Defense optional

Kyle Riviere
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

It has been a football season filled with underachievement--so much so that Les Miles' job was only saved by the fervent reaction of the prideful Tiger fanbase. The same kind of failure to meet lofty expectations has cursed the LSU men's basketball team to start 2015-16.

In a season accompanied by immense preseason hype due to the signing of the nation's top prospect, Ben Simmons and the 14th-ranked player in Antonio Blakeney, the Tigers have gotten off to a mediocre 4-4 start.

One of the things that has been most alarming is their inability to play any semblance of defense. For the season, they're giving up a booming 82 points per game.

Even worse, they have given up at least 105 points in two straight games. They allowed tiny North Florida to chalk up 108 against them in Baton Rouge back on Dec. 2. In three of the four losses, they gave up at least 81.

The 82 they give up per contest ranks 320th out of 346 Division-I teams.

They haven't been much better when it comes to field-goal percentage defense. Teams are shooting 44 percent from the field against them. That ranks them 232nd.

The old saying is very true: offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.

Sure, it has been fun to watch LSU's offense this season. They have weapons galore, and those weapons can do some pretty special things.

They're averaging 85 points per game and have scored at least 80 points in six of their eight games. They have scored at least 98 points in back-to-back contests.

Simmons is averaging 19 per game, and Blakeney is pouring in 15.

But again, until LSU learns to play some defense, those big numbers will be meaningless. At the end of the day, the only numbers that count are the ones that show up on the scoreboard when zeros occupy the time clock.

Simmons can continue to play like the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft like he has, but it will continue to be in a losing effort.

It's time for Johnny Jones to right this ship, or it will quickly turn out to be one of the greatest wastes of talent that LSU has ever seen.

The Tigers have the raw ability to make a deep tournament run. Simmons alone is averaging 19 points and 15 rebounds per game as a true freshman.

Add another blue-chipper with Blakeney with returning players like Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray and Jayln Patterson, and the recipe is there for the Tigers to be a dangerous team come March.

Unfortunately, if they continue to lose like they have, they'll never make it to March. They'll be sitting at home filling out brackets like the rest of us.

Of course, Jarrel Martin was a significant loss, but with Simmons basically taking over for him, it hasn't hurt as much. It's the loss of Jordan Mickey that has turned out to be devastating for the Tigers.

Mickey was such a force inside when it came to defense and rebounding. He could also give you 15-20 points in the paint each night.

They just don't have anyone that can fill that void. As good of a rebounder as Simmons is, he is basically a point-forward. He just doesn't have the strength and power required to play down in the blocks all night.

They were forced to play seven games without sharp-shooter Keith Hornsby. He's now back, and he made his presence felt in the loss to Houston--putting up 32 points.

He can surely help them when it comes to timely shooting, but once again, it's not the offensive end where LSU needs help; it's on defense.

The Tigers need to make improvements quickly because the schedule is not going to get any easier.

Going into the year, their early non-conference schedule looked fairly easy. Yet, they have already lost four games. All of the defeats came to unranked teams, and one was a 12-point loss to Charleston.

Their next three games should all be easy victories, but come Dec. 29, they'll be entering a gauntlet with Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Florida all waiting. And down the line, they'll have to play highly-lanked Oklahoma.

Things better start coming together quickly because if LSU is sitting at home come tournament time, Jones might be getting the Les Miles treatment, but he won't be able to point to a national championship ring to save his bacon.