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Michigan’s loss to Iowa State proof they’re not yet a top ten team


It didn’t take long for No. 7 Michigan to look like they were overrated heading into a season where they will be replacing their starting back court from a year ago.

The Wolverines went into Ames, IA, and experienced Hilton Magic first hand, losing to Iowa State 77-70. Nik Stauskas had 20 points and six assists, but he was really the only guy that found a rhythm offensively. Glenn Robinson III was 4-for-14 from the floor, Mitch McGary was clearly laboring and is not yet in shape, and Derrick Walton looked promising but, at this point, is very much a freshman.

But in all honesty, what did you expect to happen?

Let me lay it out for you like this: Trey Burke was not only the National Player of the Year a season ago, he was by far the most valuable player in the country. Everything Michigan did offensively last season was built around Burke. It’s the same thing with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Anyone with a fantasy football team can tell you that’s not the same group without their star running the show. Burke was the same way. He made everyone on that team better.

And now?

They are trying to work their way through replacing that talent with a freshman playing his first college game against real competition and a sophomore that picked the Wolverines over Appalachian State. That’s not an easy thing to do, particularly when it is happening in a place that just so happens to have arguably the best home-court advantage in the country.

But wait.

There’s more.

Their preseason all-american center, McGary, has gone a full practice once all season long. Once! There’s no way that he can possibly be in game-shape at this point, let along asking him to be in sync with this group. That issue gets magnified by the fact that this was the first time they had all played together in a competitive game.

I know I’m making excuses for Michigan here, and that’s not what my goal is. Iowa State played a terrific game, Melvin Ejim was awesome and Hilton was as magical as ever. The Cyclones deserve every bit of that win.

But this is not the Michigan team that we will see come March. This is not a finished product. They will get better, and when they do — when Walton has his legs under him, when McGary is back in shape, when everyone is on the same page offensively — they will be as good as they were advertised in the preseason.

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
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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.