Rebounding to blame for No. 14 North Carolina’s loss at No. 4 Duke

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In the first meeting this season between No. 4 Duke and No. 14 North Carolina, the Tar Heels were able to win for two important reasons. One was their use of multiple defenses to confuse the Blue Devils in the second half, turning Duke into a tentative offensive team that settled for far too many challenged perimeter looks. The second reason was the fact that North Carolina controlled the boards, out-rebounding Duke by 13 and limiting the Blue Devils to an offensive rebounding percentage of 28.2%.

On Saturday night North Carolina (23-8, 13-5) was unable to duplicate either feat, falling by the final score of 93-81 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Jabari Parker scored a career-high 30 points to go along with nine rebounds, and Rodney Hood added 24 points for Duke (24-7, 13-5), who will be the three-seed in next week’s ACC tournament. The two offensive leaders combined to shoot 18-for-30 on Saturday night, a higher percentage than their 14-for-29 performance in the first meeting.

As a team Duke was better offensively, shooting 50.9% from the field and scoring 1.35 points per possession. The Tar Heels were capable of withstanding those offensive numbers as they shot 59.6% from the field, but that’s where the poor rebounding comes into play.

Duke managed to rebound 53.3% of its missed shots, and those extra opportunities led to 20 second-chance points. Entering Saturday’s game North Carolina ranked fourth in the ACC in defensive rebounding percentage, as they managed to grab 70% of opponents’ misses in conference games. And in their 12-game win streak the Tar Heels’ worst defensive rebounding effort came in their win over Pittsburgh, as Roy Williams’ team managed to grab just 58.5% of the Panthers’ misses. Obviously North Carolina didn’t perform to that level on Saturday night.

MORE: Just what do we make of Duke’s win? Are they ‘back’?

James Michael McAdoo dealt with foul trouble for much of the first half and Kennedy Meeks was under the weather, but North Carolina can’t win games of this magnitude when McAdoo fails to grab a single rebound. North Carolina big men combined to grab ten rebounds, and nine of those belonged to Brice Johnson. Simply put, that won’t cut it if the Tar Heels are to make any kind of noise in the NCAA tournament.

Clearly Marcus Paige is going to lead the way offensively, and his performance will have the greatest impact on the Tar Heels’ fortunes. But the front court will be important as well, and when those players aren’t productive it’s incredibly difficult for North Carolina to win games of this magnitude.

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.