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LSU's trainwreck season is dragging Ben Simmons down with it

Ben Simmons and LSU have been one of college basketball's talked about team for the past four months and everyone, the Tigers included, seem to be tired of it.

Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

If the last week is any indication, LSU is just as tired as the rest of us.

Tired of the excess attention being heaped upon their star freshman, and the resulting excess attention that has been heaped upon that coverage. Tired of the debating and the joking about Johnny Jones' coaching ability. Tired of the "overrated" chants. Tired of being treated like everything other than what they actually are: a very average college basketball team.

LSU is coming off its worst defeat of the season, a lackluster 85-65 road loss to an Arkansas team that entered Tuesday night with a 13-14 overall record and a 6-8 league mark. The 20-point defeat is the third straight embarrassing loss for the Tigers, who lost on the road by 16 to Tennessee over the weekend and fell at home to Alabama by seven last Wednesday.

Suddenly, the NCAA Tournament feels like a fool's dream for this group that started the season ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 and which sat atop the SEC standings by themselves just two weeks ago. Not that they really seem to care.

For the past week and a half, LSU has played with a "let's get this over with" demeanor reminiscent of a three-win high school team ineligible to participate in the postseason. The Tigers make little effort to challenge shots around the basket, they don't appear to be running any sort of offense on the other end of the floor, there's no enthusiasm on the bench; basically, the guys wearing purple and gold appear desperate to be doing anything other than playing major college basketball in late February.

This issue, as with most everything pertaining to LSU, begins and ends with Ben Simmons.


Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The notion that college basketball has a "star power problem" isn't exactly a contemporary one. While the one-and-done era has gifted us with the opportunity to see the likes of Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis partake in March Madness, it's also created a less enviable phenomenon where those players are gone from the college game just weeks after the casual fan gets to the point where they can recognize those stars out of uniform.

In the one-and-done era -- which is about to turn one decade old -- only three first-team Associated Press All-Americans (Tyler Hansbrough, Jared Sullinger and Doug McDermott) have returned to college basketball for another season after receiving their honors. The constant turnover has created a situation where sports fans who are engrossed in football until after the Super Bowl are wowed by the abilities and personalities of college basketball's top talents for a total of 7-8 weeks before those players are gone from the game forever.

Since the day the first way-too-early 2015-16 top 25 post was published, it has seemed like some networks have viewed Simmons as the sole and absolute solution to this hurdle.

Even if you haven't seen the LSU Tigers play a second of live basketball this season, you've likely been unable to avoid Simmons. There have been in-game Simmons updates, Simmons tracker graphics, Simmons highlights after losses to lead SportsCenter, and hundreds upon hundreds of hot-take columns both lauding the greatness and hammering the pedestrian nature of the Australian transplant.

The "Simmons experience" was perhaps best defined by Tuesday night's sequence of events. Desperately needing a win to maintain its hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, LSU played like a team with nothing to gain and lost to Arkansas by 20. Simmons posted impressive numbers, per usual, but also didn't play with a great deal of fire and appeared noticeably perturbed in the game's final minutes.

This is the takeaway from one of the most prominent sports accounts on Twitter immediately following the game:

It's a bizarre lede for a number of reasons -- Draymond Green's Michigan State team was a No. 1 seed that season -- not the least of which being that it completely neglects the actual result of the game that just went final. This, naturally, feeds the already widely held notion by the public that some people who cover college basketball have no interest in whether or not LSU is actually winning games. Cue the unavoidable backlash to the "Simmons experience."

Whether or not that backlash, or just the base attention, has finally taken its toll on Simmons is anyone's guess, but recent evidence points to something bothering the future millionaire. He came off the bench in last Saturday's loss to Tennessee because of what Johnny Jones deemed an "academic issue," and then ended an embarrassing loss against Arkansas with a technical foul. Toss in some uncharacteristically high turnover numbers (16 in LSU's last three games), bad body language and a lack of effort on the defensive end, and the criticism surrounding Simmons has, for the first time this season, extended past simply the amount of media attention he receives.

How Simmons, Jones and LSU wound up in this position is one topic of conversation, but where they go from here is equally muddy.

The Tigers are clearly on the wrong side of the bubble at the moment, but they still have regular season games remaining against the formidable duo of Kentucky and Florida, wins which could, at the very least, generate some momentum heading into the SEC Tournament. This is still a team with the level of talent necessary to both throttle the Wildcats and push then-No. 1 Oklahoma to the brink, a pair of occurrences that took place last month.

Talent is one thing, motivation and desire is another. If LSU couldn't display those traits with so much at stake over the past week, then it's hard to imagine much will change between now and Selection Sunday.