MULE': Hoops collapse not all that shocking

Put LSU basketball in rarified – but unwanted – company.

The Tigers beat uninspired and No. 3-ranked Florida Saturday, but despite its pinnacle performance of the season, LSU is still unhappily going to join an ignominious few  programs.  In the last decade just five schools have gone to the Final Four one year, and completely missed the NCAA Tournament the next.


This season LSU (15-13, 4-10) will join that select field – Florida win or not.


Who saw that train coming?


Five months ago we were all braced for another rocket ride to the top – or near the top – of the SEC basketball standings, just like last year.


Now, LSU with a firm grip as one of the SEC's worst – no matter what happens the rest of the way – with no chance of another surprise trip to the Final Four.  NIT is looking more and more possible now, whereas a week ago even those chances were fading quickly.


Of course, nothing really happened that anyone shouldn't have expected.  LSU isn't ‘the most disappointing team in the nation,' as some pundits have said.  LSU was grossly overrated at the start of this season – generally by the same media people so disappointed now.


Only those not paying close attention, like the national "experts" who saw LSU advance to the Final Four a year ago and knew that "Big Baby'' Davis was back, could have made such outrageous predictions as putting the Tigers among the top 5 teams in America.


Nobody could lose a spectacular shot-swatter like Tyrus Thomas and clutch guard Darrel Mitchell, who filled in at point guard and directed the Tigers to their Final Four berth a year ago – not to mention the three games he won on last gasp shots – and not be adversely affected.


Let's face it, the guts of the team was gone. The most valuable performer of the '05-'06  squad, Big Baby, was back, but without the underpinnings that team was built on – and without anyone close to their abilities to replace them.  Big Baby had help last season.


He, nor any other Tiger, has had much support this year.  Then Davis himself was lost to injury, though – ironically, LSU played two of its better all-around games, against Kentucky and Florida, without him.


The question isn't why LSU didn't repeat as, at least, an SEC challenger; it's why anyone would think the Tigers could.  In fact, unless some superior athlete emerged from out of the blue as Thomas did a year ago, it was more logical to believe the Tigers would flounder, as they generally have.


Turns out, even after Saturday's defeat of Florida, the difference between LSU's league record this year and last year threatens to be one of the biggest downturns in Tiger basketball history after an SEC regular-season championship, eight fewer conference victories – which, with two regular-season games to go, could equal the minus 10-victory difference from John Brady's other SEC title team in 2001.


That won't equal the biggest turnabout, which was a difference of minus-11 conference wins between the 1953-54 season, when Bob Pettit ruled Southern basketball and the season after he left.


Of course, sometimes comparisons can be deceiving: LSU won the regular-season title in 1978-79 with a 14-4 SEC record.  A year later the Tigers had an identical league record, but fell short of the championship – though they did take the SEC Tournament title.  In 1984-85, LSU won with a 13-5 record.  The next season the Tigers failed to defend their title, going 9-9 in the SEC – then caught fire in the postseason to reach the Final Four.


Also, and perhaps most importantly, changing times bring on changing conditions.  After each of Brady's SEC championship seasons, he lost a lottery-pick player to the NBA – Stromile Swift after the first and Thomas last year.  With the exception of John Williams in the mid-1960s, Dale Brown didn't really have to deal with that debilitating circumstance until his coaching tenure at LSU began winding down – when Shaquille O'Neal went pro in 1992. 


All that would have perplexed Coach Harry Rabenhorst.  He had Pettit for his entire college career – just as both tacitly agreed upon when he offered the grant-in-aid and just as he expected of every athlete he ever signed.  In Pettit's three varsity seasons, LSU rang up a 59-15 overall record, went 33-6 in the SEC, won the league title once, and made the Final Four for the first time.


Then Pettit graduated and took his game to the Milwaukee Hawks, and the bottom fell out on Rabenhorst.  LSU quickly went from the proverbial SEC penthouse (14-0) to its hovel (3-11) – similar to this season. 


Check out how LSU teams have fared from title teams to following seasons:


      Years               Overall    SEC            Difference      Coach


       2005-06          27-9         14-2                                   John Brady            

       2006-07          15-13         4-10               - 8     


       1999-00          28-6          12-4                                 John Brady

       2000-01          13-16          2-14              -10          


      1990-91           20-10        13-5                                Dale Brown

      1991-92           21-10        12-4                 - 1


     1984-85           19-10          13-5                               Dale Brown

     1985-86           26-12            9-9                 - 4


     1980-81           31-5            17-1                              Dale Brown

     1981-82           14-14          11-7                 - 6


     1978-79           23-6            14-4                              Dale Brown

     1979-80           26-6            14-4                ---


     1953-54            20-5           14-0                             Harry Rabenhorst

     1954-55              6-10           3-11              - 11


     1934-35             14-1          14-0                            Harry Rabenhorst

     1935-36             10-10          9-6                 - 6




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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