In addition to his elite athleticism, impeccable court vision and ability to make plays with the ball in his hands in the open floor, Ben Simmons may soon have something else in common with LeBron James.
The transcendent LSU freshman also may never play in the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Sunday night, falling 105-98 in overtime to a Houston team projected to finish seventh in the American Athletic Conference before the season began. Keith Hornsby buried a fall-away left-wing 3-pointer to tie the game in the dying seconds of regulation, but with Simmons already having fouled out, LSU could not keep pace with the Cougars in overtime.
LSU's latest loss leaves the Tigers with an uninspiring 4-4 record even though their lackluster early schedule has not included an opponent in the KenPom top 50. They have no quality wins and they have now lost to Houston and Charleston on the road and NC State and Marquette on a neutral court.
There's ample time for LSU to recover from its poor start and secure an at-large NCAA tournament bid, but the Tigers certainly now face an uphill climb. They need to avoid anymore bad losses the rest of the month and perform very well in SEC play to avoid squandering Simmons' lone season in college basketball.
Why is LSU in this position when Simmons has solidified himself as the leading candidate to be taken No. 1 in next June's NBA draft by averaging 19 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists?
One of LSU's biggest problems has been its undisciplined shot selection and lack of perimeter shooters. Too often the Tigers will take quick shots rather than playing through Simmons. LSU is shooting a mediocre 32.4 percent from behind the arc as a team, yet it has attempted a total of 109 threes in its four losses.
The return of Hornsby from sports hernia surgery helps alleviate that issue to an extent. He sank six threes in his season debut on Sunday, but the rest of LSU's team went just 3 of 16 from behind the arc.
Surrounding Simmons with 3-point threats is critical given the fact that he's a willing passer who consistently commands a double team when he has the ball in the post or he's attacking off the dribble. Therefore the Tigers desperately need heralded freshmen guards Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson to knock down more open shots.
Of course, offense wasn't LSU's main problem Sunday night against Houston. It was the Tigers' inability to stop the dribble or control the defensive glass that doomed them.
Houston rolled up 105 points by shooting 51.4 percent from the field, going to the free throw line 39 times and grabbing 17 offensive rebounds. Guard Rob Gray gashed LSU off the dribble for 31 points and center Danrad "Chicken" Knowles hurt the Tigers around the rim for 20 points.
The midseason addition of Arizona transfer Craig Victor could help LSU defend and rebound, but the Tigers' issues are more than one man can solve. They were allowing opponents to rebound 32.4 percent of their misses even before Sunday's game.
Simmons chose LSU because his godfather David Patrick has been an assistant coach for the Tigers for the past three-plus years. He stuck with that commitment even though LSU underachieved the past two years with NBA prospects Jarrel Martin and Jordan Mickey on the roster, missing the 2014 NCAA tournament and narrowly sneaking into the field last season.
It's possible LSU may underachieve again in Simmons' lone season in Baton Rouge, but the silver lining for the Tigers is that there's still time to fix these problems. They have four winnable home games ahead against Gardner Webb, Oral Roberts, American and Wake Forest before SEC play begins.
Nonetheless, LSU's poor start has reduced its margin for error during the conference season.
Either the Tigers salvage their season by finishing in the SEC's upper echelon, or Simmons will have to settle for being the highest scoring player in this year's NIT.
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