Seth Curry, Jake O'Brien

Late Afternoon Snacks: Curry burns Owls; Berger released

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Saturdays are too action-packed for us to wait for Late Night Snacks. We’ll do a reset at the halfway point every Saturday, so you can catch up with the stuff you missed while you were out Christmas shopping, and prepare for the stuff you’ll watch this evening.

Usually, we try to stick to scores from the day’s big games, but when a college basketball player survives a near-death experience, we might occasionally stray from the script to celebrate a really big off-court win.

Important Results

No. 2 Duke 90, Temple 67 – This seemed like the type of game that could have tripped the Blue Devils up – a true roadie against an unbeaten A-10 team. Seth Curry hit 5-9 three-pointers on his way to 23 points, and Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly notched frontcourt double-doubles to hand the Owls their first loss, while keeping Duke’s record spotless at 9-0.

Danny Berger released from a Utah hospital – We’ve been hearing encouraging news from Berger all day long. First he declared that he expects to suit up and play for Utah State again after his heart stopped during a practice. Now we’re hearing that the big guy is headed home.

Our best to Berger, one tough, and lucky kid.

No. 3 Michigan 80, Arkansas 67 – The Wolverines got a balanced contribution, with all five starters in double figures, as they battled through Arkansas’ vaunted pressure to remain undefeated. Marshawn Powell led all scorers with 18 points, but Michigan took advantage of a 17-point day from Glenn Robinson III and a big rebounding effort from Jordan Morgan (6 offensive boards, 10 overall) to win out.

No. 19 Michigan State 73, Loyola (Chi) 61 – Loyola was picked to finish seventh in the Horizon League this year, so for the Ramblers to head into the locker room up 32-30 on the Spartans in Breslin says more about the home team’s mistakes than it does about the visitors’ talent. Freshman Gary Harris was the only MSU starter in double figures, with 20 points, but he found backup on the bench. Adreian Payne had a 14/10 double-double to help Sparty avoid the upset.

Games of the Evening

No 13 Illinois at No. 10 Gonzaga – We’ll have at least one less undefeated college hoops team when we wake up in the morning, as the Illini and Bulldogs meet with identical 9-0 records on the line. Brandon Paul (17.o ppg, 3.9 apg) leads the visitors into a hostile Kennel, where Elias Harris (16.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and his talented teammates are waiting to throw down.

Valparaiso at No. 18 New Mexico – Valpo has an impressive attack, with Ryan Broekhoff (16.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Kevin Van Wijk (14.8, 5.3) figuring to be Horizon League leaders this season. We’ve seen the Lobos wear down visitors in the Pit a few times already this season, but they’ll have to stay vigilant against this ambitious mid-major foe.

No. 8 Arizona at Clemson – A rare East Coast non-conference road game for the Wildcats. Brad Brownell likes to play slow, grind-it-out ball in Littlejohn, and his teams make a habit of playing keep away/take away ball. It could be a trap!

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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.