Deniz Kilicli, Kevin Pangos

Deniz Kilicli is a fan of ‘Family Ties’?

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Deniz Kilicli is one of the easiest college basketball players to recognize.

That’s what happens when you to look strikingly similar to your team’s mascot.

But Kilicli is more than just recognizable. He’s also one of the more likeable players you’ll come across. A 6-foot-9 Turkish import with a frame that’s chiseled out of stone, Kilicli is a brutish presence in the paint, pushing around opposing big men just long enough that his incredible touch on a lefty sky-hook (he’s right-handed) is relatively shocking.

Kilicli is also one of the more talented players off the court. His talents as a guitarist have been fairly well documented, as he led his team in a (fairly terrible; the rest of the Mountaineers aren’t exactly the singing type) chorus of ‘Country Roads’ at last season’s Midnight Madness. When his house burned down last summer, Kilicli was quoted by the paper as saying “No one got hurt, and my guitars are safe. That’s all I really care about.”

Tough not to like a guy like that.

On Monday, Bob Hertzel wrote a column chronicling how Kilicli became close friends with Mike Martin, a Sports Broadcasting major that also has a passion for music:

“He was in my English class,” Martin recalled. “That’s how I first met him. I can talk to anyone, but I didn’t talk to him because he was a basketball player, but instead because he made funny comments here and there. Still, he looked like he felt uncomfortable, and I wanted to make him feel like people weren’t just looking at him as a basketball player.”

It was mostly just an acquaintance kind of relationship until one day Martin went into a recording studio with Eric Jordan, a rap producer.

“Weird enough, out of the blue, randomly Deniz was there,” Martin said.

More conversation, but not really a friendship.

Martin went home for the summer and moved into a new place last fall.

“I go to meet my neighbors upstairs and guess who’s living there — Deniz Kilicli,” he said.

This was a friendship that was meant to be.

“Now I’m best friends with him and his roommate. They came over to watch the Super Bowl, and he was like, ‘Let’s do a halftime show.’ I don’t like to sing in front of people, but he starts playing my songs. … I hate listening to myself,” Martin said.

He was hooked though. Before long they were doing some performing together.

There’s video of those performances, too:

Like I said, it’s tough not to like a kid like that.

The best nugget from Hertzel’s column had nothing to do with music, however. Apparently, Kilicli not only taught himself the guitar, he taught himself english as well.

By watching ‘Family Ties’.

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.