ACC Basketball Tournament - Wake Forest v Maryland

Maryland’s Alex Len may be ready to breakout thanks to his english?

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Maryland’s seven-foot Ukranian Alex Len is a kid whose name you’ll probably see pop-up on some breakout players lists heading into the 2012-2013 season.

There are a number of reasons for that. First and foremost, Len has apparently put on 30 pounds of muscle while managing to keep his conditioning up, which was the most important part of his development. Calling him a twig last season would have been an insult to twigs worldwide. He’ll need that mass to handle the physicality in the paint of high-major college basketball.

He’s also had a year to adjust to the American basketball, which is an under-appreciated aspect of the adjustment that European players have to make when they come stateside. It’s not just the style of play, either; there are differences between FIBA rules and NCAA rules. All that comes before you factor in the fact that Len had to sit out the first ten games of the season due to eligibility issues involving his time with a club team back home. Hopping on a team as a freshman in a new country midway through the season is not an easy task.

Between that and the culture shock that comes with living in College Park, a short drive on the parking lot known as 495 away from our nation’s capital, and I think we can all understand that Len had to adjust to more than just basketball.

But more than anything, Len needed to learn how to effectively communicate.

“The first three months was the hardest because I didn’t know the language — I knew a little bit, but it wasn’t good enough to communicate with teammates,” Len told Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times. “I think after the first three months, I started adjusted to the culture, to people and food.”

Sometimes we take for granted just how difficult it is to assimilate into a different culture. Len uprooted his life and moved to a completely different continent to chase a dream of being a basketball player. Just because it’s something that he wanted to do doesn’t mean that it’s something that will be easy.

Imagine if the tables were turned? How long would it take you to feel comfortable if you moved to the Ukraine? How long would it take you to learn the language?

With a season under his belt and some help in the front court thanks to a couple of talented recruits, Len might just be ready for a big year for the Terps.

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.