Johnny Jones’ job security in doubt as LSU basketball stumbles

Feb 6, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Johnny Jones before their game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Johnny Jones before their game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

Johnny Jones’ future with the LSU basketball program could be in doubt after the team’s recent free-fall out of the NCAA Tournament picture.

On Feb. 13, the LSU basketball team delivered a 76-71 statement win over No. 15 Texas A&M that, for a moment, dispelled the common notion that head coach Johnny Jones is nothing more than a top-tier recruiter with undeniable coaching deficiencies.

For one of the first times all season, the Tigers did what great teams do regularly: they made stops on the defensive end in crucial moments, they dominated the turnover battle and, most importantly, effort was never an issue.

Less than two weeks later, this performance is nothing more than a distant memory and a reminder of how truly disappointing LSU has been this season. Dropping three consecutive games, including a pair of blowout losses to sub-.500 teams, the Tigers have fallen to 16-12 and out of the NCAA Tournament picture, with no hope of re-entering the frame.

As a result, Jones’ shortcomings as a coach have reemerged into the spotlight, with his job security severely in doubt.

During this three-game skid, LSU has failed to display any sense of poise, direction or focus. They have connected on just 48-of-80 free throw attempts, have developed a penchant for giving up uncontested layups and have been outscored in the second half by a combined 40 points.

Sadly, these traits are nothing new for the Tigers under Jones’ leadership. In fact, they have been mainstays of a four-year run that at the end of the season — barring an SEC Championship — will include just one NCAA Tournament appearance and zero victories at the Big Dance.

What is new, however, is this unprecedented level of disappointment.

The buildup to the 2015-2016 college basketball season brought about nothing but optimism for the LSU basketball program. With a mix of seasoned veterans complimenting a top-five recruiting class headlined by No. 1 overall recruit Ben Simmons, all signs pointed towards the team taking a vital step in establishing itself as a legitimate basketball contender in a football-dominated conference.

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With the end of the regular season approaching, the Tigers have not just underperformed. They have done so at a historical level, emerging as the biggest letdown in college basketball in the process.

Simmons, a 6-foot-10 forward, might be the most versatile player of the one-and-done era. He possesses the handle of a point guard, the rebounding ability of a 7-foot center and court vision that is unmatched by players his size at the collegiate ranks. And he is undoubtedly one of the most talented players to ever suit up for LSU.

He is also on the verge of becoming the first No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick that attended college to never appear in the NCAA Tournament since former Minnesota star Mychal Thomson was selected by Portland with the top pick in the 1978 draft.

Even without Simmons, this team should be capable of making the NCAA Tournament.

Junior Tim Quarterman is one of the most well-rounded guards in the SEC, and at 6-foot-6, presents matchup problems for many opponents. Keith Hornsby is a senior leader that provides remarkable touch from beyond the 3-point arc and a never-ending supply of hustle on defense. Antonio Blakeney was the No. 3 shooting guard in the country a year ago according to ESPN, while sophomore Craig Victor was a top-10 power forward in 2014. Each has shown flashes of dominance this season.

Yet three games away from the conference tournament, any hope of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid for the Tigers is all but lost.

When Jones took the reigns of the program in April 2012, his arrival brought about a sense hope. Nearly four years later, a steady mix of mediocrity and underperformance has the head coach fixated on the hot seat.

Is he the only problem?

Absolutely not.

Quarterman has faded in key games, Simmons’ lack of aggression on offense has hurt the team at times and way-too-frequently bench scoring has been nonexistent. Injury troubles for Hornsby and a mid-season shooting slump by Blakeney have not helped either.

With one of the most talented teams in school history destined to waste away in the NIT, though, something must change.

Jones is a tremendous recruiter, evidenced by 2013 and 2015, when he brought in the program’s highest-ranked recruiting hauls in more than a decade. But elite recruiting ability is only an asset if a coach is able to lead that talent to perform at elite level.

Through four seasons, it is clear that Jones will never be the coach to do so.