Bryant v Ohio State

The give and take of LaQuinton Ross


No. 3 Ohio State is a good basketball team.

You don’t make it to January undefeated — you don’t climb all the way up to No. 3 in the country — if you’re a good basketball team.

So we’re not arguing that here, even if no. 20 Iowa’s 84-74 win in Columbus was the second loss in a row for the Buckeyes.

What the Buckeyes are is a limited basketball team, one that has a ceiling thanks to the issues that they have on the offensive end of the floor.

Ohio State is built around their ability to defend, and, quite simply, there is no team in the country better than the Buckeyes when it comes to defense. They have a roster full of really good-to-great on-ball defenders and Thad Matta is as good as anyone in the business at teaching his guys help-side rotations. Put it all together, and there’s a reason that OSU entered Sunday as the nation’s No. 1 defense, according to Kenpom.

But the offensive end is a problem, one that is going to rear it’s ugly head over and over again this season.

We saw it on Tuesday night in the overtime loss to No. 5 Michigan State. The Spartans held the Buckeyes to just 38 points over the first 33 minutes. OSU was only able to force overtime because Michigan State turned the ball over nine times in the last seven minutes, the spark for a 20-3 run. In the overtime, with LaQuinton Ross strapped to the bench thanks to a 1-for-7 shooting performance, the Buckeyes looked lost offensively.

On Sunday, you saw the best and the worst of Ross. He was terrific on the offensive end of the floor, finishing with 22 points, seven boards and three assists. But he also committed three back-breaking turnovers in the final four minutes, allowing Iowa to regain the lead.

Here’s the catch: Matta really has no choice but to play Ross. If he’s not the most important player on the Ohio State roster, he’s not all that far behind Aaron Craft. They need his scoring simply because they have no one else on their roster that is as much of a threat on that end of the floor. Think about it like this: when Ross is on the bench, Ohio State’s best five is probably Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams.

Who, out of that group, scares you offensively if you’re an opposing coach?

Ross is inconsistent and a liability, but he’s a risk that Matta has to play every night simply because he can put the ball in the basket.

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.