E.J. Singler, Nick Johnson

Oregon shows qualities of a Pac-12 contender in win over No. 4 Arizona


After a pair of close calls at home last week for No. 4 Arizona many wondered when the Wildcats’ luck (and 14-game win streak to start the season) would run out.

Enter the Oregon Ducks, who thanks to a balanced offensive effort led by senior E.J. Singler (14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds) handed Arizona its first loss of the season by the final score of 70-66.

Mark Lyons led the Wildcats with 21 points, and the Wildcats’ loss leaves Duke and Michigan are the the nation’s last two undefeated teams.

Once again Arizona struggled offensively, as they were outscored by Oregon 41-19 in the first half after opening the game with an 11-0 run. The Ducks did a better job of taking away the open looks from the perimeter after that 11-0 stretch, which allowed them to take control of the game.

Oregon answered the Arizona run with a 16-2 run of its own, and with their front court outplaying Arizona’s young big men the gap continued to grow throughout the first half. The trio of Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods and Waverly Austin proved to be too much for the Wildcat freshmen, and on the night they combined for 22 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots (three by Austin).

That may not seem like much but when compared to the seven points, 11 rebounds and one blocked shot supplied by Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski it’s clear which front court held the upper hand.

As a result of the freshmen’s struggles Arizona went back to its “small” lineup for large stretches of the game with Kevin Parrom (who started) and Solomon Hill at the three and four, respectively. Hill finished with 16 points and six rebounds while Parrom scored seven points in 22 minutes before fouling out.

Last week’s results led many to question just how large the gap was between the Wildcats and the rest of the Pac-12, and tonight’s defeat is an indication not only of the fact that the race is wide open but also that Oregon will be heard from as the season wears on.

Dana Altman’s team doesn’t have a player ranked in the top 20 in the conference in scoring (Damyean Dotson entered the night ranked 24th with an average of 11.8 ppg) but they get it done with balance and they share the basketball.

Seventeen of Oregon’s 25 field goals were of the assisted variety, with Singler (seven assists) and freshman Dominic Artis (three) leading the way. Four starters reached double figures and the fifth, Dotson, scored nine points.

Add to that the fact that Oregon ranks in the top three in the Pac-12 in both field goal (3rd) and three-point (1st) percentage defense and the end result is a team that is more than capable of contending for a conference title.

Next up for Oregon is Arizona State this weekend, and the goal now is to keep building on the positive momentum. With wins over UNLV and now Arizona the Ducks have two wins that will look good on their resume.

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.