Oklahoma St Players Return Basketball

Elite players returning to school and their impact on recruiting

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While much is made of how schools react to an unexpected departure to the professional ranks, just as important is how programs adjust when players decide to return to for another season. The decision can lead to a juggling act in some cases, with programs looking to keep as much talent as possible without surpassing the NCAA’s 13-scholarship limit. How that affects the newcomers expected to join the program ultimately boils down to whether or not the program has available scholarships.

That was certainly the case for Baylor, which retained the services of both Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. With those two returning to Waco minutes would be difficult to come by for a newcomer such as Dominic Woodson. As a result there was a parting of ways, with Woodson ultimately landing at Memphis where there’s a better opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Another Big 12 school that received positive news on the NBA Draft front is Oklahoma State, which will welcome back guards Markel Brown and Marcus Smart and forward Le’Bryan Nash. While Smart, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and one of the nation’s best lead guards, is the headliner of the three each has important roles to play for a program looking to ascend to the top of a conference that has been dominated by Kansas over the years.

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The decisions, especially Smart’s, to return to Stillwater may have surprised outsiders but they didn’t catch Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford off-guard.

“I think they all wanted to come back, but also they had an obligation to see where they were at as well,” Ford said of his three players in a phone interview with NBCSports.com. “We never discussed it with them [during the season] and we never let it become as distraction. Even as a coaching staff we didn’t talk about it a whole lot.”

Once the season was completed Ford discussed the possibilities with each player, and according to Ford his program prefers to go by the NBA’s withdrawal deadline when it comes to the decision-making process.

“I think the NBA deadline probably makes the most sense. I don’t know how much you gain with the NCAA deadline,” said Ford. “I know for us, we studied it and came to the conclusion that the NBA deadline is what we were looking at.”

To that point, the recruiting process when it comes to the possibility of losing a player (or players) to the professional ranks begins well before April. Programs can ill afford to not consider all possibilities during the summer/fall before the season begins, because if they do and a player does leave the pickings are incredibly slim in the spring from a recruiting standpoint.

Oklahoma State has five signees in its 2013 class, one of which being point guard Stevie Clark. But even with Smart being a projected lottery pick as the season progressed, Oklahoma State didn’t use the possibility of him leaving (and thereby opening up minutes) as a selling point.

“You can discuss the possible scenarios that happen, but for us in recruiting we don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on that,” Ford noted. “If we’re recruiting somebody to come play for us, we want them to come in and make an impact whether somebody’s leaving or not. That’s not something we’re trying to sell to recruits, that ‘somebody may leave so you may be able to step in.'”

In addition to the question of what a player with the NBA Draft decision in front of them will do, there’s also the question of whether or not that prospective member of the program will be on board with the idea of competing with an incumbent for minutes. For some recruits this can be an issue, with the desire for immediate playing time having a significant impact on their decision. But for others, the opportunity to not only compete for minutes but also play with other talented players is a plus.

That’s all part of the recruiting process, and accurately gauging a recruit’s thinking in situations such as this one is why programs can’t afford to wait until the spring to make moves.

The position that Oklahoma State found itself in at the end of April is an ideal one. Their three best players all decided to return for another season, but even if that didn’t turn out to be the case the Cowboys had done enough on the recruiting trail to ensure that they had enough depth entering the 2013-14 season.

Raphielle 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.