How much pressure can one player feel at Arizona State?

1 Comment

Arizona State’s basketball program is not exactly thriving under Herb Sendek.

The Sun Devils are coming off of a 10-21 season in which they went 6-12 in a watered down Pac-12. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Sendek lost three of his most important players to transfers. Keala King, a former top 25 recruit, was kicked out of the program in February. Kyle Cain, along with Chance Creekmur, decided in March to transfer out of the program. Trent Lockett made the decision earlier this month to transfer closer to his ailing mother.

In other words, 2012-2013 doesn’t exactly look promising. Enter Jahii Carson. Carson was a top ten recruit back in the Class of 2011, but he was never cleared academically to play last season. Not only will next season be his first as a collegian, but he will be playing with the weight of the program on his shoulders. Making matters worse, Carson is a hometown kid, a native of Phoenix.

Being anointed the savior of a program as a freshman is tough enough. Doing it in such close proximity to your hometown — your friends and your family and everyone person that’s ever been in your ear about hoops — is even tougher. In an interview with Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic, talks about this and about the advice he got from Memphis native and Memphis Tiger Joe Jackson:

“When I played with USA Basketball (last summer) I was roommates with Joe Jackson. And he played at Memphis and he’s from Memphis. And he was saying that when he had down games and he wasn’t at his best, the city kind of turned on him. Like, ‘It’s Joe’s fault. He should know what to do.’ If Will Barton didn’t hit the jump shot, it was Joe Jackson’s fault. That’s kind of what I’m afraid of. People just putting everything on my back. Putting everything on me. Expecting me to be prepared for every moment next year. Losing games. Winning games. Having off nights. Not seeing a teammate if he’s open. … Joe and I talked about that because he knew I was going to my home-town school. He said he had talked with Coach (Josh) Pastner beforehand about what he was going to have to deal with, but he said it was still hard.”

The difference?

Arizona State doesn’t have the same kind of expectation as a basketball program as Memphis does. Memphis fills the FedEx Forum with 18,000 fans every night. It’s a basketball town, and they love their Tigers. When Jackson had a bad game, the city talked about how he was overrated or about how he wasn’t the savior.

Tempe? Phoenix? Arizona State?

At this point, they expect to lose. Every win that Carson creates and every good game he has will be celebrated. A loss won’t be a big deal. Plenty of them are expected this year as it is.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Carson play, well, there’s a reason folks are excited:

Image via here.

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.