Aaron Gordon

College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25



For the second straight week, the top seven teams in the country are exactly the same.

In fact, the only team from last week’s top 15 that lost this past week was UConn, who is now No. 15 in the country. That much likely won’t change next week, either, as only six teams in the top 25 will be challenged this week. No. 23 Missouri is at N.C. State). No. 18 Iowa State is out in Diamond Head Classic.

There’s the whole Syracuse-Villanova and Louisville-Kentucky double-header on Saturday, but those are just two games.

Anyone else ready for conference play to begin?

1. Arizona (12-0, LW: No. 1): Arizona’s only game this past week was a blowout win over Southern in the McKale Center. The Wildcats are the most balanced and versatile team in the country, but they need Gabe York to wake up. His last eight games: 4.5 points, 26.8% FG, 8-for-25 3’s.

2. Syracuse (11-0, LW: No. 2): Friday’s blowout win over High Point isn’t going to blow anyone away. I know much has been written about Tyler Ennis this season, but here’s something for you: Ennis is the best point guard in the country. Too much? Well, he’s averaging 12.1 points, 5.4 assists and 2.8 steals while turning it over 13 times in 11 games and shooting 43.5% from three.

3. Wisconsin (12-0, LW: No. 3): The Badgers didn’t play last week, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bo Ryan’s club is, right now, the best team in the Big Ten.

4. Ohio State (12-0, LW: No. 4): The Buckeyes managed to avoid a loss against Notre Dame on Saturday, but OSU’s flaw was exposed. They’re not a good team on the offensive end of the floor. Their defense will never let them get blown out, but when you need to rely on the streaky LaQuinton Ross as much as Ohio State does, it makes them primed for an upset.

5. Louisville (11-1, LW: No. 5): Much like they did after losing three in a row last January, the Cardinals are flying under the radar again this season. Russ Smith is a much-improved distributor. They’ll get a chance to prove it on Saturday at Kentucky.

6. Michigan State (10-1, LW: No. 6): The Spartans went into Texas and whipped up on the Longhorns in a game where Keith Appling struggled, Gary Harris was hobbled by his ankle injury and Matt Costello didn’t play. Adreian Payne was dominant.

7. Duke (9-2, LW: No. 7): The Blue Devils picked up an impressive win over UCLA on Thursday night in the Garden, one highlighted by the return to relevance of sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon.

8. Florida (9-2, LW: No. 8): The Gators picked up an impressive win on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden over Memphis. At full strength, this is one of the nation’s best teams.

9. Oklahoma State (11-1, Lw: No. 9): Markel Brown busted out of his mini-slump as the Pokes knocked off Colorado out in Vegas. Brown went for 23 points and 11 boards.

10. Villanova (11-0, LW: No. 10): The Wildcats will square off with Syracuse on Saturday at the Carrier Dome is what could end up being the best game in the month of December. I’m ready.

11. Wichita State (12-0, LW: No. 12)
12. Oregon (11-0, LW: No. 13)
13. Kansas (8-3, LW: No. 15)
14. Baylor (10-1, LW: No. 14)
15. UConn (10-1, LW: No. 11)
16. Kentucky (9-3, LW: No. 17)
17. Memphis (8-2, LW: No. 18)
18. Iowa State (9-0, LW: No. 19)
19. Iowa (11-2, LW: No. 20)
20. North Carolina (8-3, LW: No. 16)
21. San Diego State (9-1, LW: No. 23)
22. Illinois (10-2, LW: NR)
23. Missouri (10-1, LW: NR)
24. Colorado (10-2, LW: No. 24)
25. UMass (10-1, LW: No. 22)

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.