Recapping your college hoops Saturday

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Kansas State: It seems like decades ago at this point, but back when the sun was still shining on Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats landed the biggest win of the day by going into Waco and knocking off No. 9 Baylor 57-56. Coming in, the Wildcats had lost four of their last six games and found themselves sitting squarely on the bubble. With a trip to Missouri and a date with Iowa State still to come on their Big 12 schedule, a loss here could have been a step towards a losing record in league play. Instead, Frank Martin’s team picked up their second win of the year over a top ten team.

Washington: Terrence Ross had 25 points and Tony Wroten went for 22 as the Huskies picked up a 79-70 win over Arizona at home on Saturday. With the loss, Arizona drops two games behind UW and Cal — who beat Oregon State this afternoon — and essentially finds themselves in a position where they are going to have to win the Pac-12’s automatic bid to go dancing. This certainly isn’t the kind of win that will lock up a bid for the Huskies, but its another step in the right direction. We are starting to see some separation in the league standings — if Cal can beat Colorado, the Huskies and the Bears will own a two-game lead on the field — which is likely what will need to happen for this to become a two-bid league.

Xavier: The Musketeers picked up a thrilling, 86-83 overtime win over Dayton thanks to 31 points, five boards and five assists from Tu Holloway, who once again came through with the heroics. Xavier remains in third place in the Atlantic 10 standings — Dayton falls to eighth — with enough juice on their resume to keep them feeling pretty good about their bubble standing. If Xavier wants to cement a bid, they have to win at St. Louis and at UMass.

Butler: You simply can never count out the Bulldogs. Ever. After trudging their way through the first three months of the season, Butler had the country writing them off. Then they went into Youngstown State and won. A win at Cleveland State followed. After beating Loyola (IL), Butler blasted Indiana State 75-54 in their BracketBusters matchup. They are currently tied for this in the Horizon League standings. Is anyone going to bet against this team in March? Anyone?

Murray State: I knew the Racers were for real. I didn’t need to see anymore evidence. And after the No. 16 Racers beat the pants off of No. 21 St. Mary’s 65-61, you shouldn’t need to see anymore, either. Murray State has two tough road games left and still has to play in the OVC Tournament. All this team needs to do to ensure a trip to the Big Dance is to avoid losing three games the rest of the season.

Northwestern: John Shurna set Northwestern’s career scoring record as he led the Wildcats to a 64-53 win over Minnesota in a game that some had termed an elimination game. Now sitting at 6-8 in the Big Ten, Northwestern will likely need to go 3-1 down the stretch to have a real shot. In that mix are home games with Michigan and Ohio State. They need to win one of them.

The CAA: In a normal bubble year, no one in the CAA would be deserving of at-large consideration at this point. That said, this isn’t a normal bubble year, which means that the strength of the top four in the league could, theoretically, push someone into an at-large bid, most likely Drexel. The league helped their cause on Saturday, as the Dragons beat Cleveland State 69-49, George Mason beat Lamar 75-71 and Old Dominion won at Missouri State 73-67. Throw in VCU’s win on Friday night, and its wonder this group is surging.

Notre Dame: The No. 23 Irish aren’t really a winner as much as they are the practitioners of one of the best comebacks of the season. Down by 20 in the second half, the Irish woke up and made a late run to force overtime. In the extra frame, Patrick Connaughton hit a pair of threes as Notre Dame took control. The final score was 74-70. Connaughton had seven threes on the afternoon.


Mississippi State: I’m done with the Bulldogs. Until they prove something, until they beat someone of consequence, I’m ignoring them. Well, maybe I termed that wrong. When they don’t lose to one of the bad teams in the SEC, I’ll start paying attention again. The Bulldogs lost to Auburn 65-55 on Saturday, which followed up losses to Georgia and LSU. As of now, Mississippi State is getting very, very close to the bubble’s cut line.

The WCC: Believe it or not, the 65-51 loss that No. 21 St. Mary’s suffered at No. 16 Murray State may not turn out to be as bad as we thought it would be. Why? Because the loss vaulted the Gaels back into first place in the conference standings thanks to No. 24 Gonzaga’s 66-65 loss at San Francisco. The Gaels currently sit a game up with two games left — both are on the road for St. Mary’s — which could end up being just the spark the Gaels need to turn this season around.

San Diego State: The No. 13 Aztecs simply had no answer for Michael Lyons, who went for 27 points, in a 58-56 win for Air Force. The loss is the third in a row for SDSU, which — thanks to UNLV’s loss at New Mexico — pushes them into a tie for second place in the standings, two games off the pace set by UNM. Of note: Jamaal Franklin’s ankle is bad enough that he didn’t play.

Conference USA: CUSA is definitely starting to feel the crunch of the bubble bursting. On Saturday, Memphis blew a 13 point lead at home before losing to UTEP 60-58. The Miners are not a quality team this season, which is what makes this loss so problematic. Memphis doesn’t have enough good wins to weigh it out. Southern Miss also lost on Saturday, this one coming at Houston 73-71. While the two teams are now still tied for first in the conference, they are now both facing some potential bubble issues heading into the Selection Sunday.

Mercer: The Bears suffered a devastating, 81-75 loss to Jacksonville on Saturday, who sits at just 5-11 in Atlantic Sun play. The Bears? They were 12-2, the same as Belmont coming in. The Bruins won handily. The real loser is us, however. Belmont and Mercer play on the last day of the season. I was hoping the game would take place when the two teams were tied for his.

Illinois: This team is just an embarrassment now. They are getting picked on enough, so I’ll leave Illinois alone for now. But I will say this: the game after your coach says that his career in Champaign is just about done you need to do more than lose to Nebraska 80-57. That’s bad.

Bucknell: Holy Cross jumped out to a 20-4 lead and led 28-10 at halftime, a deficit that was too big for Bucknell to overcome. Combine that with wins by Lehigh and American, and all of a sudden the Bison are sitting just a game up in the Patriot League standings.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.