<span class="vcard">Rob Dauster</span>

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Ben Simmons’ huge night propels LSU to key win at Vanderbilt

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Ben Simmons scored 36 points and added 14 boards and four assists as LSU picked up a critical win to kick off SEC play, knocking off Vanderbilt in Nashville, 90-82.

He was 10-for-15 from the floor and shot 19 free throws, numbers that mean just as much to the Tigers’ season as the win does. If there has been a knock on Simmons this year, it’s that he has a tendency to defer. He’s unselfish, which is unequivocally a good thing in a basketball player, particularly one that is as gifted of a passer as Simmons is.

The problem in this instance is that Simmons has been deferring to guys who are clearly not as talented as he is. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night, as he was assertive and aggressive offensively, attacking the rim and the backboards as opposed to allowing his first option to be trying to get his teammates involved. The minimum for him should be 15 FGAs with 10 trips to the charity stripe, because LSU is a better team when their best player is shooting the ball more.

Only twice this season has Simmons attempted more than 15 shots in a game. In the loss to N.C. State, he shot six FGs and five free throws. In the overtime loss against Houston, he took seven shots and five free throws. He took just eight shots in Tuesday’s loss to Wake Forest in Baton Rouge.

And here’s the other important thing to remember: this season is far from over for the Tigers. Yes, they’re 8-5 this season with a couple hideous losses and this win at Vandy — who could very well end up NIT-bound themselves — being the only thing resembling a good win on their résumé. But they are also 4-1 since Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor, both of whom start, have been back in the lineup.

That’s something the NCAA tournament selection committee undoubtedly pays attention to.

So while some had already left LSU for dead, the Tigers have some life left. And as long as Ben Simmons plays up to his ability — which is unparalleled in the college game — the NCAA tournament is anything but a pipe dream.

Iowa erases 19-point deficit, wins at No. 14 Purdue

Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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It was easy to be skeptical of Iowa after their win over No. 1 and then-undefeated Michigan State on Wednesday.

The game was played at Iowa and, more importantly, it came against a Spartan team that was playing without potential All-American Denzel Valentine. The win is always going to look great on their résumé, but whether or not one of the five best players in college basketball is on the floor greatly changes just how impressive a win truly it.

Well, there are no asterisks coming on Saturday, as Iowa erased a 19-point deficit to knock off No. 14 Purdue, 70-63.

At Purdue.

That’s quite the statement to make.

Jarrod Uthoff led the way for the Hawkeyes with 25 points, five boards and five blocks, but he had 16 of those points in the first half; 16 of Iowa’s 20 first half points, to be specific. In the second half, the Hawkeyes started throwing a trap at the Boilermakers, who stopped being able to get the ball inside to their big men and started turning the ball over, sparking a 28-8 run over the first 13 minutes of the second half.

No one in the country had a better week than Iowa this week, and there’s an argument to be made that no one has had a better week than this all season long.

Not only did the Hawkeyes establish some legitimacy to their 11-3 record — and, in the process, help to erase the memory of that 20 point lead they blew at Iowa State earlier this season — but they landed wins over arguably the two best teams in the conference. That’s big for NCAA tournament reasons, that’s big for Big Ten seeding purposes and it means they’ll likely be relevant in the Big Ten regular season title race, at least well into February.

And it’s enormous for confidence purposes.

Remember, in Iowa’s next six games, they play at Michigan State, get Purdue at home and travel to Maryland. They’re guaranteed to go at least 2-3 in those games now.

So good for Iowa.

VIDEO: Legend Rick Mount honored by Purdue during Iowa game

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It may depend on whether they hail from Terre Haute, Bloomington or West Lafayette, but there are people that will tell you the best shooter that Indiana ever produced wasn’t Larry Bird or Steve Alford.

It was Rick Mount, who scored 2,323 points in a three-year career at Purdue before there was a three-point line.

But Rocket has had a strained relationship with the university for years, which is why they bribed him with a bobblehead night. Come back to Mackey Arena, see the fans who still love you, let’s mend these fences.

And whether or not this changes the relationship, who knows.

But Mount did come back.

Here’s the video: