Nate Wolters

Weekend Preview: Nate Wolters, Indiana headline the Best of the Rest

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Sunday 1:00 p.m.: Marshall at Villanova (ESPN3): After a rough 2011-2012 season, Villanova looks to bounce back this season and make a push for the NCAA tournament. They’ll be tested immediately, as Deandre Kane and the Thundering Herd are the biggest challengers to Memphis for Conference USA supremacy.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: Montana at Colorado State: The Grizzlies will be playing without Will Cherry, but they are still a team that is good enough to be a threat come tournament time. Colorado State made the tournament last season and brings everyone back for new head coach Larry Eustachy.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at Alabama (ESPNU): SDSU’s Nate Wolters is arguably the nation’s best mid-major guard, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Alabama’s stingy defense.

Friday 7:00 p.m.: Bucknell at Purdue: Bucknell, along with Lehigh, is a heavy favorite to not only win the Patriot League, but they are a team than could pose a threat to someone come tournament time. This is a rebuilding year for the Boilermakers, but there is some talent on their roster. Keep an eye on breakout candidate Terone Johnson.

Friday 8:00 p.m.: Bryant at No. 1 Indiana (Big Ten Network): Cody Zeller and company kick off their season.

Friday 7:00 p.m.: Miami (OH) at No. 6 NC State (ESPN3): For the first time in what feels like forever, the Wolfpack are a legitimate contender in the ACC. But NC State has plenty of doubters given the way their season went in 2011-2012. Can Mark Gottfried’s club make a statement?

Friday 7:00 p.m.: Virginia at George Mason (MASN): The Cavaliers saw their tough road test get easier with the Patriots suspended Erik Copes and Vaughn Gray for the first three games of the year.

Friday 7:30 p.m.: Belmont at Lipscomb (ESPN3): Belmont’s inaugural season as a member of the Ohio Valley kicks off with the nation’s most underrated rivalry: the Battle of the Boulevard.

Friday 8:00 pm: Fresno State at Texas (Longhorn Network): The Bulldogs are a talented group, but they may still be a year away from truly reaching their potential. Regardless, this is a great chance for them to make a statement early in the season, as this young Texas team will be without Jaylen Bond and star point guard Myck Kabongo.

Friday 8:15 p.m.: Denver at Iona (ESPN3): Two of the nation’s best mid-major squads do battle in New York. This will be a terrific matchup stylistically, as the Pioneers are as methodical as it gets while Iona wants to run and run and run.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: Tennessee State at BYU (BYUtv): Perhaps the most underrated individual matchup of the weekend: Robert Covington going up against Brandon Davies. It will also be interesting to see what kind of shape Tyler Haws is in after serving a two-year mission.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: Oral Roberts at UTEP: ORU is the favorite in the Southland despite losing four key players from last season, but UTEP is a sleeper in Conference USA.

Sunday 6:30 p.m.: Duquesne at Georgetown (ESPNU): Duquesne is going to struggle this year after losing head coach Ron Everhart and star point guard TJ McConnell, but this will be our first chance to get a glimpse of a sneaky-good Georgetown team on dry land.

Sunday 8:00 p.m.: Loyola (MD) at Washington (Pac-12 Network): Loyola is one of the favorites to win a good MAAC this year and will be led by the always-entertaining Jimmy Patsos. Washington has a nasty habit of dropping non-conference games to teams they should be able to beat.

Friday 8:30 p.m.: Georgia Southern at Valparaiso: Another sneaky good individual matchup as GSU’s Eric Ferguson goes head-to-head with Valpo’s Ryan Broekoff.

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.