Perimeter shooting, quiet days from role players cost No. 3 Arizona

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No. 3 Arizona (28-3, 15-3) entered the weekend one of three teams thought to essentially be a lock to receive a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, with No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Wichita State being the others. A win over Oregon certainly would have been nice, but on Saturday afternoon the Wildcats fell short against a team looking to solidify its status as an NCAA tournament team. Oregon won 64-57, with their superior three-point shooting being the biggest reason why.

Oregon made ten of its nineteen attempts from deep, with Arizona shooting just 2-for-11 from beyond the arc. For the season Arizona hasn’t been the best perimeter shooting team, making just 35.7% of its three-pointers and 34.2% of its two-point jumpers per hoop-math.com.

The perimeter shooting, and the lack of a consistent perimeter shot-maker has been an issue all season long, but to their credit the Wildcats have managed to account for this deficiency in other areas. From an offensive standpoint Arizona’s ability to attack the offensive glass, even in the games following the season-ending broken foot suffered by forward Brandon Ashley, has factored into a number of their wins this season. That, along with their valuing of the basketball, are two reasons why the Wildcats have been one of the Pac-12’s most efficient offenses in league play (ranking third in offensive efficiency).

But what happens when Arizona can’t take advantage of those strengths? That was the case against Oregon, with the Ducks committing to protecting the defensive glass and limiting Arizona to an offensive rebounding percentage of 26.5% and also forcing 14 Arizona turnovers. Also of note on Saturday was the advantage Oregon enjoyed off the bench, with their reserves scoring 26 points (Jason Calliste: 18 points) to Arizona’s four.

For all the discussion about the perimeter shooting and what could happen against a team that can keep them off the offensive glass, the play of two key role players was also an issue on Saturday. Rondae Hollis Jefferson has performed very well in the majority of his outings, but he accounted for two points, five rebounds and three turnovers against Oregon. Both he and Gabe York, who failed to score, struggled against Oregon and that’s something the Wildcats can’t afford as the games get bigger.

Not having that extra option off the bench is something that Arizona’s adjusted to in the majority of their games following Ashley’s injury, with Hollis-Jefferson and York both contributing to the success. But if Arizona is to win the program’s second national title, those two underclassmen have to be consistent factors. If they are consistent, the Wildcats are more than capable of compensating for their lack of a perimeter marksman.

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.