Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 10.04.44 PM

NCAA Tournament Primer: Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

1 Comment

Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Northeast Conference

Coach: Jamion Christian

Record: 16-16 (9-7 Northeast Conference)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 207
– RPI: 216
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: In Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket, Robert Morris was projected as a No. 16 seed. RMC was the No. 1 seed in the NEC tournament. MSM finished fourth in the conference. They will be a No. 16 seed, and could end up in the play-in game.

Names you need to know: Rashad Whack (17.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg), Julian Norfleet (17.5 ppg, 5.5 apg), Sam Prescott (10.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

Stats you need to know: Mount St. Mary’s is 33rd nationally in tempo, according to KenPom. Their best attribute defensively is their ability to force turnovers, and while they are quite literally as good as anyone in the country at taking away the three-pointer (only one team gives up a lower percentage of their points from beyond the arc), a lot of that is because they simply cannot defend around the rim. No team in the country allows more points from two-point range, and they rank 337th nationally in opponent’s two-point field goal percentage.

Tendencies: Christian is a product of the Shaka Smart coaching tree, and as a result, the Mountaineers play a similar style. They want to press. They want to force turnovers. They gamble a lot, which is why they give up so many layups. They want an uptempo, hectic game. They shoot a lot of threes. It’s Havoc, only not as good and without the nickname.

Big wins, bad losses: According to KenPom, the Mount’s two best wins on the season came back in November, when they knocked off American and Bucknell, who are both top 150 teams. Bad losses? Well, they’ve lost to three of the nation’s 25 worst teams. Do those count?

How’d they get here?: The Mountaineers won the Northeast Conference tournament in impressive fashion, knocking off No. 2 seed Wagner in the semis before going into Pittsburgh to beat No. 1 seed league champ Robert Morris.

Outlook: Mount St. Mary’s is going to have a tough time winning a game in the NCAA tournament unless that happen to end up in the play-in game. They finished the regular season below .500. They finished tied for fourth place in the NEC. They got hot and the right time, winning the NEC tournament in part because of a ridiculous shooting display early on in the title game, and that’s why they are dancing.

How do I know you?: Jim Phelan, who coached for 49 years at the Mount, is one of 14 NCAA coaches with more than 800 career wins. He’s the winningest coach that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame.

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.