LSU basketball, part 1: Johnny Jones offers an important example to pundits

Two coaches lost home games in this past weekend’s Big 12-SEC Challenge: One was the coach of a bad Auburn team, Bruce Pearl. He gets a pass, because he’s rebuilding a mess of a program.

The other coach? Johnny Jones of LSU, who has a transformative talent on his roster but can’t seem to use him well or often in crunch time against the No. 1 team in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners.

Saturday’s ballyhooed battle between LSU and OU — which gave Americans a chance to watch Ben Simmons go up against Buddy Hield — enabled the rest of the country to know what SEC observers and college hoops junkies had learned long ago: Johnny Jones can’t coach in the big leagues. Maybe in the Sun Belt, but not in a power conference.

It’s not something to relish or delight in; we are aspirational creatures, and part of being an empathic person is finding the ability to see oneself in others. Therefore, we should all be able to be happy when someone else succeeds, and show understanding when someone else fails. Let’s keep that point in mind.

However, while the need to be empathic is primary — and is not something to be minimized or downgraded in the rush to cheer for a favorite team or player — we should not ignore the realities of competition and competence. When talent and potential are being squandered, especially on a large scale, it’s news. A sport (college basketball) and a community (LSU) must face up to the truth of the matter.

Why? Not to delight in someone’s downfall, but to give context to longstanding tensions in the realm of college basketball.


One of my favorite lines of argument as a sportswriter — it’s a general construct more than any sport-specific insight — is as follows: “If you want to talk about [Topic X], THIS is the example you ought to cite, not that one.”

An NFL example:

Fan A says, “The Indianapolis Colts are frauds. They play in that weaksauce AFC South and couldn’t even win it this year.”

My rebuttal: If you want to discuss the topic of NFL frauds, the Browns and Lions are always better examples until they start to display competence.”

An NBA example:

Fan B says, “LeBron James is such a terrible leader. He’s teflon — none of his failures are ever really held against him. It’s always because he lacks help. Yet, who’s assembling rosters or coaching the Cavs? He is. Come on, man.”

My rebuttal: “While there’s certainly some truth to what you say on the margins of that statement, the idea that you would focus first on LEBRON, of all people, as a deficient leader is LUDICROUS. You’re going to tell me that your FOREMOST EXAMPLE, YOUR NUMBER ONE REPRESENTATION, of a bad leader is someone who has made FIVE STRAIGHT NBA FINALS?!?!?! GET OUTTA HEAH! Can’t you find five or eight or 23 other players who are more deficient leaders for their teams? Please.” Hashtag #Sigh.

I think you can see what that argumentative framework is meant to convey: If Person C thinks Player X or Coach Z is the worst example of some particular failure or defect, but it’s patently clear that dozens of worse choices exist, we arrive at a failure to attain an accurate perspective on what really exists in a sport or some other theater of endeavor.

If you’re going to cite the worst example of something, be sure to think through your answer first. Be sure to survey the whole of the sport you are assessing, instead of knee-jerking a patently deficient response.

This is where we return to Johnny Jones for a very simple conclusion, one which does not need much of any elaboration.


If you’ve been around #CollegeBasketballTwitter for any appreciable length of time, chances are you have seen numerous and passionate denouncements of Roy Williams’s coaching credentials.

“Oh, he gets all those McDonald’s All-Americans and can’t win regularly with them.”

“He just rolls the ball out and has his team run up and down the court.”

“He always keeps those timeouts and never calls them.”

If you’ve seen one evisceration of Roy Williams, you’ve seen a thousand similar examples. You would think — given the forcefulness and annual consistency of the attacks on his coaching chops — that he’s the luckiest man in the world. He sits on the throne in Chapel Hill, welcomes these stud recruits, and just has to “preside” over one kingly procession to the Final Four after another… and anything short of that is a marked failure on his part.


Johnny Jones shows us what it’s REALLY LIKE to not make good on talent. Jones and others who have never proven themselves, who have never stood in a seat of authority in a power conference and made midseason adjustments (as Williams did in the 2010-2011 season), represent the foremost examples of failing to make good on considerable talent.

Is Roy Williams the best there ever was at maximizing talent? No. No one’s saying he is. The problem — articulated above — is that in the eyes of some, he’s Example No. 1 (not 38 or 57) of failing to make good use of the immense resources at his disposal.

Johnny Jones is giving all of us in the college basketball world a needed dose of perspective. For that, we should all be grateful… even as we lament Jones’s struggles with LSU and Ben Simmons.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.