Syracuse Tyler Ennis

Conference Catchups: The ACC’s power lies in … Upstate New York?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Jabari Parker, Duke

At this point in the year, Parker is our National Player of the Year. So it only makes sense to name him the ACC Player of the Year, right? Parker is averaging impressive numbers — 22.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg — and doing so for a top ten team, but he also is simply the best, most versatile player in the country. Right now, that goes a long way.

All-ACC First Team:

  • Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina
  • Rodney Hood, Duke
  • Jabari Parker, Duke
  • T.J. Warren, N.C. State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Roy Williams, North Carolina

I don’t care who they’ve lost to, so you can take that argument and head right out the door with it. North Carolina, and Williams in particular, has been through one of the most tumultuous periods of time for a program, and a coach, in recent memory. Read through this story by Jason King and tell me it doesn’t sound like the stress that’s been weighing on Williams has knocked five years off of his life. P.J. Hairston’s career at UNC is over, but Williams has somehow managed to guide this group — who, on paper, look like an NIT team — to wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.

Favorite: Syracuse Orange

source: Getty ImagesIf it wasn’t for Jabari Parker’s sensational season, I think that Tyler Ennis would be the ACC Player of the Year through the season’s first two months. He’s just such a perfect fit at the point for what Syracuse needs. He controls the game, he doesn’t turn the ball over, he can score when he needs to but he’s content to just set the table for his teammates. Those teammates — C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant — happen to be pretty good.

And three more contenders:

  • Duke is a national title contender if these defensive improvements of the last month hold through league play.
  • I don’t get it, and I’m not sure that I can tell you exactly why, but North Carolina can win this conference. They also could probably finish in eighth. I don’t think I’d bat an eye either way, which kind of makes them more fun to follow.
  • I know Pitt lost to Cincinnati. I know that might be the best team that they’ve played this season. I don’t care. The Panthers are good.

Most Surprising Team: Florida State Seminoles

Leonard Hamilton’s club has put together a pretty impressive non-conference resume, knocking off Atlantic 10 powers VCU and UMass without suffering a resume-killing loss. I don’t know how many people had Florida State being a potential tournament team back in October, but that’s precisely what they are.

Most Disappointing Team: Boston College Eagles

I’m going with B.C. over Maryland because at least with the Terps, I can tell myself that they’ll get better when Seth Allen gets back. Steve Donahue has himself one of the best 1-2 punches in the country with Olivier Hanlon and Ryan Anderson, but a lack of toughness and an inability to play any kind of defense has put B.C. in a position where making the NIT this year will end up being an accomplishment.

Most Important Player (in league play): Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke

The Blue Devils don’t need Sulaimon in order to be a good basketball team. The trio of Andre Dawkins, Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton can do some things. But Sulaimon is the most talented off-guard on their roster, a guy that can hit threes, drive through a defense and defend on the perimeter. Duke is a national title contender if Sulaimon works his way all the way out of the doghouse.

Who will slide?: N.C. State Wolfpack

I love what T.J. Warren is doing this season, and believe me, seeing the Wolfpack head into the holiday break with a 9-2 record is not something I’m taking lightly. Tennessee isn’t all that good this season, but going into Knoxville and pounding them is not an easy thing to do. But I’m still not convinced that this group is going to be able to make this last all season. They get Missouri at home on Saturday. Beat the Tigers and we’ll talk.

Who is the sleeper?: Virginia Cavaliers

They were a top 25 preseason team that a lot of people have forgotten about thanks to losses against Wisconsin, VCU and at Green Bay. But there’s a reason this group was a preseason top 25 team. They defend, they can control tempo and they have quite a bit of talent on their roster. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are too good not to be able to figure out their issues.

New Power Rankings:

1. Syracuse
2. Duke
3. North Carolina
4. Pitt
5. Florida State
6. Virginia
7. N.C. State
8. Notre Dame
9. Maryland
10. Georgia Tech
11. Clemson
12. Wake Forest
13. Miami
14. Boston College
15. Virginia Tech

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.