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Barry Rohrssen returns to Pittsburgh coaching staff

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While much has been made over the years about the work done by Ben Howland and then Jamie Dixon in the rebuilding of the Pittsburgh basketball program, there was another key figure in the Panthers’ transition from Big East doormat to perennial league title contender.

That would be former assistant coach Barry “Slice” Rohrssen, whose ability to recruit New York City resulted in a pipeline that played a major role in Pittsburgh’s success.

Rohrssen left the program in 2006 to become the head coach at Manhattan and spent this past season as an assistant coach for the Idaho Stampede of the NBA D-League.

According to multiple reports, “Slice” is on his way back to the Steel City to Coach Dixon’s staff as an assistant coach. Pittsburgh formally announced Rohrssen’s return in a press release Friday afternoon.

With the departure of multiple veterans and Steven Adams’ decision to enter the NBA Draft (there have also been reports that both J.J. Moore and Cameron Wright are considering a transfer), this summer sets up to be an important one on the recruiting trail as the Panthers make their move to the ACC.

Bringing back Rohrssen means the return of program’s best recruiter and also strengthens Pittsburgh’s connection to the New York metropolitan area.

Rohrrsen was the main recruiter on former Pitt players such as Chris Taft, Levance Fields, Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin. He also is a quality big man coach who oversaw the development of Aaron Gray, who went from little known recruit to NBA draft pick in four years, with Rohrssen overseeing his early development.

Here is the bottom line: Dixon has holes to fill on a roster that is in serious need of upgrading. Rohrssen can help in that endeavor in a crucial time for the program as it transitions to the ACC.

The Panthers currently have three signees in their 2013 class: point guard Josh Newkirk, small forward Jamel Artis and power forward Mike Young.

“It’s extremely exciting to be returning to Pitt,” Rohrssen said in the release. “We obviously want to continue and build upon the great tradition established at Pitt. The program’s success speaks for itself. It’s been an honor and I’m proud of my association with the University of Pittsburgh.

“I love the city of Pittsburgh and feel that it’s home. It’s a great place to be.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.