Bucknell trophy

Late Night Snacks: Bucknell lone team to punch NCAA tournament ticket Wednesday

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Game of the Day: Bucknell 64, Lafayette 56

There was only one automatic berth to be earned Wednesday and it was Bucknell’s after winning the Patriot League championship. As expected, center Mike Muscala was the centerpiece for the Bison with another double-double, his 22nd of the year. Bucknell will now wait until Selection Sunday to see who it draws in the NCAA tournament, but you can be assured that no high-major team is hoping to have to face them in the Round of 64.

Bucknell already went to Purdue to start the season and got a five-point win in West Lafayette, then followed that up with a solid wins over George Mason and La Salle. The Bison also played Missouri down to the wire, losing 66-64 on the road Jan. 5.

Important Outcomes

1. No. 19 Syracuse 75, Seton Hall 63

Syracuse needed to break out of its offensive slump and it did Wednesday night. The key to it was James Southerland, who stretched out the Pirate defense by hitting 6-of-9 from three-point range. With Southerland spacing the floor and Michael Carter-Williams dishing out 14 assists, Brandon Triche was able to get back in a groove with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The task will be more difficult Thursday against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal, though, a team that features one of the nation’s toughest defenses.

2. Villanova 66, St. John’s 53

Villanova’s win Wednesday made Selection Sunday a lot more comfortable, regardless of what happens from here on out in the Big East tournament. Had the Wildcats lost to St. John’s, their resume would likely still have been strong enough to make the tournament, but they would have had to sweat it out a bit. Now coach Jay Wright & Co. can relax and see where they end up.

3. Bethune-Cookman 70, Norfolk State 68

Norfolk State was the talk of college basketball last season when it entered the NCAA tournament as a 15-seed and knocked off No. 2 Missouri. It carried that momentum into this season, even without star Kyle O’Quinn, and ran the table for a perfect 16-0 record in the MEAC. But in the MEAC tournament, the Spartans were plagued by poor shooting and lost to No. 8 seed Bethune-Cookman, effectively ending their quest for another NCAA tournament berth.


1. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (34 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds)

Arizona State needed a win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive and the man who has been the motor behind the Sun Devils’ resurgence was at it again against Stanford. Carson’s 34 points helped ASU outlast the Cardinal in overtime.

2. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (23 points, 10-of-14 FG, 7 rebounds)

Bennett was too much for an Air Force interior attack that couldn’t contain the National Freshman of the Year candidate. Bennett was getting to the rim and dunking with power, but was perhaps most impressive on the defensive end. He is often criticized for his play on that end of the floor, but he played with energy around the rim and stepping out toward the perimeter Wednesday.

3. Mike Muscala, Bucknell (20 points, 11 rebounds)

Muscala is a pro prospect because he can put up a double-double every night. He had another Wednesday to help his team clinch an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.


1. Grambling State (32 percent FG, Finish season 0-28)

The Tigers looked like they had a chance to get their first win of the season and advance in the SWAC tournament, but were unable to come together late to pull out a win against Alabama A&M. Despite the loss, there is one bright spot, if you’d like to call it that. Wednesday’s loss was the first by single digits this season.

2. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (2 points, 1-of-6 FG)

He still managed to grab nine rebounds, but Cooley was limited on the offensive end Wednesday night. Tom Knight produced to fill in the gaps with 18 points, but the Irish will need Cooley to get back on track if they want to advance in the Big East tournament.

3. Jamal Branch, St. John’s (2 points, 0-of-3 FG, 1 assists, 5 TOs)

Branch has steadily gotten more minutes at the point guard spot since becoming eligible after transferring from Texas A&M. Wednesday night, though, he was not at his best. The normally crafty guard with a high basketball IQ turned the ball over five times with just one assist.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.