Jamie Dixon

Pregame shootaround 2.18.13: A Top 25 tilt in the Big East, Huggins returns to K-State

Leave a comment

Game of the Day: No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 20 Pittsburgh (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

I’m sure that Jamie Dixon is ready for this run to end for the Panthers. The Fighting Irish will be the fifth ranked team Pitt has faced in the last six games. They’ve gone 3-2 in that span, holding their own, but I’m sure the wear and tear isn’t good for guys like Steven Adams and Tray Woodall, who are going to be necessities come tournament time.

For Notre Dame, they really need a good win to reassure the team that the five overtime thriller over Louisville didn’t drain them. Since the victory, the Fighting Irish barely beat Big East bottom-feeder DePaul in overtime and then took an L at Providence.

It’s really a battle of mental (Notre Dame) versus physical (Pittsburgh). The winner might get more than just a victory from this one.

Who’s Getting Upset? Norfolk State at Hampton (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

The Spartans are 11-0 in the MEAC, best in the conference. Hampton sits at 7-3 in the conference and has won five in a row — four of them road games — including a win over conference contender Savannah State on Feb. 7. They’ll be fired up and looking for revenge after Norfolk State beat them 74-67 on the road on Jan. 21.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Bucknell at Lehigh (7:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

So what there’s no C.J. McCollum? This game demands your attention anyway. Both teams sit at 8-2 in the Patriots League and the Bison have already reached the 20-win plateau (21-5). The Mountain Hawks still have the regular season title in their sights. This one should still be a conference game of the year candidate.

Five Things to Watch For

1.) West Virginia makes their first visit to Bramlage Coliseum tonight as a member of the Big 12 Conference. Guard play will rule this one, with Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling, Shane Southwell and Angel Rodriguez going up against Aaric Murray, Juwan Staten, Jabari Hinds and Eron Harris. Oh, then there’s the whole Bob Huggins making his return to Manhattan thing.

2.) Drexel takes on Hofstra at home tonight. The last time those two teams got together, this happened.

3.) North Carolina Central took their first conference loss on Saturday to Savannah State. They’ll be looking to get back to chasing Norfolk State with a victory at 1-9 in-conference South Carolina State tonight.

4.) After losing their first five games in-conference, Fairfield has won six of their last seven to get back to respectability in the MAAC. They take on Iona tonight, who still have dreams of a high seed in the conference tournament with their 9-6 conference mark.

5.) Arkansas-Pine Bluff is having the best season of a postseason-banned team not named UConn. They’re 11-3 in the SWAC, 12-14 overall and take on Prarie View A&M tonight on the road.

The Top 25
West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas State (9:00 p.m., ET, ESPN)

Other Notable Games
Rutgers at Villanova (9:00 p.m., ET, ESPNU)

Iona at Fairfield (7:00 p.m., ET, check listings)

North Carolina A&T at Savannah State (7:00 p.m. ET, check listings)

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten.

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.