Eight teams that won’t win the National Title

source: AP

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1. Wichita State Shockers: After running the table, Wichita State was rewarded for its 34-0 record with the top spot in the bracket’s most difficult region. How difficult? The Shockers could end up playing Kentucky, which appears to be putting it all together, in the Round of 32. I think the Shockers have the experience and toughness to get to the Sweet 16, but then there is a potential matchup with defending national champion Louisville, which is playing its best basketball. I’d love the Shockers to get back to the Final Four because this team is talented — better than last year’s, in fact — and it would quiet some season-long doubters, but I would not like to face the Cardinals right now.

2. Duke Blue Devils: Another member of the Midwest Region, the Blue Devils enter the tournament coming off a ACC Tournament championship loss to Virginia. Duke should get to the Sweet 16, where it could play a familiar opponent. The Blue Devils defeated Michigan back on Dec. 3. But this Wolverines team is much improved. Derrick Walton has grown up. Caris LeVert has been great, which is big because it takes pressure off Nik Stauskas, who was limited to four points in that meeting in Durham. Let’s say Duke does get by Michigan. The trendy pick to reach the Elite 8 at the top of the bracket is Louisville, which has Montrezl Harrell inside, who will be tough for Duke to stop.

3. Virginia Cavaliers: The ACC regular season and tournament champion came on late this season, winning 16 of its last 17 games. But, the Cavaliers weren’t stellar in the non-conference. Virginia’s best win before ACC play was against NCAA tournament snub SMU, while losing back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Green Bay, another NCAA tournament caliber team, and to VCU — a No. 5 seed in the South. It’s clear the selection committee placed a lot of weight on the ACC Tournament and Virginia’s success in conference play. Many think the last No. 1 seed didn’t belong to Virginia, but that could be answered in the Sweet 16 with a potential clash against surging Michigan State.

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4. Villanova Wildcats: In the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, a buzzer-beater from Sterling Gibbs’ sent Villanova back to Philadelphia. The Wildcats got a generous seeding from the committee, especially when you consider that Creighton dominated them, twice. My personal thinking is that Saint Joseph’s gets by UConn. The Hawks were throttled by Villanova earlier this season, but Phil Martelli’s club is rolling after its Atlantic 10 Tournament run. St. Joe’s has good guard play, led by Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic is grabbing 13.8 rebounds per game in his last five contests.

MOREEight teams that can win the national title

5. Wisconsin Badgers: Bo Ryan has yet to reach a Final Four. This is likely his best chance to do so, with the Badgers ability to score. However, Oregon is playing well as of late. If the Ducks get by BYU, they can pose as a problem for the Badgers. Wisconsin has been up-and-down, going from No. 3 in the nation to a dreadful January to eight straight Big Ten wins. A deeper tournament run than in years past is dependent on the Badgers making shots.

6. Kansas Jayhawks: It’s not typically wise to bet against Bill Self in March, but Kansas is without freshman center Joel Embiid. If New Mexico advances past Stanford Round of 64, the Jayhawks will have to deal with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk in the frontcourt. I’d love to see Kansas get a rematch against Florida in the South Regional final, but without Embiid that may not happen.

7. Cincinnati Bearcats: The committee did not do the American Athletic Conference any favors. The conference’s co-regular season champion drew Harvard in the Round of 64. Last season, three No. 12 seeds knocked off No. 5 seeds. This one is a common upset pick in many brackets as the Crimson are coming off last year’s shocking win over No. 3 New Mexico. Harvard has the tournament experience, which was only added to with the return of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. The Crimson could pull off another tourney win if they catch the Bearcats in a drought. If Cincy does advance, it’ll likely face one of the hottest teams in the nation in Michigan State

8. Syracuse Orange: They didn’t lose until Feb. 19, but the Orange were playing with fire for weeks leading up. The previously 25-0 Orange went 2-5 in their last seven games. The length of the zone, freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and the seasoned C.J. Fair can all help turn it around in March. But if Syracuse plays like it had in the past six weeks, it could be an early exit for Cuse.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
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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
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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.