Screen Shot 2012-12-18 at 1.08.56 PM

Pregame Shootaround 12.18.12: Stanford looks to get win over Top 25 team on the road

Leave a comment

Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: No. 25 NC State vs. Stanford

The Wolfpack were chosen to win the ACC in the conference’s preseason media poll, but are standing in the shadow of Duke’s dominance so far. Despite that, there is still a core of players that make NC State a Top 25 team and a threat in March. Freshman TJ Warren has been impressive so far as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.6 points per game. C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell have been the anchors in the frontcourt, combining to average close to 27 points and 17 rebounds per game.

Stanford has been plagued by poor shooting this season, ranking 292nd in the country with a team shooting percentage of 39.8 percent. Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle cannot carry the entire load offensively, so the Cardinal will look to Josh Huestis as a third option.

Who’s Getting Upset?: South Florida vs. Youngstown State

The Penguins have already upset Georgia early this season and are in the nation’s Top 75 in scoring and rebounding. South Florida, by contrast, does not shoot well from the field, does not score a lot of points, and does not rebound particularly well. This game will depend on which style of play prevails. If Youngstown State can speed Florida up and contain PG Anthony Collins, they have a chance to pull the upset. If the game settles to USF’s pace, Stan Heath and the Bulls know what to do from there.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Western Kentucky vs. Virginia Commonwealth (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Western Kentucky is coming off a close loss to Murray State and has another tough mid-major test against Virginia Commonwealth Tuesday night. Leading scorer TJ Price has missed the last two games due to injury and it is unclear when he will return. Jamal Crook, the team’s second-leading scorer, played sparingly against Murray State and it is unclear, too, if he will play vs. VCU.

If those two are out, the Hilltoppers must account for over 30 points of production per game, which they did against Murray State with a big performance from guard Brandon Harris, who had 23 points.

For Virginia Commonwealth, it’s business as usual. Push the tempo, create “Havoc” on defense, and flip turnovers into points. The Rams forced 16 turnovers in a blowout win over BCS opponent Alabama on Saturday to spoil Anthony Grant’s VCU homecoming. In that game, four players scored in double figures, include a solid 12 points in just 16 minutes from freshman back-up Melvin Johnson.

Five Things to Watch

1. Arizona was impressive down the stretch to defeat Florida last week and move up to No. 4 in the national polls. They face Oral Roberts Tuesday, which should give them an opportunity to remain undefeated and improve to 9-0 on the year.

2. Kansas’ Ben McLemore has been one of the nation’s most impressive freshmen, averaging 16.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Tuesday’s game against Richmond (9-2) will give him a mid-major test.

3. Having Gary Harris back is important for No. 20 Michigan State, as the Spartans move closer to Big Ten play. They meet Bowling Green on Tuesday.

4. Providence welcomes Kris Dunn and Sidiki Johnson to the rotation, as Dunn debuts after surgery and Johnson is eligible after transferring from Arizona last season. The Friars haven’t had the benefit of depth yet this year, but now add two pieces to the lineup vs. Colgate.

5. UCLA was the most talked-about team in the early part of the season after some letdowns with Shabazz Muhammad in the lineup. The Bruins have won two in a row since losing to a ranked San Diego State team. They take on Long Beach State Tuesday.

Rest of the Top 25

No. 4 Arizona vs. Oral Roberts (9:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

No. 7 Ohio State vs. Winthrop (7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Networks)

No. 9 Kansas vs. Richmond (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 18 San Diego State vs. Point Loma (10:00 p.m.)

N0. 20 Michigan State vs. Bowling Green (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 25 NC State vs. Stanford (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2) (See above)

Other Notable Games

Tennessee vs. Presbyterian (7:00 p.m. ET)

Miami (FL) vs. UCF (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

UC Santa Barbara vs. California (11:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.