981 Final Four and coached in the 1986 Final Four for LSU.
Jones was then an assistant under Tic Price at Memphis in 1997. He became the head coach for the the 1999-2000 season, when Price was fired for having an inappropriate relationship with a student. After a 15-16 season, Jones was replaced by none other than John Calipari.
Jones moved on to Alabama, where he was an assistant under Mark Gottfried for one season before being named the head coach at North Texas. He compiled a 190-144 record in 12 seasons as the Mean Green’s coach, earning two NCAA Tournament bids.
When Trent Johnson left LSU to become head coach at TCU -- which did not go well -- Jones returned to his alma mater, where he went 80-51 with one NCAA bid in his first four years. But last season, with No. 1 NBA draft pick Ben Simmons, the Tigers could do no better than 19-14 overall and 11-7 in the SEC. A 71-38 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament made an invitation to the NCAA Tournament a bridge too far for the selection committee.
Now comes this year’s disaster, prompting many to speculate that athletic director Joe Alleva will hand Jones a pink slip at season’s end. After all, Alleva fired football coach Les Miles, and Miles had won a national championship. Another factor: LSU hasn’t drawn a five-figure crowd to the 13,215-seat Pete Maravich Assembly Center all season.
After last Saturday’s 85-73 loss to visiting Texas A&M, Cody Washburn of Tiger Rag wrote, “Another SEC contest, another double-digit loss for LSU, as the Johnny Jones era appears to be coming to a quick -- but far from painless -- conclusion.”
3. Antonio Blakeney is LSU’s best player
The Sarasota, Fla., native was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Blakeney was ranked as the 13th-best player in the class of 2015 by Rivals and was a recruiting coup for the Tigers.
The sophomore guard played second fiddle to Simmons last year, averaging 12.6 points and shooting 42.5 percent from the floor. Now the team’s star, Blakeney leads the Tigers in scoring at 15.6 points per game. He’s playing 32.8 minutes a game, shooting 44.8 percent from the floor, 35.1 percent from three and 67.1 percent from the foul line. He has made 34 of 97 three-pointers.
Despite being bothered by an ankle injury during the year, Blakeney scored 27 points versus North Carolina Central, 24 versus Vanderbilt and Missouri, and 23 against Texas Tech in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Blakeney is coming off a subpar performance against A&M, in which he scored just seven points. He missed eight of his 11 shots, including three of four three-point shots.
4. Duop Reath is LSU’s best story
Reath was born in the Sudan, and his family escaped a Sudanese civil war by moving to Australia when Duop was 9. He took up basketball there and was seen in a game by a Lee College coach, who brought him to the Baytown, Texas, school, where he averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds as a sophomore.
After transferring to LSU, Reath scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the season opener against Wofford. He’s averaging 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds this season. He’s shooting 54.1 percent from the floor and has made 11 of 25 three-pointers.
Reath scored 16 points and grabbed 16 rebounds against Texas A&M on Saturday. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds in the loss to Mississippi State. He scored 23 points against Charleston and 21 against Texas Southern.
Sadly, Reath’s parents live in Perth, Australia, and haven’t been able to see him play in person. Hopefully, they’ll get the chance before his college career ends.
5. Silver linings?
Is there anything for the Tigers to be positive about?
They are very young. Pomeroy ranks the Tigers 338th nationally in experience at just 1.03 years per player. (Kentucky is 343rd at 0.91).
Freshman Skylar Mays of Baton Rouge is averaging 7.6 points per game and leads the Tigers in assists with 84. He had 11 assists in a win over Houston in November. He scored 22 points in the win at Arkansas. Downside? He’s shooting 39.1 percent from the floor.
Freshman Wayde Sims out of Baton Rouge is averaging 6.8 points per game. He’s shooting 52.6 percent. He had 11 rebounds in the 88-63 loss to South Carolina last week.
Jones has a pair of top-150 recruits for next season. Brandon Rachal, a 6-4 guard from Nachitoches, La., is ranked No. 124 by Rivals. Galen Alexander, a 6-6 forward from Lafayette, is ranked No. 137.
On the flip side, Western Kentucky’s Rick Stansbury has poached the state’s two best players in Mitchell Robinson of Chalmette, who is ranked No. 6, and Josh Anderson of Baton Rouge, who is ranked No. 43.
But we’re concentrating on silver linings. So here’s one: On Saturday, the Tigers led Texas A&M in the first half, the Tigers’ first lead in three games.
LSU men’s basketball 2016-17
vs. Wichita St
vs. Old Dominion
LSU at Kentucky
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: ESPN with Joe Tessitore, Sean Farnham and Kaylee Hartung
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt