An NCAA Tournament Without Ben Simmons? Why March Madness Needs Him

    LSU has looked much better in recent conference play, but they're not guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament just yet.

    February 10, 2016

    The thought of Ben Simmons missing out on the NCAA Tournament is a basketball anomaly.

    He’s the nation’s most adept freshman and arguably the most talented player in college basketball, so one would expect him to be one of the poster children for March Madness.

    That’s just not the reality of the situation though. In his latest edition of Bracketology, Joe Lunardi listed the LSU Tigers as a No. 10 seed in the tournament, placing them firmly on the bubble to kick off February. Now, obviously, those brackets will go through plenty of changes going into March Madness, but come Selection Sunday, what are the odds LSU actually misses out on college basketball’s most pristine event?

    First, let’s take a look at the road Johnny Jones’ squad took to reach this spot.

    Simmons’ commitment to LSU drew some lofty expectations for the Tigers heading into the season, but early losses to teams like N.C. State, College of Charleston and Houston dug a deep hole that ultimately dissolved their preseason hype.

    It wasn’t until a victory over then-No. 9 Kentucky in Baton Rouge, La. on Jan. 6 that college hoops fans began diverting their attention back to the Tigers. Link that with wins over Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, and LSU now finds itself sitting atop the SEC standings with an 8-2 conference record.

    Presumably out of its preseason rut, Jones’ team seems to have regenerated its offense behind Simmons’ unique talent on the hardwood.

    But there’s still plenty of reason to suspect it may be too little, too late for the Tigers.

    Their remaining conference schedule is far from a cake walk. Road games against Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky would provide a major challenge for any team in the country. They also welcome Texas A&M, Alabama, and Florida to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in search of another marquee victory.

    Wins over Texas A&M and a Kentucky team hungry for revenge would work wonders for LSU’s resume considering its previous win over the Wildcats is its only ranked win this season. The Tigers stumbled in their last matchup with the Aggies, 71-57, and they fell just short against the then-No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners, 77-75. 

    These last seven games are LSU’s final opportunities to prove they belong on the big stage come March.

    And though they have as good a chance as anyone to win the SEC Tournament and get that beloved auto-bid, it’s far from a guarantee.

    Even if they don’t win the SEC tourney, just one victory against “Big Blue” or Texas A&M would likely be enough to secure LSU a decent seed in a bracket, assuming it wins the remaining conference games it’s “supposed” to win.

    That’s the most realistic best-case scenario for the Tigers — it’s hard to imagine they’ll be undefeated for the remainder of the regular season, but limiting the damage to just one loss while picking up a quality win or two should be enough to seal the deal.

    Tigers fan or not, it’s hard not to root for LSU in the coming weeks because an NCAA Tournament without Simmons would be an absolute travesty. What would the 2012 NCAA Tournament have been without Anthony Davis? What about a Carmelo Anthony-less 2003 NCAA Tourney? Those two were imperative in their respective tournaments, and Simmons’ importance to the 2015-16 Big Dance is of that same caliber.

    He’s the kind of talent we want to see on the biggest stage. He’s whom we need to see — for college basketball’s sake. 

    March Madness is about upsets. It’s about drama. And it’s a slightly disheartening to think one of the stars of the series could be excluded from the finale.

    MORE: Shaka Smart, Texas Basketball Impressing In Year One


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