On Valentine's Day, the Tigers went on the road and upended nationally ranked Florida in the SEC's toughest venue running their record to a sparkling 17-4 tilt. LSU jumped into the Top 25 for the first time in over a year and looked to be a shoe-in for at least a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
One could bet if you had told Brady that his team would not even make the Big Dance, he (or anyone) would have called you a liar. However, that is exactly what happened.
It is ironic that LSU's season took a nose dive after an emotional win at Florida, a game which turned out to be these Tigers' highest moment of the season as well as their best effort. In that game, senior forward Jaime Lloreda turned an ankle, and coupled with bursitis in his other foot, set the events in motion that would see the end of his playing career at LSU.
It was just two football seasons ago, the Tigers went to Florida, ranked in the top 10, battered the mighty Gators in the Swamp only to have the rest of the season go down the drain. Quarterback Matt Mauck injured his foot (hmmmm….) and was lost for the rest of the season. The Tigers lost four of their next seven games and needed a miracle at Kentucky to avoid losing a fifth.
In very similar fashion, the LSU Basketball Tigers never recovered from the loss of Lloreda. Granted the big man tried to play in games versus Auburn and Mississippi State, he was a shell of his former self and the Tigers dropped seven of their last eight games, including a bevy of blowout losses, a woodshed beating by South Carolina in the SEC Tournament and a slap in the face by Oklahoma in the first round of the NIT at Norman, Okla.
Like one of the Three Stooges pulling a rug out from under the other, Brady watched as his team struggled without the services of Lloreda. Fans began to turn, Brady began to lash out, Lloreda fled to Miami never to be heard from again and a once promising season turned ugly as the Tigers finished on the lowest of low notes.
Before we close the book on the 2003-04 LSU basketball season, Tiger Rag will issue the final grades to Brady's Tigers. Unfortunately, they are a far cry from the sparkling marks LSU received midway through the SEC season.
Making the turn in the SEC, Darrel Mitchell was red hot, Xavier Whipple was the calming presence perfect for the LSU offense, Tack Minor was the perfect spark off the bench and Antonio Hudson was still trying to find himself.
To recap, Mitchell was one of the lone bright spots on the offensive end of the floor. Although the pint-sized sophomore did have a few off nights, Mitchell's quick release and hot-hand gave LU enough flair on offense to sometimes pose a threat to some teams.
Whipple did what he had been doing, but with Lloreda missing down low, the Tigers had to win with on the perimeter and Whipple did not provide enough offensive spark to make a difference.
Minor regressed to the state of being in which he arrived on campus last August. Although he had his moments with a flashy move or long-distance shot, Minor spent the most of the second half of the SEC slate dribbling out of control, forcing shots and inevitably engaged in the rather ugly exchange with Brady at Oklahoma that many felt was a long time coming.
Finally, Hudson came out of his shell and had a career-game scoring 25 points. But that effort came in a 21-point loss to the Gamecocks in Atlanta. The positive thing is Hudson will have one more season to redeem himself as the 6-4 Grambling native returns for his senior season.
Without Lloreda, the Tigers were helpless in the paint.
The SEC's second leading scorer and top rebounder gave LSU the best one-two punch in the paint alongside the SEC Freshman of the Year Brandon Bass. However, without Lloreda, Bass was overwhelmed with double and sometimes triple teams and the promising freshman season turned into a nightmare for the former Capitol High All-American.
Like many others, Bass had his moments and is definitely poised to be the premiere big man in the SEC. That is if he sticks around long enough. Word is Bass is not happy at LSU and may look to take his game elsewhere. Whether or not that is the NBA or another school is not known, but if the Tigers can hang onto Bass he will be the future of LSU Hoops.
Aside from freshman Darnell Lazare, the rest of the Tigers frontcourt is wildly mediocre. Lazare came on strong in the wake of Lloreda's departure. The Woodlawn-Baton Rouge product has nice moves for a guy his size and battled hard for rebounds. With time spent in the offseason program and about 15 pounds and Lazare could be a very good SEC player.
Same goes for freshmen forwards Regis Koundjia and Ross Neltner. A Parade All-American coming to LSU, Koundjia definitely didn't live up to his advanced billing. A tenacious shot blocker and pretty rebounder, Koundjia showed he was very little threat to score and was miserable from the perimeter most of the time.
Neltner, a former Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, wasn't much better. Toss in a nice effort in a 70-64 loss to his homestate rival Kentucky and Neltner was little more than a body used to spell Bass, Lazare and Lloreda. Neltner was soft on the boards and didn't shoot all that well either.
However, like we said earlier, all three of these freshmen (Lazare, Neltner, Koundjia) can be decent SEC players with time and a little more weight.
While many of you would expect a total torching of the job Brady did this season, especially in the latter part of the season, you won't find it here.
While other publications are quick to condemn the coach and the downfall of this season, it is perfectly obvious Brady and the Tigers a victim of circumstance. Had Lloreda not been injured and Koundjia stayed healthy after the Florida win, LSU was well on their way to the Big Dance, and most everybody knows that.
Do we think Brady can coach?
While many of you out there says he can't, a coach does not ascend through the coaching ranks landing in an SEC job of this caliber if he can't coach. Sure Brady can coach, but his flaws are elsewhere.
The only crime Brady is guilty of is an abrasive, sometimes cruddy demeanor and poor timing. Crabby coaches can keep their jobs and keep most people happy (i.e. Bobby Knight, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino), but they have to win. Nick Saban is typically not a really hospitable person, but he wins and can turn on the charm when he needs to. Brady's biggest flaw is he has not won enough at LSU to be entitled to flare up at the media whenever he sees fit. Brady's postgame antics only soured the media more and became as crusty as his disposition after countless losses.
Those who scream "Fire Brady" from the highest rooftop are barking on deaf ears. He is not going anywhere, this year at least. You can bet after next season if LSU does more of the same, there possibly may be some house cleaning.
But for now, sit back, enjoy some baseball and get off the Brady subject. Next year will set the tone for the future for LSU Basketball and whether or not John Brady will be a part of it.