The Secondary Break: Wednesday’s Links

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UConn’s Calhoun working through his slump (Connecticut Post)
After a solid freshman campaign the 2013-14 season has been a disappointing one for UConn guard Omar Calhoun, who’s averaging just 5.1 points per game. Health issues during the offseason robbed Calhoun of valuable playing time to hone his skills, and during the season he’s seen his minutes decrease. But Calhoun continues to work in hopes of being a more influential figure down the stretch for the Huskies.

Butler’s Alex Barlow grows into point guard role (Indianapolis Star)
The first season in the Big East has been a difficult one for the Butler Bulldogs, with a young team taking its lumps in conference play. Also of note for the Bulldogs has been junior point guard Alex Barlow, who began his career as a walk-on and ha grown into a valuable player for the program.

Is Niang the most important Cyclone? (Ames Tribune)
Guard DeAndre Kane and forward Melvin Ejim tend to receive much of the attention nationally when the Iowa State Cyclones are discussed, with both being seniors expected to lead the way. But just as important to Fred Hoiberg’s team is sophomore forward Georges Niang, and an argument can be made that he’s the most important player as Iowa State enters the stretch run.

Ivy League splits and looking for value (Big Apple Buckets)
With ten games being played by each team in Ivy League play, it’s a good time to take a look at some of the most productive players in the Ancient Eight. One thing that can be taken out of these numbers is just how deep first-place Harvard is, with guard Siyani Chambers being the only player ranked in the top five in Pythagorean difference.

Shocker Legacy (The Mid-Majority)
On Tuesday night No. 2 Wichita State moved to 30-0 on the season with a win at Bradley, becoming the first team since the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels to do so. But even with this achievement some have rushed to point out negatives, with much of that conversation focusing on the conference they play in (Missouri Valley) and their strength of schedule as compared to other programs.

Former redshirt Sean Kilpatrick finishing out historic career (CBS Sports)
Cincinnati senior guard Sean Kilpatrick is actually a five-year player, with Mick Cronin making the decision to redshirt the New Yorker as a freshman. And the decision’s paid off for Kilpatrick, who’s steadily improved throughout his career at Cincinnati. And now he’s an All-America candidate on a team that’s tied for first place in the American Athletic Conference.

Patient Tyler Lewis makes the most of his turn for N.C. State (Raleigh News & Observer)
After being a valuable reserve for a team that reached the NCAA tournament a season ago, N.C. State sophomore Tyler Lewis has once again filled that role with freshman Anthony Barber taking over the starting point guard duties. But while some players would become frustrated under such circumstances that hasn’t been the case for Lewis, who has remained patient and continued to work. And as a result he now finds himself in the starting lineup.

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.