Monmouth, Quinnipiac moving from the NEC to the MAAC

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The news that was thought to be on the way Thursday is now official, as Monmouth and Quinnipiac will leave the Northeast Conference at the end of this academic year to join the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

While Monmouth has already released a statement announcing its decision Quinnipiac will make its announcement on Saturday according to Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant. The move pushes the MAAC to 11 members in 2013 (Loyola (MD) is joining the Patriot League) while dropping the NEC to ten.

“Monmouth is flattered by the invitation to join the MAAC. I thank the Council of Presidents for having confidence in us,” said Monmouth president Paul G. Gaffney. “While we have enjoyed our relationships with the NEC member institutions and our successes on the field, Monmouth is pleased with the opportunity to aim for new goals.

“There is little doubt that Monmouth and our NEC friends will find ways to continue valuable competitions. I look forward to working closely with new colleagues in the continual advancement of our new home conference.”

Monmouth’s arrival means that three schools located in New Jersey call the MAAC home, as they join Saint Peter’s and Rider. Rider’s campus is located about an hour away from Monmouth, and they’ve met 38 times since the 1974-75 season. The Broncs hold a 23-15 edge in the series, most recently beating the Hawks 65-62 on November 17.

As for Quinnipiac they become the MAAC’s second member located in Connecticut, as its Hamden campus is just over a half-hour drive from Fairfield. But there’s isn’t much basketball history between the schools as they’ve met just once, a 72-60 Fairfield win in the season opener for both last year (part of the Connecticut 6 Classic).

“We are delighted to be joining the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference that will continue to advance us both athletically and academically,” said Quinnipiac President John L. Lahey in a statement released by the school. “We also want to thank the Northeast Conference which has provided collegiality and support to Quinnipiac’s athletic teams since our becoming a Division I program.”

The question for the NEC, provided they only lose Monmouth and Quinnipiac, is whether or not they’ll look to replace those schools with new members. Ten would allow the NEC to keep its 18-game conference schedule with a true round robin, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.