Belmont v Kansas

Belmont puts unblemished OVC mark on the line at Murray State

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Belmont and Murray State have met just five times in the history of both programs, with the Racers holding a 4-1 lead in the series and a 3-0 record in games played at the CFSB Center.

But even with that history it’s Belmont, the “new kid on the block” in the Ohio Valley Conference, that enters Thursday night’s game atop the conference standings with a 10-0 league record (Murray State leads the West Division with a 7-2 mark). And two big reasons for Belmont’s success are guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson.

Clark and Johnson currently average 32.6 points per game, with Clark accounting for 18.9 points per game while shooting 57.5% from the field and 51.4% from beyond the arc. Johnson runs the show for the Bruins, averaging 4.7 assists in addition to his 13.7 points per contest. These two will pose quite the challenge for Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the nation.

Canaan’s averaging 21.0 points and 4.0 assists per game while Ed Daniel (14.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg) leads the way inside, and how efficient the Racers are offensively will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this showdown.

Belmont may not go ten players deep as last year’s NCAA tournament team did but they’re still productive when it comes to forcing turnovers. On the season opponents have turned the ball over an average of 17.6 times per game, handing the ball back over to Belmont on nearly 26% of their possessions. Murray State averages 12.2 assists and 14.0 turnovers per game, and an assist-to-turnover ratio any worse than this won’t get the job done against Belmont.

One thing that works in Murray State’s favor is their success at home, where they’ve gone 32-5 over the last three seasons (7-2 in 2012-13). But don’t expect Belmont to be intimidated as they’ve taken trips to Stanford, VCU and Kansas this season.

Essentially what could be the first of two meetings between these two programs this season (the second would have to come in the OVC tournament) will boil down to turnovers. If Murray State takes care of the basketball they’re more than capable of handing Belmont its first OVC defeat.

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.