ACC Basketball Tournament - Miami v Florida State

Can Miami be a sleeper in the ACC this season?


Andy Glockner of put together a solid list of teams that dealt with their fair share of bad luck last season.

As Glockner writes, don’t be surprised to see USC, Memphis, Utah State, Denver and St. Joseph’s put together some impressive improvement this season. USC and St. Joe’s, in particular. The Trojans are coming off of a season where they were absolutely devastated by injuries. But with Jio Fontan and Dewayne Dedmon healthy, and an impressive crop of transfers joining the rotation, don’t be surprised when Kevin O’Neill’s notoriously staunch defensive teams start scoring.

Over on Hawk Hill, St. Joe’s will finally be reaching the peak of their return to prominence. This is a very talented group that played last season with a rotation that consisted of a junior, a freshman and five sophomores. I see them being a top 25 team and a challenger for the A-10 crown.

Well, I’ve got another one for you, even if it may have fallen out of the range for the column: the Miami Hurricanes.

Last season was supposed to be the year that the ‘Canes broke through and made a run to the NCAA tournament, but seemingly every break they got was bad. It started last July, when Reggie Johnson injured his knee and was forced to undergo surgery. It continued a month later, when Yahoo’s explosive piece on the scandal involving a Miami booster hit the interwebs and implicated Frank Haith and the basketball team. That led to players like DeQuan Jones, Durand Scott and Johnson getting suspended, a concern that undoubtedly hung over the head of the entire team throughout the year.

And through it all, if Scott hadn’t been suspended for Miami’s 82-71 loss to Florida State in the ACC tournament and the ‘Canes had one won that game, they might have been an NCAA tournament team.

More importantly, however, Miami returns a roster that has quite a bit of promise. It starts in the back court, where Scott, Shane Larkin and Trey McKinney-Jones headline a deep and talented group. Up front, the Hurricanes will have one of the better starting front lines in the country in Johnson and Kenny Ladji. Johnson was expected to have a big season as a junior before he got hurt; he averaged a double-double as a sophomore. Kadji had a two-month stretch during January and February were he was arguably the best stretch-four in the country. He’s 6-foot-11, athletic, and a 41.8% three-point shooter, also known as the perfect compliment to the burly Johnson.

The ACC is going to be wide-open next season.

Don’t be surprised if the Canes make a run.

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.