Shabazz Napier

New coach Kevin Ollie, UConn shock No. 14 Michigan State in Germany


If there were any questions about Kevin Ollie as the UConn head coach, they are quickly getting answered. Ollie led the Huskies to a 66-62 victory Friday night over No. 14 Michigan State in Germany as part of the Armed Forces Classic.

In the process, the first-year head coach has set the theme for UConn. Although, his team is banned from postseason play, the Huskies will gladly play the role of spoiler. And Friday night was the opening act.

The backcourt tandem of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright led the UConn, who showed better chemistry than from a season ago. Napier’s 25 points led all scorers and the junior point guard, he also calming sank four free throws to secure the victory. Napier connected on a three with over three minutes to play to give UConn the lead for good at 59-58, followed by a Boatright three, stretching the lead to 62-58.

UConn used ball pressure and quickness to jump out to a 16-point lead. Michigan State would use their size to dominate the offensive glass, helping them cut the lead down to seven at half 40-33. The Spartans only held the lead twice, both in the second half, only to see UConn take it back on the next possession.

Keith Appling had 17 points for Michigan State, while Brandon Dawson added 15 and seven boards.

The bigger story here is UConn’s belief in Ollie. Following the win, the team surrounded their head coach during his postgame interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz.

Ollie is working under a one-year deal and many, such as Jim Calhoun, feels that is unfair. The players rallied behind him, but battled, even though the frontcourt was vastly undersized compared to Michigan State. Ryan Boatright went down with an left leg injury early in the second half, but got himself back in the game to help finish off the upset.

From the start Ollie had UConn prepared and when Michigan State adjusted, Ollie was able to counter and keep his UConn team poised.

Friday night gave a preview of what to expect from UConn this season. The postseason ban means nothing, Ollie is fighting for a job and his team is behind him.

Terrence is also the lead writer at and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

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.