University of Kentucky's Anthony Davis dunks the ball against University of Georgia's Dustin Ware during the second half of play in their NCAA basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington

SEC conference tournament preview

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So how bad is the SEC?

The SEC’s answer: its actually not as bad as it looks. Yes, Kentucky steamrolled the conference, but I’m not sure that Kentucky wouldn’t have steamrolled any conference this season. The Wildcats are loaded with talent and are playing the best defense of the John Calipari era. Thank you Anthony Davis.

Then you also have to consider the fact that Alabama and Mississippi State, two of the league’s potential NCAA Tournament teams, have had all kinds of personnel issues this year. Alabama’s best player got the boot and they had four starters suspended for a handful of games. At Mississippi State, there is no leadership. Their five-game losing streak ended with in-fighting, and they have Renardo Sidney on their roster.

You can make the argument that top of this league has the potential to be as good as the top of any league in the country.

The real answer: Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Bracket

Where: New Orleans

When: March 8th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 12:00 p.m. ESPN

Favorite: Kentucky

Right now, Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win the national title. They aren’t going to be the favorite to win a conference tournament when they won the conference regular season by six games?

And if they lose?: Vanderbilt

Call me crazy (seriously, do it) but I have a feeling that Vanderbilt turns things around this March. Their reputation precedes them when it comes to postseason success, but they are a senior laden group playing their final games as collegians. I think that matters. On paper, this group has everything you. Scorers on the perimeter, athletes up and down their lineup, a big man in the middle, an underrated (yes, Brad Tinsley is underrated) playmaker at the point. I have been as hard as anyone on Vandy this season. But I think they turn this thing around.

Other contenders?: Florida has the talent to win this thing. They do. I swear. Patric Young is big enough and physical enough to give Kentucky problems in the middle and with the amount of shooters they have on their perimeter, if the shots are going down, the Gators are going to be scary. You’ll notice one thing about that paragraph, however: “if, if, if”. Florida needs a lot to break the right way.

Mississippi State can also win this thing if they can ever figure out their issues. They have the perfect roster make up to knock off Kentucky: big, physical bodies inside, a talented point guard and a slew of shotmakers on the wings.

Sleeper: Tennessee

I have loved the way that the Vols played since I first saw them in Maui. They are a gritty bunch with more talent on the roster than you think. They do the little things well — defend, get loose balls, rebound. When you play with effort, eventually the shots will go down.

Deeper sleepers: I think Alabama has some potential, even without Tony Mitchell in their midst. Also keep an eye on Ole Miss. They are just 18-12, but they’ve beaten everyone they are supposed to beat.


Anthony Davis, Kentucky: As his offensive game starts to develop, he just becomes scarier and scarier.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: He’s the last Kentucky player that I’ll mention, but he needs mentioning. No one in the country plays the game as hard as he does.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: It’s a shame that Moultrie has to play on a team with so many issues. In any other league, he would be getting talked about as arguably the best big man in the conference.

John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt: Jenkins doesn’t miss when he gets a good look and Taylor is one of the best athletes in the country.

Erving Walker, Florida: Walker has been good this season. He’s limited how many dumb shots he takes and he’s become a solid playmaker at the point.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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.