BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In case you haven't noticed, LSU basketball is in a bad place.
NCAA Selection Sunday has now come and gone without hearing the Tigers' name called for the ninth time in the last 11 years. LSU has likewise won exactly one NCAA Tournament game during that stretch.
Recent crowds at The Maravich Assembly Center have often been nonexistent and futile. And when the students do show up, their playful heckling often misses the mark, like one of those errant three pointers the Tigers threw up in their recent SEC Tournament disaster against Mississippi State. The "You let the whole team down!" chant at an opposing player after he misses a free throw just two minutes into a game simply doesn't work. It's a reflection of a basketball culture and fan savvy taking a big hit in Baton Rouge over the years.
It's also not unusual for many restaurants and bars to not even have the LSU basketball game playing, as it isn't a priority or even on the establishment's radar. But then again, why watch? The Tigers just completed a historically horrific 10-21 season (2-17 against SEC competition) that led to the dismissal of head coach Johnny Jones after five years on the job.
Jones, of course, played and coached during the LSU glory years of the early 80s into the 90s. NCAA Tournament appearances were basically an automatic then. And just think - 64,144 tickets were actually sold for the Tigers' epic 82-80 upset of No. 2 Georgetown in the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 28, 1989. These days, it would take roughly 10 home games for LSU to reach that attendance number.
We can argue what exactly was the beginning of the end for Jones. Was it in Pittsburgh during the 2015 NCAA Tournament, when LSU blew a 16-point second half lead and lost to North Carolina State? Was it bringing the insanely hyped Ben Simmons into the program and LSU then littering the entire town with "25 is Coming" billboards? Or was it when Jones and his team flew up the white flag and declined participating in the NIT to conclude Simmons' one year with the program? Whatever the case, Jones was viewed to have little, if any, chance at turning things around this season. Regardless, he was given that one last chance and here we are.
Joe Alleva is now looking to hire his third basketball coach since becoming LSU's athletic director in 2008. The hiring of Alleva always perplexed me - why hire the AD from a basketball school like Duke, to take over a football powerhouse like LSU? Well, maybe he would improve the Tigers' up and down hoops program. After all, he had been around "Coach K" and college basketball excellence for years. It couldn't hurt, right?
Again, here we are.
Alleva is like your high school principal - he's in a position that isn't built to win popularity contests. He's there to make tough decisions, not to be liked. Regardless, many people have had enough of LSU trending towards mediocrity in many aspects of its athletic program. LSU football was a preseason Top 5 selection, yet it finished with an 8-4 record. LSU women's basketball once went to five straight Final Fours from 2004-2008, but hasn't sniffed one since. Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones both had their moments, but failed overall as Alleva hires with the men's basketball program.
Jones reportedly was the 12th highest paid coach in the 14-team SEC. Football is making the athletic program more than enough money to invest in a winning basketball coach and make the sport important again. It's time for Tiger hoops to be more than just a stop gap between football and baseball season.
Make it right. Invest. Make LSU basketball matter again.