No. 2 Wisconsin didn’t get the ending it wanted Saturday, but that can change in 2015

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Last Saturday night Wisconsin junior center Frank Kaminsky proved to be the one matchup No. 1 Arizona had no answer for, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the Badgers’ one-point win in the West regional final. And with No. 7 Kentucky forced to play without the injured Willie Cauley-Stein in Saturday’s national semifinal, many wondered if this would be the case for the Midwest Region champions as well.

However that would not be the case, with John Calipari utilizing multiple defenders to limit Kaminsky to eight points on 4-for-7 shooting in Kentucky’s 74-73 victory.

Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle and even Alex Poythress saw time defending the versatile big man, and they were able to limit the comfortable areas in which Kaminsky got his offensive touches. This was a much better defensive effort than the one Kaminsky saw last weekend, with Arizona able to go with just two different options in Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon.

“I thought Dakari could play him some,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said of his freshman center. “Dakari could put that big body on him a little bit. Then we wanted to play all kinds of different people on him. We wanted Alex to guard him some, we wanted Julius to guard him some.”

RELATED: Aaron Harrison’s shot sends Kentucky to title game

In addition to the use of multiple options in defending Kaminsky, Kentucky also switched the pick-and-pop situations in which the center’s been so lethal this season. As was the case in Wisconsin’s win over Baylor, Kaminsky didn’t attempt a three-pointer against Kentucky. However that Sweet 16 victory was also a game in which he made eight of his 11 shots from the field. He would have no such luck against the Wildcats.

Scoring in the paint was an issue for Wisconsin as a whole Saturday night, as they were outscored by Kentucky 46-24. That can’t be placed on Kaminsky alone, and to make that leap would be unfair as Nigel Hayes (two points, two rebounds) also struggled against Kentucky’s front court length. As a result of that length and athleticism the Badgers were unable to consistently find opportunities in the paint on offense, and they struggled to keep the Wildcats out of the lane on the other end.

“We just did not make enough plays on the inside,” Kaminsky said after the game. “Kentucky was able to get things that we were not giving up this entire tournament. It just sucks that it happened at this time on the biggest stage.

“We would have liked to have set the tone physically more but we didn’t, and they came out on top.”

MORE: Alex Poythress’ contributions should not be ignored

The two plays that will receive the majority of the attention when discussing Saturday’s game are Aaron Harrison’s made three-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining and Traevon Jackson’s miss just before time expired. But in a game decided by a single point, there are a number of spots within the contest that impact the outcome. And for a team that is expected to lose just one starter in guard Ben Brust, the tough end to what was an impressive season will serve as a catalyst for the 2014-15 edition of the Wisconsin Badgers.

Kaminsky, who improved by leaps and bounds from his sophomore season to 2013-14, stated following the game that he’ll be back for his senior season and Sam Dekker did the same with regards to his junior campaign. They’ll get better this offseason, as will Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig and the other rotation players who have eligibility remaining.

With this being the case, the expectation for Wisconsin is a simple one: to reach this point in hopes of scripting a more satisfying conclusion.

“This is a sour taste,” Kaminsky said. “We are going to be back next year. We are going to be better than ever. We will all be ready. It’s going to be a long road to get back here, but I know we will make it.”

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.