John Swofford

Possible ACC Network would face many hurdles

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The Big Ten Network has been immensely profitable to league member schools. According to a recent article by Andy Bitter of the Virginian-Pilot, the network passes along somewhere around $7 million to league schools every year as part of the TV rights deal. It’s important to remember, however, that the BTN is currently the exception rather than the rule.

The Pioneering Mountain West Sports Network shut down in 2012 in part because the league itself was so volatile. The network’s footprint was a constantly moving target, as member schools leaped from stepping stone to stepping stone on the way up the realignment ladder. The Pac-12 Network is doing battle with DirecTV and having trouble turning a profit. The SEC Network debuts in 2014, and any notion of a Big 12 Network seems to be completely subservient to the already extant Longhorn Network.

So would the expanded ACC be willing to jump into such uncertain waters? Certainly. But Bitter’s article does an excellent job pointing out the potential obstacles any such venture would face:

  • Deals in place: The ACC is already partnered with ESPN, and the cable network is entitled to show the premiere matchups, including the immense Duke/UNC hoops matchups. Regional TV deals with Fox (which ties into YES Network) and Raycom also would reduce the number of games available to be shown on any theoretical ACC Network.
  • Cable companies: Not only does a league-only network have to get cable companies to assign a channel to carry their programming, but they have to negotiate how much money they get out of the deal. Media consultant Neal Pilson told Bitter “If you get 100 percent distribution and 5 cents per channel, it’s not going to work.” The Pac-12’s battle with DirecTV is evidence of just how combative such negotiations can become.
  • Questionable market saturation: The ACC covers some large media markets already (though Maryland’s defection hurt), and the addition of Syracuse is supposedly going to give the league an entree into the massive NYC market. Just because New Yorkers happily tuned in to watch the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden in years past doesn’t mean that love will transfer to regular-season matchups.

The positives are numerous as well. The ACC gained a significant edge by securing a grant of media rights from the league’s current and future members. That’s a sign of stability that can’t be ignored. The league’s YouTube channel has been more successful than any other league’s as well, which could be a good indicator of future interest.

The SEC Network’s upcoming debut will probably give us some indication of where the ACC might turn. If the SEC can make it work with ESPN’s help, it can at least provide some hint of whether the ACC can do the same. Obviously, however, the SEC’s football brand is far more valuable than the ACC’s, and that’s the real driver of payouts in this business model.

Will an ACC Network happen? Maybe. But not soon, it seems.

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.