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Elite 8 Preview: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 Wisconsin

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On Saturday and Sunday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Elite 8 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 Wisconsin:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Saturday, 8:49 p.m. (TBS)

WHERE: Honda Center, Anaheim (West Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Bo Ryan has long been considered one of the best coaches in college basketball. Sean Miller is relatively new to the big time, but he’s shot his way into the conversation as one of the nation’s elite. The other thing they have in common? Neither coach has ever made a Final Four at the Division I level. (Ryan has won four Division III national titles.) That will change on Saturday night.

KEY STATS: Arizona’s defense leads the country in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom. Wisconsin is fourth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. Strength on strength. Something’s got to give.

KEY PLAYERS: It wasn’t a secret before the Sweet 16, but it became painfully obvious on Thursday night: Arizona’s front court depth is non-existent. Kaleb Tarczewski is the only post player that Sean Miller feels comfortable using at this point in the season, and he spent much of Thursday night strapped to the bench with foul trouble. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has a pair of talented front court scorers. Frank Kaminsky is as versatile of a five as you will find in the country, and Nigel Hayes is a year away from being an all-Big Ten player. Can they get Zeus into foul trouble?

POINT SPREAD: Arizona (-3)


1. Arizona’s transition game: If San Diego State proved anything on Thursday night it’s that Arizona can be beaten if you force them to up against a set defense in the half court. The Aztecs did that by avoiding turnovers and crashing the offensive glass, forcing Sean Miller to rebound with all five players on the court. Wisconsin doesn’t go after offensive rebounds like that, but they’ll drop three or four guys back on defense to protect against the fast break.

2. Wisconsin’s threes: Wisconsin shoots 37.6% from beyond the arc. They get almost two-thirds of their scoring on three-pointers. Arizona is as good as anyone in the country at chasing shooters off of the three-point line, but since they do it out of the pack-line defense, it can be difficult for opponents to take advantage of that by pounding the ball inside. The Badgers need to shoot well.

3. Will Wisconsin have to go big?: The most exploitable mismatch that Arizona will have will be whoever ends up guarding Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He’s a explosive, 6-foot-7 small forward that will be guarded by one of Ryan’s little guards.


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.