Gonzaga Kansas St Basketball

Is it time to start being worried about No. 21 Gonzaga and the WCC?

1 Comment

Marcus Foster and Thomas Gibson both scored 14 points for Kansas State as the Wildcats knocked off No. 21 Gonzaga 72-62 in Manhattan, KS, on Saturday afternoon.

Bruce Weber’s club held Kevin Pangos to 4-for-11 shooting on the night, as he finished with just 12 points and six assists. Sam Dower went down with a hip injury late in the first half, and Kansas State was able to take advantage of the lack of size in the paint for Gonzaga.

This was a win that Kansas State desperately needed, and they played one of their most complete games of the year in the process. They lost to Northern Colorado to kick off the season. They were beaten by Charlotte and drubbed by Georgetown in Puerto Rico, but much of that can be forgiven if K-State can pick up some big wins in Big 12 play.

And thanks to Saturday’s win, they now have something of substance in the non-conference.

The bigger story coming out of this game, however, may end up being the Zags.

This is not a team with a lot of size inside, and that’s before Dower left Saturday’s game. They also happen to be as bad defensively as any “good” team in the country. Pangos and Gary Bell are awesome, and Gonzaga has a slew of big and/or athletic wings. They’re going to be able to score a lot of point and hit a lot of threes.

But will they be able to get enough stops?

The other concern is that Mark Few’s club could have a tough time building a resume strong enough to deserve an at-large bid.

Gonzaga will kick off WCC play next week, and to date, the Zags have not done much worthy of earning an at-large bid into the tournament. Beating Colorado State and Washington State are nice wins, but they won’t be noteworthy in March. That win at West Virginia is solid but it’s not going to make their resume. Thanks to an opening round loss to Dayton in the Maui Invitational, Gonzaga only played Chaminade and Arkansas instead of Baylor and Syracuse or Cal.

BYU is struggling. St. Mary’s is undefeated but without a noteworthy win. Gonzaga has one more opportunity to take on an elite team in the non-conference, a trip to Memphis in February.

Could the WCC end up being a one-bid league this season?

If the Big Three end up beating up on each other, it very well could be.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.