Jason Capel

Appalachian State responds regarding status of Devonte Graham

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The case of one-time Appalachian State signee Devonte Graham is certainly an interesting one, with the player looking to be released from his National Letter of Intent and the school refusing to honor this request. The school’s reasoning behind its decision centers around its belief that Graham was tampered with after signing the NLI, thus resulting in his request to be released.

With the calls of many growing louder that Appalachian State should release Graham, the school released a statement regarding the matter Friday afternoon. One of the school’s biggest problems with the matter is the idea that Graham’s being “held hostage” due to their refusal to release him from the NLI.

“While we understand that it is en vogue for the media to hammer away at the perceived bureaucracy of the NCAA, recruiting rules and guidelines are in place to protect student-athletes and NCAA institutions alike,” the school noted in the statement. “Without them, recruiting would be utter chaos. Also, while we greatly appreciate the advocacy of the national media covering men’s basketball, especially related to reforms in recruiting practices as a whole, we are confident that those who have shared their opinions over the past 24 hours are not aware of the full circumstances in this particular situation.

“If all of the facts regarding the situation and how it has unfolded since last spring were to come to light, we believe that the opinions that we are holding a student-athlete “hostage” would change. It would be very disappointing if not.”

So, what could the “full circumstances” of this situation be? As noted above, there’s a feeling that Graham was tampered with despite having signed the NLI to attend Appalachian State. As for the school in question, the entire situation is being investigated currently by the NCAA according to Appalachian State. While there’s no proof as to which school may have tampered with Graham, Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com did send out the following tweet Friday afternoon:

Whether or not there was tampering is up to those investigating the case to decide, and N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried denied the allegations according to ESPN. Regardless, many will argue that Appalachian State should simply release Graham and let him go on his way. But can they really be blamed for being upset about this matter? And more importantly, if a recruit is in a position where he may change his mind why sign?

This situation is different than what Top 25 prospects encounter, as it’s difficult to see their school of choice refusing to take them on if they decide to sign only the grant-in-aid as opposed to signing the NLI as well. For other players there could be a fear that not signing the NLI would lead to the school recruiting over them. But if anything can be learned from Graham’s situation, it’s that a recruit better be sure before signing on the dotted line.

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.