East Carolina Memphis Basketball

Pregame Shootaround 2.26.13: Three ranked teams on the road

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Game of the Night: No. 19 Memphis at Xavier (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Xavier is in a tough situation here. They desperately need to pick up this win if they are going to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, especially after blowing a 17 point second half lead against VCU on Saturday.

The problem, however, is that Memphis isn’t exactly safe as an at-large bid, either. Yes, they have a 24-3 record and have won a billion games in a row, but look at who they’ve beaten this season: Southern Miss and … Southern Miss again. Tennessee is the only other team the Tigers have beaten that sits in the top 70, although feasting on the likes of Ohio, Harvard, and East Carolina has netted them a grand total of nine top 100 wins.

A couple of losses down the stretch could hurt the Tigers. Given that it’s been a while since Memphis has been on national TV, this is an opportunity that the Tigers need to capitalize on. Like it or not, there is always going to be an “eye test” influence, a human element, in tournament selections. Make a statement, feel a bit more comfortable with were you’ll end up being seeded.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 1 Indiana at Minnesota (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Minnesota is reeling. They lost two in a row last week (both games by more than 20), four of their last five and eight of their last 11. All of a sudden, this looks like a team that may be playing their way off the bubble. Tubby Smith’s job is in jeopardy. It’s difficult to stress just how important this game is for the Gophers. They won’t have another shot at a marquee win. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that their season is on the line tonight.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Towson at George Mason (7:00 p.m. ET, CSN)

This should be a fun game in Fairfax tonight, as the Tigers and the Patriots are two of the more talented teams in the CAA. Towson is tied for second with Delaware, sitting a game in front of GMU in the CAA standings.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Alabama lost in triple-overtime to LSU on Saturday, which was yet another in a string of bad losses for the Crimson Tide this season. Combine that with a really week league schedule, and Anthony Grant’s club is in a ways from being in the NCAA tournament. Losing to in-state rival Auburn tonight could kill those hopes. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

2) Valpo currently holds a one game lead on Detroit in the Horizon League standings with just two games left to play. The Crusaders can clinch a share of the league title tonight against Youngstown State.

3) Tennessee has slowly but surely started to gain some momentum late in the year, winning their last five games. They have a lot of work to do to get into the conversation for an at-large bid, but knocking off No. 8 Florida at home would be a good start. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

4) No. 17 Wisconsin hosts Nebraska. There may not be 80 points total scored in this one. Be sure to check the box score tomorrow. (9:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

5) Wake Forest scored a huge upset on Saturday as they knocked off No. 3 Miami in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons have been good at home this year. Can they pull off a road win against Florida State? A strong finish to the season may be what it takes to save Jeff Bzdelik’s job. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Top 25

  • No. 1 Indiana at Minnesota (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 8 Florida at Tennessee (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • Nebraska at No. 17 Wisconsin (9:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
  • No. 19 Memphis at Xavier (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.