Report: Sun Belt may raid SoCon to add two new members

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At this point, any realignment scenario being bandied about for any league seems plausible. None of the rumors and conjecture have the paper trail discovered by AppStateNation, however.

The blog, dedicated to coverage of the Appalachian State Mountaineers, used an official Freedom of Information Act request to uncover potential realignment plans that involve the Sun Belt Conference, Georgia State University and, of course, Appalachian State University. Georgia State responded to the FOIA request promptly, sending piles of emails and other information that was, frankly, not that interesting.

There was one piece of correspondence, however, that sparked a great deal of interest. A map showing current Sun Belt schools alongside two schools that aren’t members. Yet. Blog editor John Miller’s reaction:

The map shows the locations of every Sun Belt school…except that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are added!

Is this a working plan for how the conference will look very soon? Is this just a mockup that they are using to throw around ideas? I honestly have no idea. But they went through great lengths to ensure everyone who read the email knew it was “confidential”. I guess they forgot about us pesky sports bloggers and our annoying FOIA requests.

The usual realignment reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to this potential move. Both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have been highly successful in FCS football, but haven’t – to date – made any open attempts to move up to the FBS level, which would be required for full membership in the Sun Belt. So this may be a sign of news to come in the DI football world.

In terms of media markets, Statesboro, GA and Boone, NC add almost nothing to the league’s profile. In terms of travel expenses, Appy State adds a rather distant outpost – most distant from another new member, Texas State – that current members would have to include in the travel schedule if the change is made.

And, the thing we’re most interested in: basketball. Both potential movers are members of the Southern Conference right now. Georgia Southern last went to the NCAA tournament in 1992. Appy State last nabbed the SoCon auto-bid in 2000. It seems safe to assume that hoops are along for the ride on this one, should it come to fruition.

The big-picture impact of this possible move has to be concern for the future of the SoCon. College of Charleston is headed to the CAA, and Davidson is a potential choice to fill out the basketball-only league that may be built around the Catholic Seven. If two more members head to the Sun Belt, the SoCon – a fixture in southern collegiate athletics since 1921 – will need to raid an even smaller conference to survive. The domino effect could lead to annexations in the Big South or A-Sun.

And the realignment wheel keeps turning.

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.