No one ever said Louisiana was a basketball state.
With their failure to make the NCAA tournament and excluding themselves from any other postseason play, LSU officially ended one of the most disappointing seasons in school, and maybe college basketball as a whole, history; combine this with the Pelicans failing to ascend as so many thought they were primed to do after last season's postseason appearance and you have a statewide flop unlike any other.
Right now I'm reminded of when LSU football got shut out by Alabama in the 2012 BCS Title Game 21-0. Six days later the Saints gave up a last second touchdown to Alex Smith and were eliminated in a 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff game. If you remember, that Saints team had one of the best offensive seasons in NFL history: Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record, the offense set a new record for yards from scrimmage and was highlighted by Darren Sproles recording 2,696 also a new league record. That 2011 Saints team had a more potent offense than the one that won the Super Bowl in 2009 and there was talk that they were poised to win their second in three years.
On January 8, 2012 there were serious thoughts that Louisiana would be king of both college and professional football. Both dreams were dashed within five days of each other.
January 9, 2012
January 14, 2012
And that's where the similarity ends. No one will ever think Louisiana loves the Pelicans or men's basketball team more than the Saints or the Tiger football team. I'll always remember the day after the loss to Alabama in the Superdome. The sky was gray, the weather rainy and the whole day was dreary. People were checking up on friends like they had experienced a death in the family. "How are you? Y'all doing okay? We're praying for you."
After the Saints got unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs Louisiana may as well have shut down. You'll never see Louisianians care that much about basketball. We're indifferent to the point of where the two basketball teams' struggles are comical to us. "Oh LSU got the best college prospect in about 10 years and didn't make the NCAAs? Yeah that sounds about right." Or, "The Pelicans are struggling even with Anthony Davis? Just like the Chris Paul days."
Ask anyone from Louisiana who's a bigger deal to them Drew Brees or Anthony Davis. Ask them who the big man on LSU's campus is Ben Simmons or Leonard Fournette. Football's king down here. Just as it is in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and so many other Southern states.
But perhaps the sad irony is that while Louisiana isn't a basketball crazed state, it produces the second most amount of Division-1 players in the country.
This map, provided from Mode Analytics in 2014, found that Louisiana produces 52 players per 100,000 college male athletes. Only Maryland produces more in the entire nation. Louisiana has talented basketball players inside its borders. It's also had some of the most talented players in the history of the sport. Bob Pettit, Pete Maravich and Shaquille O'Neal are three of the 50 greatest NBA players in history. They all went to LSU and LSU has nothing to show for it other than retired jersey numbers and statues. Maravich never made the NCAA Tournament. Shaq couldn't get to the Sweet 16. Pettit brought LSU to their first Final Four but couldn't bring them any farther.
Then there's the professional team we have tucked away in New Orleans. The Pelicans have Anthony Davis, but they have only made the postseason once in his four seasons and won exactly zero games in the one instance. The then-Hornets used to employ Chris Paul but the farthest they ever got with him was Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
It's a mystery and yet based off the state's history with basketball it makes complete sense that no team has won anything of note. Even the LSU women's basketball team, the most successful basketball program in the state hasn't won a national title and they went to five straight Final Fours a decade ago. They didn't even win a game when they arrived. Combined the LSU men and women's basketball programs have eight Final Fours and zero wins at that stage. The women, if you were wondering, set a new school record for losses this year with 21. Misery loves company.
This season was supposed to be special. The Pelicans were thought to be an emerging force in the NBA. The Tigers were adding Ben Simmons, arguably the best prospect since Kevin Durant, another five star prospect in Antonio Blakeney, four star Brandon Sampson (from Madison Prep in Baton Rouge) and a five star from last season's recruiting class in transfer Craig Victor (from New Orleans) to a veteran team coming off an NCAA appearance. The thought was that the Pelicans would climb the ladder and compete with the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers and Thunder while the Tigers would attempt to make a Final Four run. Neither happened. The Pelicans have been injured beyond belief, and LSU's coach Johnny Jones wasted Simmons' talent so spectacularly it should be put in the history books.
Perhaps this 2015-16 season really wasn't meant to be. Maybe the hype was over exaggerated so much so that the weaknesses of both teams were being blinded by optimism. Maybe one year the Pelicans and basketball Tigers will be able to attain the glory we've seen from the Saints and football Tigers.
Maybe then Louisiana will finally care.