Jarnell Stokes

Monday’s Pregame Shootaround: Tennessee looks for revenge

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Game of the night: Oakland at Tennessee, 7 p.m.: Believe it or not, Oakland actually has a two game winning streak against the Vols, but those wins came with Keith Benson and Reggie Hamilton still a part of the Golden Grizzlies. This season, Oakland will have to rely on the play of sharpshooter Travis Bader and Providence transfer Duke Mondy to help them offset the size of Jarnell Stokes inside. Tennessee has been a bit of a disappointment early on this season, but that can be attributed to the injury that Jeronne Maymon is dealing with.

Who’s getting upset: Texas A&M: The Aggies take on Northwestern State of the Southland Conference tonight. Billy Kennedy’s club survived Washington State in the consolation game of the CBE Classic over the weekend, thanks to a game-winner from Elston Turner, but they were run out of the gym by a short-handed St. Louis team the night before. Northwestern State can put up points in a hurry, and are coming off of putting a scare into LSU at LSU — they cut a 20 point lead to four with two minutes left.

Mid-Major matchup of the night: Towson at Loyola (MD): The Battle of Baltimore? Loyola is coming off of a season where Jimmy Patsos led the Greyhounds to the NCAA tournament while Towson is coming off of a year where they … well, let’s just that, at 3-2 this season, they’ve already tripled the number of wins they had a year ago. The Tigers have been bolstered by an infusion of talent, both in the form of transfers and high level recruits, so tonight will be a good gauge for where Towson is at this point in the season.

Five things to watch for:

  • Morehead State will be hosting Norfolk State tonight, the first time the Eagles have played since head coach Sean Woods had a dust-up with Devon Atkinson on the sidelines at Rupp Arena.
  • Savannah State has played six Division I games this season, including trips to Florida and Central Florida. No one has scored more than 60 points in any of those games. There were a combined 77 points scored in their win over Western Illinois. They play Robert Morris tonight at 7 p.m.
  • Isaiah Canaan takes the floor against Lipscomb, who has been smacked by both Belmont and Ole Miss early this season. Canaan is averaging 20.6 points this season, but he hasn’t quite gotten played his best basketball yet this season.
  • Three undefeated teams that the floor tonight. Colorado State is one of them. The other two? Texas Tech and East Carolina. Who had that?
  • I think there’s a new episode of How I Met Your Mother on tonight. I also have quite a bit of TV that needs to be watched on my DVR. With this slate, I wouldn’t blame you.

The rest of the top 25:

9:00 p.m.: San Jose State @ No. 12 Kansas

Other notable games:

7:00 p.m.: Chicago State @ Notre Dame
8:00 p.m.: UMBC @ Marquette

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.