Trey Burke, John Beilein

What teams have the most to play for now that March is here?



Michigan: The Wolverines lost on Wednesday in one of the most embarrassing losses that you’ll see this season. They were beaten by previously-winless-in-the-Big-Ten Penn State while giving up 84 points. For a team that had recently loss three of their last four games, that’s bad. But the Wolverines still have a shot at a No. 1 seed. Why? They host Indiana, they host Michigan State and they play in the Big Ten tournament. They can still beat four top ten teams this season.

Gonzaga: Can the Zags do it? Can they string together three more wins? Can close out the season with suffering the kind of loss that will convince the doubters that no team from the WCC deserves a No. 1 seed? The Zags are a win against Portland away from being the No. 1 team in the country. Think about that.

New Mexico: The Lobos have one of the nation’s most under-appreciated resumes. I went in-depth about it here. Let’s assume they win out. They’ll have won the MWC regular season by two games, won the MWC tournament in Las Vegas, and they’ll have five top 25 wins (three away from home), 10 top 50 wins (three on the road, three on a neutral court) and 19 top 100 wins. Is that a No. 1 seed’s resume?

Georgetown: Let’s go beyond the fact that the Hoyas host Syracuse on the season’s final day with a chance to sweep their rivals in the final season as league foes. If Georgetown can win the Big East regular season title and the Big East tournament title, can the team that lost at home to Pitt by 28 points actually earn themselves a No. 1 seed?


Kentucky: The Wildcats may have a lot on the line heading into March, but they unquestionably have the least amount of pressure of any team on this list. They’re not supposed to be here. They were supposed to be relevant after Nerlens Noel got hurt. And if they can somehow find a way to beat Florida in the season finale, they’ll head into the SEC tournament on the right side of the bubble. Amazing.

Middle Tennessee State, Belmont, Akron and Louisiana Tech: Hope is all but lost for these four teams. They are pretty unlikely to play their way into an at-large bid at this point in the year. That said, all four are probably good enough to pull off an upset or two in the tournament. They just have to get there first. Auto-bid or bust.

Creighton and Wichita State: On Saturday, they play in Omaha for the MVC regular season title. That will be awesome, but for the loser, they’re put into a precarious positon. A loss in the first round of Arch Madness could end up dumping them into the NIT. Two league titles and a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line in the span of two weeks?

Iowa, Arizona State, Villanova and Iowa State: What do these four teams have in common? They’re all on the bubble, but they all have tough schedule down the stretch and play in power conferences that will provide plenty of conference tournament opportunities for big wins. Iowa gets Indiana and Illinois. Arizona State is at USC and at Arizona. Villanova has Pitt and Georgetown. Iowa State has Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Boise State: The Broncos are in the same boat. They’re probably on the outside of the tournament looking in as of right now, but take a gander at their schedule down the stretch: Colorado State, at UNLV, San Diego State, the MWC tournament. If Leon Rice’s club wants to go dancing, they’ll have plenty of chances to make it happen.

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.