Trey Zeigler, Austin Hollins

Mid-major transfers look to light up the Big East

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We’ve heard a lot about Luke Hancock as we run up to the 2012-13 season, and for good reason. The George Mason transfer could be the missing piece that will push last year’s Final Four-worthy Louisville Cardinals the rest of the way to a national title.

The 6’5″ Hancock displayed a nice all-around game at Mason, averaging 10.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and a steal per game in his final season in northern Virginia. The Cards can definitely use his steady presence. But will he be the most impactful transfer in the league?

Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard doesn’t think so. He puts Hancock smack in the middle of his top five transfer players in the Big East, at No. 3. Below Hancock are Wally Judge, who fled the Kansas State Wildcats to become a Rutgers Scarlet Knight, and Brian Oliver of Seton Hall. Oliver is the true Undercover Brother of the group – many may not even remember his time at Georgia Tech.

So, with Hancock in the third spot, who does Waters think may be even better? He points to two players who will attempt to help proud programs back to the heights. Tony Chennault, a full-time starter for Wake Forest last season, has been granted a waiver to start playing immediately for Villanova, following the shooting death of his brother.

Topping the list is a player who truly hid his light under a bushel while playing for his father in the seldom-televised MAC.

1. Trey Zeigler, Pittsburgh: Don’t let the fact that Zeigler transferred to Pittsburgh from Central Michigan fool you. Zeigler, a 6-5 guard, was never a Mid-American Conference level recruit. He went to Central Michigan to play for his father, Ernie, who was let go after last season. Zeigler received a waiver to play immediately at Pitt. In his two years at Central Michigan, Zeigler scored 1,011 points. He hit double-figures 54 times in 63 career games there. Last year, he averaged a team-high 15.6 points per game, which ranked third in the MAC. He also led Central Michigan with 6.7 rebounds per game. Zeigler could have a huge impact on Pitt where he’ll get the chance to replace Ashton Gibbs in the Panthers’ starting lineup.

Zeigler has been considered a likely NBA player for some time. If he’s able to make Pitt’s final Big East season a truly memorable one, he may fulfill that potential sooner rather than later.

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.