Minnesota v UCLA

Father of former UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad sentenced to 37 months in prison on fraud charges

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When freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad made the decision to leave UCLA and enter the 2013 NBA Draft, the general feeling was that the Bruins would be able to move on from what was at times a tumultuous season for the player and program. An NCAA investigation left Muhammad in limbo at the start of the season, resulting in his missing the first three games of the season.

Once on the court, the Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year was talented enough to help lead the Bruins to the Pac-12 regular season title. With Muhammad, a first round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves, off the to the professional ranks and a new head coach (Steve Alford) in charge UCLA would move forward.

Unfortunately, a day before the Bruins were to take on No. 1 Florida in the Sweet 16 it was reported that Ron Holmes, Muhammad’s father, took out a loan based upon his son’s future earnings. Holmes, convicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud mail fraud and wire fraud, was sentenced to 37 months in prison Thursday but it’s what multiple media outlets found in legal documents Wednesday that could be of concern to UCLA.

The NCAA’s 432-page rule book doesn’t permit loans based on athletic skill or a future as a professional athlete. The rules also don’t allow athletes or their families to accept benefits from agents that aren’t also available to the general student body. An agreement with an agent before an athlete’s eligibility is exhausted is a violation too. In 2012, the NCAA expanded the definition of an agent to include financial advisors and marketing representatives.

Also of note in the story written by Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times is the fact that UCLA’s compliance office reported the loan to the NCAA when it learned of the loan, and according to the report the NCAA did not investigate the matter.

If the NCAA were to decide to look into the arrangement it would likely need testimony/cooperation from Muhammad, with the former player likely having to answer questions as to whether or not he knew of the loan when his father applied for it. With his career at the school having come to an end, there really wouldn’t be much of a reason for Muhammad to cooperate with an investigation into the loan.

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.