Monte Ross

Preseason NIT Preview: Underdog Delaware joins Kansas State, Pittsburgh, favorite Michigan at Madison Square Garden

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Among early season “Tournamentpalooza” is the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, which begins Wednesday night. The championship and consolation games will be held the day after Thanksgiving, Friday.

Below is preview of each team that made it out of regional play and into the pool in New York City:

No. 4 Michigan

The Wolverines are the gem of this tournament, ranked in the Top 5 in the country and with expectations to match. Coach John Beilein was fortunate to see Trey Burke forego the chance to jump to the NBA and return for his sophomore season. Burke, in addition to a nationally relevant recruiting class, puts Michigan in the conversation to make a run in March.

Through three games, the Wolverines are in the Top 10 in the country in points per game, posting almost 90 per contest. Glenn Robinson III has been one of the nation’s best freshmen with 17.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.


Jamie Dixon’s Panthers needed overtime to beat Oakland on Saturday, but have a strong slate of players returning and now emerging as impact pieces. Talib Zanna is flourishing this season as the team’s leading scorer (14 ppg) and Tray Woodall has been one of the better guards in the country with 13.7 points and 7.3 assists per game.

Highly touted freshman Steven Adams has been solid so far, too, tallying 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Kansas State

Kansas State enters its first season under coach Bruce Weber and was chosen fifth in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll. Weber brings a different feel to the sideline than former coach Frank Martin, but the Wildcats have some strong pieces that Weber will inherit from Martin’s time with the team.

Backcourt trio Angel Rodriguez, Will Spradling, and Rodney McGruder combine to score a little more than 30 points per game, but the Kansas State attack has been very balanced in its first four games. Rebounding has also been central to the Wildcats’ success, ranking second in the country in that category.


The Blue Hens are the underdog in this tournament, having defeated BCS opponent Virginia in the preliminary rounds to punch their ticket to MSG. Jarvis Threatt and Devon Saddler will get a chance to match up with the strong Kansas State backcourt, which should be interesting to watch Wednesday night.

Don’t forget about Jamelle Hagins (9.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg), a monster rebounder who will have his hands full against Kansas State, one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.