Dynamic LSU freshman Ben Simmons is expected to be the first player taken in the NBA draft in June, but college basketball fans not connected to the teams he is playing against are hoping to see him get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament before he turns pro.
He’s had an All-American caliber season after all and what a shame it would be to see him playing a handful of games in the NIT before moving on instead of competing for something much more meaningful.
Simmons and his teammates kept that dream alive for at least a day Friday by beating No. 12 seed Tennessee in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. LSU will play at least one more game in the SEC on Saturday when the Tigers take on top-seeded Texas A&M. The teams split the season series with Simmons making heavy contributions in both contests.
Simmons scored 10 points with 11 rebounds and five assists in loss to the Aggies in January and scored 16 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists in a win Feb 13.
"It's our last opportunity to be together," Simmons said in a postgame interview with the SEC Network. "For us, a lot of guys will be going. For me, I don't know what I'll be doing but obviously we have an opportunity to win the SEC and then be in the NCAA tournament. So for us coming into this, we're just ready to play. We know it's not much time left and we have an opportunity to do big things."
[Four teams opponents should want in their section of the bracket]
The season hasn’t gone as well for LSU as many believed it would considering Simmons presence and the talent around him. The Tigers have no hope of making the NCAA field as an at-large team, despite finishing fourth in the SEC regular-season standings. The resume simply doesn’t compare well to a crowded field of teams on the bubble.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 11, 2016
LSU has beaten only two teams this season that are expected to be in the NCAA tournament as of Friday, the Aggies and Kentucky. The Tigers are 19-13 overall and have a 91 RPI and 75 strength-of-schedule ranking. The team is clearly aware of what it must accomplish to get into the NCAA tournament, which means Saturday’s game should be fun to watch.
Simmons sat through much of the first half Friday with foul trouble, but still managed to score 15 points with eight rebounds against the Volunteers. Fellow freshman Antonio Blakeney led the Tigers with 22 points and could be considering a move to the pro game as well based on Simmons’ comments about ‘a lot of guys will be going.’
Tim Quarterman, another possibility to leave school early, scored 18 points and dished seven assists.
The Tigers will need a determined, focused effort over the weekend to surprise the nation and steal a bid from a team on the bubble. The problem is toughness and focus haven't been hallmarks of this LSU squad. But it's never too late to change.
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