Todd Mayo, Brian Oliver

Marquette guard Todd Mayo undergoes surgery on left knee

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With Vander Blue’s decision to leave school early and enter the 2013 NBA Draft, there’s an opportunity for a number of players in the Marquette perimeter rotation to earn more playing time in 2013-14.

One of those candidates is expected to be junior Todd Mayo, but his path to more playing time hit a bump in the road Wednesday as the school announced that he underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee.

According to Marquette, Mayo is expected to be 100% in time for the start of the 2013-14 season. But instead of spending time in the weight room and on the practice court working to earn an increase in minutes (Mayo averaged 14.1 minutes per game in 2012-13), Mayo will spend his time rehabbing.

The question now is just how far that will put him behind his teammates in the competition for a spot in head coach Buzz Williams’ rotation.

Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas, who considered transferring earlier this summer before deciding to remain at Marquette, are the other uppeclassmen at the two guard spots with three talented freshmen joining the ranks as well. Duane Wilson, John Dawson and JaJuan Johnson will also compete for minutes, and all three are capable of earning prominent spots in the rotation.

With the influx of talent arriving on campus (don’t forget forwards Deonte Burton and Jameel McKay), as well as returnees such as Jamil Wilson and centers Davante Gardner and Chris Otule, the Golden Eagles should be one of the early favorites in the Big East this season.

Today’s news represents the second consecutive offseason in which Mayo has dealt with a setback of some sort. Last year he was declared academically ineligible just days before Marquette’s scheduled season opener against Ohio State (that game was cancelled), returning to the program in late-December.

The month-plus away from the program resulted in a drop in minutes (Mayo averaged 21.1 mpg as a freshman), with Mayo posting averages of 5.3 points and 1.2 rebounds per game on a team that reached the Elite Eight.

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.