Chase Fieler

Florida Gulf Coast controls defensive glass in win, now tied for ASun lead

Leave a comment

When Florida Gulf Coast made their run through the Atlantic Sun tournament, and then the first three rounds of the NCAAs, last season, ASun observers were heartily surprised. Sure, then coach Andy Enfield’s squad was an offensive treat, but Mercer, that was the team to beat in the conference! While FGCU lost to the Bears in their first ’13 match-up, the Eagles ultimately defeated the Bears in their second contest, and then in the ASun tourney.

This trip down memory lane is necessary to the 2014 ASun race because it appears that history might repeat itself. Mercer held sole possession of first place before tonight’s tilt against second-place FGCU, but both teams are now tied for first (12-3) after the Eagles defeated Mercer, 75-61. Now coached by former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley, FGCU was able to defeat the conference’s most efficient offense by absolutely dominating Mercer on the defensive glass. Led by ex-Marquette wing Jamail Jones (who had ten defensive boards), FGCU grabbed 70 percent of their opponent’s misses and held Mercer, a team that has converted more than 50 percent of their twos in league play, to just 39 percent within the arc. Dooley’s squad put on a defensive clinic, which perhaps isn’t a surprise considering he has transformed FGCU on that end.

Opposing teams have struggled mightily with their halfcourt offense when facing the current FGCU iteration. They don’t force many turnovers, and they aren’t great at limiting additional possessions, but the Eagles and their airtight man-to-man hold offenses to 43 percent from two. Since FGCU doesn’t foul either — their defensive FT rate ranks second within the ASun — teams have to hope they are connecting from deep to keep their offensive efficiency rate above one point possession.

The Eagles final three games are against the conference’s bottom tier, and one now has to wonder if FGCU will again make a run through their remaining games and then the ASun tourney. If they do, the Eagles will a new nickname, one that accurately captures their stingy defense.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.