LSU Basketball: The Road to Positive Momentum


“An atomosphere that was second to none.” Those are the words of LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones in describing what it was like at the PMAC this past Wednesday night. The Tigers played valiantly, but ultimately fell to No. 1 ranked Kentucky, by a slim 71-69 margin.

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LSU fell behind by 13 points, 58-45 in the second half, then used a 21-2 surge to take a 66-60 lead with 7:29 remaining in the contest. Unfortunately, the Tigers went cold on offense, hitting only one field goal the rest of the way. Keith Hornsby‘s attempt at a trey to win it was off the mark at the final buzzer.

So now the question. Can the Tigers sustain the momentum they’ve built to this point in the year, and use the Kentucky game to spur them on to an NCAA berth? I’ll answer in the affirmative, but will note that building positive momentum is not an easy thing to do. LSU men’s basketball has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009. There was an NIT berth last year, but that’s not enough.

LSU is currently 17-7, 6-5 in SEC play with seven conference games remaining. The prevailing thought is that the Tigers need to win at least 12 conference games to have a shot at an NCAA berth. That means this LSU squad needs to go 6-1 down the stretch to attain the 12-win mark. Winning at least one SEC Tournament game and advancing there also can’t hurt. It’s not going to be easy, but it can be done. The good news here is that LSU IS in the discussion.

Here’s the current bracketology (as of this morning): In CBS Sports’ version, Jerry Palm has the Tigers as an 11-seed and among the “last four in” playing Miami (FL) in the First Round in the Midwest Region, meaning on the Tuesday or Wednesday night before the round of 64 begins. In ESPN’s version, Joe Lunardi also has LSU as an 11-seed in the South Region and playing Georgetown.

If the Tigers can play with the same intensity and drive going forward as they did against Kentucky, they can hit that 12-win mark. Certainly the raucous capacity crowd of 13,997 at the PMAC on Wednesday night is not lost on Jones. He knows that his young team needs the support of the LSU fanbase, and he said as much yesterday, in an open letter to Tiger fans.

Here’s the letter in its entirety:

It can’t be denied that Jones has helped to, at the very least, bring LSU basketball back into the conversation in Baton Rouge, and around the SEC. There’s no doubt that hoops trails football and baseball in popularity at LSU currently.

In building this difficult-to-attain positive momentum, Jones has won 56 games in two-plus years, and has done a phenomenal recruiting job. Set to join LSU next year are top recruits Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney, plus transfer Craig Victor from Arizona. Jones is doing a terrific job, and the Tiger faithful need to show a bit more patience. There are Tiger fans who have been critical of Jones’ in-game coaching decisions, but I won’t touch on that here.

Imagine next year’s team with the three aforementioned who wait in the wings, and at least one of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, plus returning players Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray, Jalyn Patterson, and Keith Hornsby. The 2015-16 LSU Tigers most certainly appear to be loaded.

All that said, playing in the NCAA Tournament this year will be the boost the program needs to continue building momentum, and to have fans excited about next year.

In the meantime, keep this beautiful sight in mind…

Next up for LSU: two tough road games – tomorrow at Tennessee for a 3:00 pm CT tip, then a rematch with Texas A&M on Tuesday for an 8:00 pm CT tip. In the latter, the Tigers will look to avenge their earlier season loss to the Aggies.

LSU returns home on Saturday, February 21st to play Florida. Hope the fans heed Jones’ message.