ohio state

No. 24 Ohio State earns huge road win over No. 14 Wisconsin

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Going into Saturday’s Big Ten clash in Madison, it was hard to tell who needed the win more: No. 24 Ohio State or No. 14 Wisconsin.

Both teams entered Big Ten play with undefeated records but have since struggled in league play as the Buckeyes had dropped five out of six games entering Madison while Wisconsin had lost four of five games, including two straight at the Kohl Center.

In an offensive struggle that was slowed down by some questionable calls in the final few minutes, Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes (17-5, 4-5) came through with the big 59-58 win over the Badgers (17-5, 4-5) on Saturday at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has now lost five of six games, including three straight losses at the Kohl Center — the first time that’s ever happened under Bo Ryan.

Although Craft struggled to find his offensive game for the first 36 minutes — going 0-for-2 from the field — his three-pointer with four minutes left cut Ohio State’s deficit to 54-53 as Craft scored seven consecutive points for the Buckeyes down the stretch to put them back into the game.

Ohio State once again had a tough time manufacturing points, but Amedeo Della Valle added 11 points and two three-pointers off-the-bench to help the Buckeyes get going offensively in the first half and LaQuinton Ross led the Buckeyes with 13 points in the game thanks to steady free throw shooting.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, struggled shooting the ball — both guarded and unguarded — and it led to their demise on Saturday. The Badgers were 3-for-17 from the three-point line against Ohio State’s tight perimeter defense and after starting 10-for-10 from the free throw line, the Badgers went 9-for-19 from the free throw line down the stretch.

Wisconsin had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but Traevon Jackson split a pair of free throws with under a minute left and, trailing by one on the final possession, Sam Dekker missed a very contested three-pointer at the buzzer.

Wisconsin freshman forward Nigel Hayes looked like the Badgers’ go-to guy for much of the second half, scoring a team-high 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting, but Hayes didn’t have much help from the rest of his teammates and Hayes struggled to a 5-for-11 finish from the free throw line.

But it was no fault of Hayes that Wisconsin didn’t have enough offense. After a hot start, senior guard Ben Brust (13 points) had a hard time finding his jumper and Dekker and Frank Kaminsky both looked timid on the offensive end. Jackson also struggled to 2-for-9 shooting from the field as well.

Neither team necessarily deserved to win or lose this game, but Ohio State showed grit and determination by fighting back while being down for most of the game on the road. Both of these teams are clearly struggling — especially on the offensive end — but I’m sure Thad Matta and the Buckeyes are thrilled to earn this Big Ten road win as they hope it ends their recent slide.

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.