Georges Niang, Jamari Traylor

Iowa State loses to Kansas, but don’t disregard their three-point shooting


You won’t find many nights where the regulation, three-point shooting performance of Iowa State will be outdone.

On Monday night in a 108-96 overtime loss at home to no. 6 Kansas, the Cyclones hit a ton of shots from beyond the arc. Six different players who hit a three. Five hit at least two. Georges Niang, who on the season is 37-percent from three, hit three himself, his only field goals of the game. Tyrus McGee, the Cyclones resident gunner, hit 6-of-10 from beyond the arc.

Point-and-case: Korie Lucious tried to throw a lob to Melvin Ejim, and instead, that lob went in for a three. It was that kind of night, for the first 40 minutes. They were 17-of-41 (41.5 percent) overall from deep. And that was after they went 0-for-6 from three in overtime. So, with the possibility of a questionable call in the Niang/Jeff Withey scramble late, this team finishes with some moreimpressive numbers from three-point range than they appear, considering the volume at which they threw them up.

They did everything a great shooting team should do to win, offensively. That can happen when you’re playing an elite team. One that’s a national title contender like Kansas.

However, they failed to stop Elijah Johnson, a player that averages 9.1 points per game, from scoring 39 — 37 if you discount the end-of-game dunk that got a ton of people riled up. They also got a 3-for-17 night from the normally-reliable Niang, a freshman who has surpassed expectations and on the season has hit 53.1-percent of his shots. They allowed the same weapon they use to beat a ton of teams, to beat them, with the Jayhawks hitting 13-of-25 three pointers.

The Cyclones were also out-rebounded by 10, including Withey’s double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

With that said, there aren’t a lot teams in a field of 68 that can hang with them when they shoot like they they did Monday night from three. Especially when they only commit seven turnovers and hit 29-of-34 free throws.

On the season, three players, McGee, Lucious and Chris Babb, have hit at least 50 threes. Will Clyburn has hit 31. They’ve got the shooters and they’ve got the consistency. Five players make at least 35-percent from three. It’s not overly-impressive, individually, but as a collective, it’s solid.

They won’t face a better team than Kansas this season until they get to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, at best. Unless they take on Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament.

The Jayhawks took the best the Cyclones had and still won in overtime. That happens when you’re playing one of the elite teams in college basketball.

But a night like that against most teams, especially in the postseason? That’s a win. Easy. And as long as the Cyclones are primed for at least an at-large bid (they might need another good win to seal it), their fans should still be confident this team can do a lot of damage in March.

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.