Archie Goodwin, Alex Oriakhi, Keion Bell

Archie Goodwin on Kentucky’s new team: ‘just a matter of them meshing’

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Three players that were members of Kentucky’s 2012-2013 team, which found its way out of the NIT in a first round loss at Robert Morris, were back in Lexington on Monday.

Kyle Tucker, writing for USA Today, caught up with Julius Mays, Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin, asking them about advice they would give to the the newest crop of Wildcat freshmen. Their responses? (Emphasis mine):

Mays: “From what I’ve seen, they’ve got all the talent in the world. Like I told them: If they can all check their egos at the door … they’re going to be real dangerous.”

Goodwin: ” “I feel like with the team that they have this year, just the talent alone is going to win a championship. It’s just a matter of them meshing together.”

Noel: “Establish team chemistry early on in the year and make sure a leader steps up, because a young team like that, they’re especially going to need a leader that’s always going to keep them like a rock-solid team and always keep those guys composed.”

Obviously, this is a little bit of insight into just what happened with last season’s Kentucky team and why they struggled.

But more importantly, this touches on the major concerns I have for Kentucky heading into next season. (Well, some of the major concerns, as rumors like this keep popping up.) Right now, looking at Chad Ford’s top 100 draft prospects leading into the 2014 draft, seven of the top 31 players are Kentucky Wildcats, with an eighth (Marcus Lee) popping up in the 70s. Draft Express is currently projecting five Wildcats to go in the first round in 2014, and that’s operating under the assumption that James Young and Dakari Johnson aren’t going to be in the 2014 draft.

Simply put: Kentucky is going to have first round draft picks — plural — coming off of the bench next season. They are going to have role players with one eye on the lottery. Coach Cal is going to have to convince those kids to embrace the role that he brought them in to play, or the team is going to once again struggle with chemistry issues.

I’ve long said that what made the 2012 Kentucky team special wasn’t the fact that they had six players drafted or that they had the top two picks in the 2012 draft. What made that team great was that their two best players and the two highest-rated NBA prospects — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis — were role players. They were awesome, but MKG was a junkyard dog, a glue-guy that defended and rebounded and provided all the hustle plays while Anthony Davis was a defensive presence that owned the paint and gave Kentucky’s guards an outlet to throw lobs.

How often do you see that in a team?

How many blue-chip recruits and potential lottery picks are willing to fit into a role that the team needs them to play?

Will the players on this Kentucky team be able to embrace that mindset?

If they can, this team will win a lot of games and, potentially, do something special.

If they don’t, it will be interesting to see just how good the Wildcats actually are.

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.