DeAndre Kane, Naz Long impress in Iowa State’s win over UNC Wilmington

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In Iowa State’s season-opening 95-62 win against UNC Wilmington, DeAndre Kane nearly had a double-double in the first half (11 points, 9 rebounds) — he probably could have had a triple-double if Iowa State didn’t take their foot off the pedal — en route to a 13 point, 11 rebound effort, and seven assist effort.

Sophomore guard Naz Long, who seldom played last year in more of a reserve role, poured in 26 points on 8-11 shooting from distance.

Last season, there weren’t many offenses that were as prolific and fun to watch as Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg’s up-tempo, three-happy offense averaged 79.6 ppg and took the Cyclones to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament where they nearly upset Ohio State. They lost the nucleus of that offense with Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, and Tyrus McGee among others no longer on the roster, and there were questions if the offensive success could be duplicated.

One of the biggest offseason additions for any team occurred when DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall, elected to spend his final year of eligibility at Iowa State. As a junior at Marshall, Kane averaged a shade over 15 points to go along with 4.4 rebounds.

Kane won’t fill it up from the perimeter like his predecessors did, but he adds another dynamic to Iowa State’s offense and can play multiple positions. The term “glue guy” is one that is overused and becoming a cliche in college basketball, but it aptly describes what Kane brings to the Cyclones — just look at how he stuffed the stat sheet this afternoon.

The country knew about Kane’s ability and what he’d bring to the Cyclones, but there were other unknowns for Iowa State heading into the season, particularly perimeter scoring.

Naz Long averaged just 1.4 points in 6.9 minutes last season, and has taken advantage of increased playing time right out of the gate due to Melvin Ejim’s injured right knee that he hyper-extended a week before the season. Long’s eight threes matched the number of field goals he totaled last season, and were two off the record set by Lucca Staiger in 2009. If Long can replicate the role that Chris Babb had last season for Iowa State, that bodes well for Hoibeg and shores up the void left on the perimeter.

Granted, the offensive success and big games by Kane, Long, and the other three starters (Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue, and Matt Thomas) who finished in double figures comes against a UNC Wilmington team that finished 10-20 last year and don’t figure to be strong this season. Iowa State’s first major test comes next Sunday home against Michigan.

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.