Kelly Olynyk

Christmas Wish Lists: PG play, 3-point discipline highlight Zags’ needs

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Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: A point guard that can defend

I love Kevin Pangos — if you haven’t figured it out, I have an affinity for little guards that shoot a lot and put up big scoring numbers — but as good as he is as a basketball player, he’s not a point guard. He’s a shoot-first ball-handler, which is a problem for a team whose strength is on the front line. In fact, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that David Stockton is the only true point guard in Gonzaga’s rotation right now, and even Stockton has issues with turning the ball over. Since Mark Few can’t afford to have Pangos off the floor for extended periods of time, it creates an issue defensively. Do you really want Pangos or Stockton to have to guard a guy like Brandon Paul or DJ Richardson?

That’s the biggest concern I have with the Zags right now. That said, these are issues that mostly manifested themselves over the last 10 or 15 minutes of one game, but they are the same issues that plagued the Zags last season.

Stocking Stuffer: Three-point shooting

Last season, against Division I competition, Pangos was a 40.1% three-point shooter and Bell hit 47.7% of his threes. This season, Pangos is hitting just 36.5% of this triples while Bell is knocking down just 39%. That’s a major reason why Gonzaga, as a team, is shooting just 35.9% from three this year, down from 38.1% last year. It’s not an enormous difference, I’ll admit, but it is a concerning one. Gonzaga’s front court will be creating quite a few open looks for perimeter shooters this season; Pangos and Bell, the two best shooters on the roster, need to make them.

Planning on re-gifting: Three-point gunning

Kelly Olynyk has been a revelation coming off of his redshirt season. He’s hitting jumpers, he’s proven to be able to take the ball to the rim off of the bounce, he’s scores in the post and he blocks some shots. He’s the perfect player to pair with senior Elias Harris along the front line, as their versatility makes them very tough to stop is high-low situations. Both players have also proven to be excellent rebounders on both ends of the floor thus far this season. Throw in seven-foot behemoth Prmezek Karnowski and the ever-underrated Sam Dower, and the Zags have all kinds of talent and depth along their front line.

The issue is that they have a back court that can get too shot-happy. When Illinois was making their run in the second half on Saturday night, the Zags went away from their interior game — where they had a massive advantage on the small, foul-plagued Illini — and settled for too many quick threes. Gonzaga will thrive if they run their offense through their big guys. Pangos and company will get their shots when defenses collapse down.

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.