Sheldon McClellan

Two important happenings result in Texas knocking off Iowa State

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Wednesday night marked the season debut for Texas sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo, who was suspended for 23 games by the NCAA for not being up front from the start in regards to how expenses for a weekend of workouts in Ohio were handled.

But given the Longhorns’ lack of success this season (and the presence of bigger games on the national schedule) his return didn’t receive the widespread publicity that would normally come in such circumstances. So Kabongo’s return led to Texas’ 89-86 double overtime win over Iowa State, right?

While Kabongo’s return was important to a team in dire need of a steadying influence, Wednesday night didn’t happen solely because of his presence. In fact, Kabongo wasn’t on the floor when a development just as big took place.

With Kabongo having fouled out Rick Barnes needed someone to take over offensively in the second overtime period, and that’s exactly what sophomore guard Sheldon McClellan did.

McClellan scored all ten of Texas’ points in the second overtime and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, snapping out of an offensive funk that lasted the better part of three weeks. McClellan’s effort, which has been inconsistent, wasn’t an issue Wednesday and Texas reaped the rewards as a result.

“A lot of the criticism has just made me better and made me stronger. I don’t take it personally,” said McClellan following the game. “I know Coach loves me and wants me to be the best player I can be. He gave me credit today. He told me I had a good game and showed good effort.”

McClellan may be leading the Longhorns in scoring in Big 12 play (13.5 ppg) but he’s struggled percentage-wise, shooting 39.5% from the field and 22.2% from beyond the arc. Against the Cyclones, McClellan didn’t make a three-pointer (0-of-3) but he finished 5-of-10 from the field.

Before last night’s win Texas’ lone Big 12 victories came at the expense of Texas Tech and TCU, so to expect them to win at No. 14 Kansas on Saturday (even though they lost the first meeting by just five points) would be silly even with Kabongo back in the fold.

However there’s no denying that Wednesday brought about two developments that should make Texas a better team over the final seven games: the return of their point guard and Sheldon McClellan displaying the consistency that had been lacking for much of Big 12 play.

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.