No. 9 Michigan State suffers worst loss of the year to Nebraska at home


Terran Petteway scored 23 points and hit a pair of ridiculous threes to stave off No. 9 Michigan State’s comeback attempts as Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers picked themselves up a statement win by going into the Breslin Center to knock off the Spartans, 60-51.

Nebraska isn’t quite on the bubble yet, and while this win certainly will put them within striking distance, the bottom line is that this was a program win. Nebraska has a tough home court. They can play with anyone in Pinnacle Bank Arena, especially when it’s packed, but going into the toughest environment in the Big Ten?

Beating Tom Izzo in his own building?

That’s not something that anyone can do.

The future is bright in Lincoln, but that’s not the biggest story coming out of this game.

Michigan State has now lost four of their last seven games. Granted, they are not playing at close to full strength just yet. Two of those losses came without Adreian Payne in the lineup. One of them came with Keith Appling on the bench. He returned to action today, but came off the bench, played limited minutes and was largely ineffective and clearly not at 100%. Branden Dawson is still a week away from returning from his broken hand.

In fact, I think you have to go all the way back to their loss to North Carolina, when Gary Harris was battling an ankle issue and Appling first injured his wrist, for when the Spartans were last completely healthy.

That’s more than two months ago, which begs the question: How do we judge this team when it comes to the tournament? They beat Kentucky in the Champions Classic and they beat Oklahoma in Brooklyn, but beyond that, everything that they’ve done this season has come without one of their Big Four players in the lineup.

The eye test — and common-sense — will tell you that a team with that much talent and a head coach the likes of Tom Izzo will be an immediate tournament favorite, but can we really seed a team in the Big Dance based off of that? The Spartans need to prove it with results on the court, they’ll have a chance to in their last four games.

Here is the remainder of Michigan State’s schedule: at Purdue, at Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, at Ohio State. Appling should be back to 100% by next weekend, when Sparty makes the trip to Ann Arbor, and Dawson shouldn’t be out of the lineup much longer than that. They’ll play some tough games with their entire roster, which means that they’ll have a chance to show the selection committee what seed they deserve.

Because on Sunday, it was quite evident just how badly the Spartans miss Appling’s presence at the point.

Credit where credit is due: Nebraska played a heckuva game. But Michigan State made it easy on them. Outside of a 12 minute stretch in the middle of the second half, the Spartans put on a clinic on how to play dumb basketball. They forced quick threes, they committed costly turnovers, they took shots that were too difficult with time left on the shot clock. It seemed like every big possession for the Spartans, every chance they had to take firm control of the momentum, ended up poorly.

Nebraska didn’t make many mistakes. They didn’t turn the ball over and they didn’t let the Spartans get much, if anything, in transition. It all came in the half court, and Michigan State’s execution was, frankly, not good for most of the game.

When that happens, all it takes is a couple of ridiculously difficult threes to end up on the wrong side of an upset.

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.