There’s nothing wrong with the NCAA weighing their First Four options

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Over the weekend, news broke that the NCAA decided against locking Dayton in as the sight of the First Four for the foreseeable future.

According to WDTN in Dayton, the school filed a proposal with the NCAA, but that proposal was shot down. The Flyers will host the event in 2014 and 2015, but they’ll have to bid on 2016-2018 along with everyone else.

Dayton has been an overwhelming success as the host of the First Four. The arena is packed and energetic, the games have been exciting, and President Obama even took in a game along with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

There aren’t many places that would embrace games between the four worst automatic bids and the four worst at-large bids, but Dayton does. It’s easy to wonder why the NCAA would ever mess with success like that, especially when you consider just how difficult it has been in the past to fill seats at neutral site NCAA tournament games.

But it’s also important to remember that Dayton isn’t the only small town with a healthy college hoops appetite.

Creighton was sixth in the nation in attendance, pulling in 17,155 fans per game this past season, despite playing in the Missouri Valley. The school is located in Omaha, NE, which has already proven capable of handling an NCAA postseason, as it hosts the College World Series. Isn’t that at least worth consideration?

What about Albuquerque, NM, where Lobo fans routinely pack more than 15,000 people into The Pit? Pound for pound, Utah may have the nation’s second-most college basketball-centric state to Kentucky. Would it be out of the question to consider Salt Lake City — or BYU, Utah or Utah State’s campus — as  potential host?

Am I the only one that thinks it would be kind of cool to see an NCAA tournament game at The Palestra? What about turning the First Four into a barnstorming tour of the nation’s most famous college basketball arenas? Cameron Indoor, Phog Allen, Hinkle, Assembly Hall?

What if they abandon the idea of having the First Four in one site, instead playing each game in the same arena where the winner would take on their Round of 64 opponent?

Isn’t that at least worth discussing?

The best part? 

Discussing those possibilities doesn’t mean that Dayton is out of the question, or out of any potential rotation.

I get the appeal of keeping the game in Dayton. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But putting it up for consideration isn’t the same thing as pulling the First Four from the Flyers.

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.