Jay bilas photobomb 2

The Morning Mix

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Monday was a light night of college hoops. Brittney Griner dropped 50 points and threw down a dunk during her final home game in Waco. And then there’s the picture you see to your right. Jay Bilas is becoming the Chris Bosh of college basketball. That’s his second photobomb in the last three games. I’m not sure what game he’s doing next, but you can almost guarantee he’s going to photobomb somebody.

Let’s hit the links.

Tuesday’s Top games:
7:00 p.m. – No. 15 Marquette @ Rutgers
7:00 p.m. – St. John’s @ No. 24 Notre Dame
7:00 p.m. – Arkansas @ Missouri
9:00 p.m. – No. 14 Ohio State @ No. 2 Indiana
9:00 p.m. – No. 25 Memphis @ UTEP
10:00 p.m. – Boise State @ UNLV
Top Stories:
Middle Tennessee State could be worthy of an at-large bid: The top team in the Sun Belt is one of the top mid-major teams in the country. But their weak strength of schedule and lack victories over RPI top-100 teams may come back to haunt them if they don’t win their conference tournament, which was the case a season ago.

Louisville gets back to the basics, pulls away from Cincinnati: The Cardinals relied on their turnover-heavy defense, forcing 21 against the Bearcats and earned a 67-51 victory.

Baylor’s NCAA Tournament hopes take serious blow in loss at Texas: Baylor has one of the most talent-rich rosters in the country but has failed to put it all together on the court. Their loss to Texas last night just about put their tournament hopes on ice.

Latest NCAA tourney projections: Duke’s a 1, but who else?CBT’s resident bracketologist Dave Ommen returns to discuss his latest tournament projections.

Elijah Johnson becoming the point guard Bill Self wanted: I’ve taking some strong criticism from head coach Bill Self, Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson is rounding into form as the leader of the Jayhawks.

Hoops Housekeeping:
– New Mexico head coach Steve Alford has indefinitely suspended guard Demetrius Walker for a violation of unspecified team rules. The Lobos are one of the handful of teams vying for a no.1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Albuquerque Journal)

– UMBC coach Aki Thomas had his interim tag dropped yesterday and was appointed as the permanent head coach of the Retrievers. (Eye on College Basketball)

– It still looks like C.J. McCollum might not be ready to return in time for the Patriot League Tournament. (Fox Sports)

– Highly touted class of 2014 wing Justin Jackson verbally committed to North Carolina yesterday. (Keeping it Heel)
Observations & Insight:
– According to reports, the Catholic-7 will retain the Big East name and Madison Square Garden. (USA Today)

– The Georgetown Hoyas are among the handful of teams vying for a no. 1-seed. Ben Standig previews Georgetown’s tournament scenarios. (CSN Washington)

– Losing games to teams you should beat doesn’t help, but neither does a weak schedule. Both of these issues hurt Arizona State’s chances to make the NCAA Tournament. (AZCentral.com)

– Former-Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine thinks this team lacks mental toughness. Scoop was never one to mince words. (Watertown Daily Times)

– Nebraska isn’t a team with postseason aspirations, but Brandon Ubell has a bright future. (Lincoln Journal Star)

– Interesting notes from Kansas’ Senior Night. Bell Self asked the fans to thank Ben McLemore. Chants of “One more year” began. Self responded: “Don’t hold your breath on that.”. (KUSports.com)

– Speaking of Senior Night, here’s a nice story on SDSU senior Jeremy Castleberry, who honed his craft being a personal rebounder for former-Aztec Kawhi Leonard. (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Odds & Ends:
– Sports Illustrated is rolling out a new college hoops blog, “One and One”. Andy Glockner, a friend of the program, is the man in charge. Update your bookmarks and RSS feeds. (One and One)

– An outstanding Q&A session with ESPN Analyst and banter extraordinaire, Fran Fraschilla. (Albany Times Union)

– I’ll be honest. I watch more women’s college basketball than I’d like to admit. But I’ve never seen a women’s player as dominant as Brittney Griner. She dropped 50 points on K-State last night and threw down a dunk. (The Dagger)
Picture of the Day:
Jay Bilas’ second photobomb in three days. This will be a meme before you know it. (H/T @Damon_Simpson)

Video of the Day:
Memphis coach often reminds me of a young child. This video confirms it.

Do you like the new Morning Mix? Hate it? Have a suggestion or want something featured? Troy Machir will take all your praise, insults and inquiries via Twitter (@TroyMachir

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.