No surprise: Creighton picked to win Missouri Valley

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In the least surprising news of the day, Creighton was picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference at the league’s media day on Monday.

The Bluejays picked up 38 of a possible 40 votes, the other two going to Illinois State, who were picked to finish second. In order, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Evansville, Drake, Indiana State, Missouri State, Bradley and Southern Illinois round out the voting.

Seems like a pretty close match to what we at CBT on NBC had in our Valley preview. The only huge difference being the discrepancy being the placement of Bradley. Sounds like the guy who wrote that preview for NBC might be an idiot. Or not. Who knows. Though I firmly believe the Braves have way too much coming back compared to the talent of the bottom-tier teams in the league, to finish in the basement.

Doug McDermott was another non-shocker, being tabbed as the preseason player of the year by the media. Along with McDermott, Colt Ryan of Evansville, Jackie Carmichael of Illinois State, Jake Odum of Indiana State and Ben Simons of Drake were selected to the preseason all-conference team. Four players were named honorable mention, Greg Echenique of Creighton, Anthony James and Seth Tuttle of Northern Iowa and Carl Hall of Wichita State.

Tuttle is a puzzling non-pick for the all-conference. The MVC Freshman of the Year from last season fills up stat sheets and should be a focal point in Ben Jacobson’s offense. Though it’d be incredibly tough to pick which of the five players on the all-conference team to take off. Guess that’s the whole point of the honorable mention list.

Illinois State has a lot with which new coach Dan Muller can work with, including only one true freshman, which means everyone knows the system. Though someone will have to step in and fill the void left by transfer Nic Moore. Also, look out for Southern Illinois to be a better-than-average team. There was a lot of talent that was being relegated to role-player-type action behind Mamadou Seck, but now guys like Dantiel Daniels and Jeff Early can expand their games with Seck gone.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

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.