Best Player in the Country Not Invited to March Madness?
It’s not often you see the overall top recruit choose a school like LSU over Duke, Kentucky, Carolina, and some of the other powerhouses in college basketball.
For Ben Simmons it was simple,
“My godfather is the assistant coach there so I just felt real comfortable [there].” Simmons said after he won his third High School National Championship in Madison Square Garden last year.
No one can dispute the reason why he selected Baton Rouge but we are on the verge of possibly seeing the future overall #1 pick in the NBA draft not participate in the NCAA Tournament. The LSU Tigers are currently 17-12 as of March 1st which puts them on a very fragile bubble. The only two big wins they have are against Kentucky and Texas A&M.
Currently the Tigers are tied for third in the SEC with a 10-6 conference record. Unfortunately, the SEC is not very strong, which doesn’t help the Tigers case.
It’s hard to blame Simmons for the lack of team success. He leads the Tigers in all but one statistical categories, averaging 20 points, 12 boards, 5 dimes, 2 steals, while shooting 56% from the field. As the most skilled player in college basketball, it’s expected for Simmons to lead the Tigers in stats, who are solid but not great.
On the flipside, one could look at Simmons for the Tigers woes. In some of the Tigers losses, Simmons had the opportunity to carry them to glory, which as pundits and fans expect him to do. In LSU's 77-75 loss to Oklahoma in late January, Simmons was upstage in the final minutes by standout Sooner, Buddy Hield, during the final stretch of the game.
Killer instinct has been something we have been waiting to see from Simmons. While we know that he can pretty much do everything on the basketball court, when the pressure is on - that unmeasurable intangible - hasn’t been put on display by the Aussie phenom.
For the Tigers to make the tournament I think they will need a deep run in the SEC Tournament. If the Tigers can reach 20 wins, they will receive a spot. Simmons star power alone will get the Tigers a serious consideration but a few wins in tournament play will be enough to clinch an at-large bid.
If Simmons don’t make it to the Tourney, he will be the first #1 pick to not play in the NCAA Tournament since Mychal Thompson in 1978 (yes, I'm calling it now). Thompson went number one to the Portland Trailblazers after winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award and averaged 22 points and 11 boards. It should be noted that the Gophers were also under NCAA sanction during Thompson final three seasons, which forced them to miss all postseason play, but at 17-11 they were still a bubble team.
Simmons star power will get the Tigers into the big dance. The NCAA will not want to lose out on all that advertising money because the best player in the country is playing in the NIT. It will be interesting to see if that killer instinct will come out of Simmons in the month of March, but as the old saying goes, if he doesn’t have it now, then he will never have it.