Syracuse v Georgetown

Otto Porter dominates Syracuse again, just not in the scoring column

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Otto Porter was a one-man wrecking crew last month when Georgetown went into Syracuse and knocked off the Orange, 57-46.

He scored 33 points on 12-19 shooting, hitting 5-10 from three while collecting eight boards and five steals. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he single-handedly sent the 35,000-plus Orange-clad fans that showed up to the Carrier Dome home disappointed.

It was a game that thrust Porter into the National Player of the Year conversation, a place that he has remained ever since, which is why the casual observer might be surprised to see that Georgetown’s dominating, 61-39 win over Syracuse on Saturday afternoon came in a game where Porter finished with just 10 points on 3-7 shooting from the floor.

It may also surprise that casual observer to know that, while his numbers won’t look quite as impressive in the box score, Porter absolutely dominated this game on the offensive end. In addition to those 10 points, Porter finished with eight boards and seven assists without committing a turnover. He put on a clinic of how to beat a zone: flash from the baseline to the high-post, turn and face the basket, knock down a 15 foot jumper if left open or kick it out to the open shooter if the defense collapses.

Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored a combined 34 points and shot 8-14 from three.

“I’m extremely confident in them. I know what they’re capable of,” Porter said of his team’s sharp-shooting back court. “The whole game, I was just trying to get open looks for them, put pressure on the defense with me in the middle, making everything else open up.”

As good as Porter has been this season, as dominant as he was the last time these two teams tangled, the Hoyas are more than just a one-man show. It starts on the defensive end of the floor, where the Hoyas were able to seamlessly switch between a 2-3 zone and a stifling man-to-man against the Orange, holding them to 32.6% shooting and forcing 14 turnovers.

It continues to the offensive end of the floor, where Starks and Smith-Rivera have been terrific down the stretch of the season knocking down enough threes to keep the floor spread and creating enough off the bounce to keep defenses honest. Nate Lubick has played well down the stretch of the season, and while he struggled on Saturday, Mikael Hopkins and Moses Ayegba stepped up, coming up with four points and nine boards.

Georgetown doesn’t win on Saturday — they don’t win the Big East — without the “other guys” being more than just Porter’s background singers.

“No one has looked at [themselves] as ‘other guys’,” John Thompson III said. “Everyone has a role to play, Everyone’s role is importnat. Obviously Otto’s gotten a lot of attention, and he should, but he understands, all of us understands, everyone in that locker room has a role to play. Every night, everyone has to do their job.”

And there-in lies the reason why Porter is so dangerous and why this Georgetown team will be such a threat in March.

‘Bubba’ is good enough to be the National Player of the Year. He’s talented enough to take over games against NCAA tournament competition on the road; ask UConn, they’ll confirm what Syracuse is telling you.

But Porter is also unselfish enough to understand that he’s simply not capable of scoring 30 points on a nightly basis.

He’s going to need help, and not only does use it, he takes advantage of the nights when his supporting cast plays the leading role.

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.