The Morning Mix

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– Dana O’Neil provides your must-read of the day on the college basketball story of the year

– Luke Winn handed out his coaching awards for the season. John Calipari was more efficient than you think, and Fred Hoiberg was a lot better than you expected

Ryan Greene ranks the best teams in the west headed into the 2012-2013

– Transfer-blocking stinks. But blocking a transfer because their grades aren’t where the school wants them isn’t all that bad

– Will 72-year old Larry Brown be able to make a wave on the recruiting trail? The former-NBA head coach believes his pro experience will help. Speaking of Larry Brown, he took some shots at his former-boss, Michael Jordan

– Who will Virginia Tech hire to replace Seth Greenberg. If it follows the trend of ACC hires, it is likely to be a current college head coach. John Feinstein provides an interesting take on the school’s decision to fire the head coach

– Just because a school is in a BCS-conference doesn’t mean it’s a “great-job”. Don;t believe me? Just ask Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens and Gregg Marshall and Mark Few. All four “mid-major” head coaches have turned down multiple BCS-conference jobs. Speaking of which, exactly how good is the Virginia Tech head coaching job?

– Drake’s Rayvonte Rice is transferring to Illinois. Jeff Eisenberg wonders what Rice will do about his “Drake” tattoos

– UCLA-bound Kyle Anderson had an MRI on his injured hand and the results were not good

– Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis has agreed to a five-year extension after leading the Blue Raiders to a school record 27 wins in 2012

– To Indiana head coach Tom Crean, this past season was just the  beginning. He is going to push his team to achieve greatness

– Wake Forest legend Randolph Childress has joined the Demon Deacons as the new director of player development

– John Templon put together a good offseason-read on the NYC “Bracket of Champions”

A good-read on Oakland coach Greg Kampe, who has spurned many a job offer in order to stay at the Summit League power-house

I’m glad to hear this is happening. I was in East Rutherford when the tragedy struck

– VCU’s Bradford Burgess, the NCAA’s all-time consecutive starts leader, threw out the first pitch at the VCU-Virginia game

– An update on what Michigan plans to do with their Fab-5 banner

Kentucky has been killing it in the YouTube department

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.