DEVILLE: Not quite a basketball town anymore

The cover of our 2006-07 Tiger Rag Basketball Preview heralded Baton Rouge as now being a "Basketball Town."

With both the men's and women's basketball teams reaching the Final Four in 2006, Baton Rouge unofficially became the center of the basketball world in the SEC. Each team put together magnificent runs to the round of four last season. And with each team returning a strong cast of characters from their respective 2006 squads, more good things were likely to follow in 2007.

 

Not exactly.

 

Both teams began the season ranked in the top 10, with the LSU men being ranked as high as No. 5 in the land. The Lady Tigers debuted at No. 10 in the preseason polls.

 

A year that looked to be filled with continued success on the hardwood for the LSU basketball programs turned into a nightmare. One could say LSU hoops took two steps forward in 2006, then four steps backward in 2007.

 

First the men.

 

Everyone knew it would tough be to replace the likes of Darrel Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas from 2006's Final Four team. But no one could have imagined it would have been that difficult.

 

The Tigers still had Glen Davis inside, but the lack of a second interior presence would eventually spell certain doom for John Brady's team. Well, that and the fact LSU struggled all year making the open 3-pointer, which proved just how big the loss of Mitchell really was.

 

Things started off well for LSU as the Tigers nabbed a huge non-conference win over then-No. 6 Texas A&M. The Tigers later staked claim to another nice victory, disposing of UConn on a national television stage on ESPN.

 

All seemed well for Brady's Tigers as they entered SEC play.  LSU sported an 11-3 record and a No. 14 national ranking.

 

Then things went south.

 

After a 2-1 start in SEC play, LSU dropped six straight games and nine of 10 en route to a 5-11 SEC finish. From a 14-2 league mark a year earlier, the Tigers finished last in the SEC Western Division and entered the SEC Tournament as the 11th seed.

 

The Tigers picked up a quality win with an opening round victory over No. 22 Tennessee, but Brady's squad ran out of gas in a second-round loss to Ole Miss and LSU was eliminated.

 

Some thought the Tigers could get into the NIT with a 17-15 record and three good wins. But the NIT committee felt otherwise, and for the first time since 2001 the LSU men's basketball program missed the postseason.

 

Brady's critics, who were silenced by the Tigers' magical run in 2006, were out in full force, questioning the coach more than ever before. While there was no doubt Brady wouldn't be fired, there were those out there who were screaming for the 10th-year coach's job.

 

Everything Brady had accomplished with the success of 2006 had been wiped away in a matter of two months as LSU plummeted to mediocrity.

 

There were the same complaints about Brady's coaching ability, his lack of a true point guard and his inability to sustain success.

 

It is a shame, really, when you consider this team lost so many games by so few points –six games by four points or less. The Tigers lost 10 games by single-digit deficits.

 

It looks like Davis will now bolt to the NBA, as it is apparent a sizeable rift has developed between the 6-9, 300-pound All-American and the Tigers' head coach. LSU returns plenty of talent to be a good team next year, but the Tigers must look at replacing its inside game and continue trying to find a "true" point guard.

 

Also, fans will be extra stingy with room for error for Brady, who may not survive another season if LSU again misses the postseason.

 

Now for the women.

 

All one can say is, what a mess.

 

A once promising season has turned ugly for the Lady Tigers. Sure enough, LSU is prepared to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Saturday's win over UNC-Asheville showed the Lady Tigers are still a dominant team on the women's basketball landscape.

 

But the program, one which has reached three straight Final Fours, is carrying around a pretty nasty black eye. The cloud hovering over this program right now is one that is making fans shake their heads in wonderment.

 

Pokey Chatman's shocking resignation on March 7 set in motion a chain of events that has gripped women's basketball nationwide. After compiling a sparkling 90-14 record, which included two SEC titles and three trips to the Final Four, Chatman stepped down after accusations of inappropriate contact with players.

 

LSU was tight-lipped about the situation at first but came forward last week with evidence that Chatman had had a sexual relationship or relationships with former players. Assistant coach Carla Berry, a former LSU teammate and close friend of Chatman's, blew the whistle.

 

The plot thickened by the hour last week, and rumors swirled, becoming worse with every passing day. Bob Starkey, who stepped in as acting head coach, did a marvelous job in keeping the team together and helping them prepare for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. By the time the dust settles from this scandal, the women's basketball program is likely going to be fine. But the way LSU handles the situation will dictate at what level this program will remain.

 

Starkey has been adamant about not wanting to be LSU's next head coach. But for the Lady Tigers' sake, whoever Skip Bertman hires, it is imperative the next coach retains Starkey, no matter what happens to the rest of the staff.

 

One thing is for certain, though. The strides made in the last five years in promoting the growth of women's basketball, and women's sports in general, has taken a major step backwards in terms of perception. All the years of hard work by Sue Gunter and Chatman after her to promote the sport and its popularity are for naught in the aftermath of what will go down as one of the darkest periods in the history of LSU sports.

 

All in all, no matter what the Lady Tigers do in the NCAA Tournament (outside of winning the national title), it wasn't a banner year for basketball in Baton Rouge. The Capitol City has now gone back from a "Basketball Town" to merely a dot on the basketball map.

 

---

 

Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.


Tiger Blitz Top Stories