SEC Tournament: Tennessee rides stout defensive effort into semifinals

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Since losing to Texas A&M in overtime on February 27, Tennessee hasn’t trailed at all in five consecutive games. The fifth game was played in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, with the Volunteers handling South Carolina 59-44 to set up a semifinal matchup with No. 1 Florida. Jarnell Stokes scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the way, with guard Jordan McRae adding 14 points.

While the opposition during this five-game run should be noted, with Missouri being the best team the Volunteers played during this stretch, Tennessee’s improved effort and execution on the defensive end should not be ignored. Tennessee allowed its opponent to shoot better than 40% from the field in just one of those five games (Mississippi State shot 42.9%), with South Carolina making just 27.1% of its attempts Friday afternoon.

Tennessee has the length and athleticism to keep teams out of lane, and should the opposition get inside the Volunteers do a good job of challenging those looks. South Carolina finished the game with 18 points in the paint but they couldn’t keep up with Tennessee, which scored 32 points with Stokes doing most of the damage.

How much has Tennessee improved defensively? That question will be answered Saturday, with their game against No. 1 Florida representing both a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity. SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin has run the show well for the Gators, who swept the regular season series. A key for Tennessee will be rebounding, as Florida grabbed nearly 44% of its missed shots in a 67-58 win on February 11 in Knoxville.

Tennessee has the look of an NCAA tournament team and they should hear their name called on Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with making another statement (or two) along the way. After taking care of South Carolina, Cuonzo Martin’s team will have the opportunity to do so.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Denzel Valentine, the nation’s best player?

Denzel Valentine
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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(This will be updated throughout the day.)

GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse 74, No. 25 Texas A&M 67

The Orange got 20 points from Michael Gbinije and 15 points and five assists from Trevor Cooney as they won the Battle 4 Atlantis title on Friday afternoon. We wrote on this game earlier. Are the Orange for real this year?


Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: 32 points, nine boards, six assists

No. 3 Michigan State beat Boise State 77-67 in the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy out in California, but the result of that game is less important than the result of Valentine’s night. A night after notching his second triple-double of the season, Valentine took over another way on Friday, hitting five straight threes in the span of about five minutes to put the Spartans up double-figures in a game they were struggling to take control of.

In three games against high-major competition, Valentine is now averaging 30.0 points, 10.7 boards and 9.3 assists. He has been, unequivocally, the best player in college basketball this season.

No. 10 Gonzaga 73, No. 17 UConn 70: Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis made some big plays down the stretch as the Bulldogs held on to win a game they led by as much as 21 in the second half. Kyle Wiltjer scored a team-best 17 points for Gonzaga, which finished third at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Rob Dauster wrote more about the Bulldogs and their second-half performance here.

Alabama 64, No. 20 Wichita State 60: Not only did the Shockers drop their second straight at the AdvoCare Invitational, but they also saw Anton Grady leave the game on a stretcher after being involved in a scary second-half collision. He was awake and alert shortly after leaving the court. While the Shockers’ losses to USC and Alabama don’t help them from an NCAA tournament standpoint, the bigger issue is the team’s health.


Quincy Ford, Northeastern: Not only did he score 24 points in the upset win over No. 15 Miami, but he hit the game-winning jumper, too. Video here.


Wichita State’s bigs: Five of them (Anton Grady, Zach Brown, Rashard Kelly, Bush Wakumota, Eric Hamilton) finished a combined 3-for-21 from the floor with 14 points and 14 fouls. Wakumota shot one of the worst threes you’ll ever see with Wichita State down 62-60 with 10 seconds left.

Grady suffered a scary neck injury late in the game, but early reports sound positive.


  • Jamal Murray went for 21 points and three assists without a turnover at No. 1 Kentucky rolled over South Florida. The big question: How bad is Tyler Ulis’ elbow injury?
  • Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart both had 13 points as No. 8 Villanova knocked off Georgia Tech to win the Preseason NIT, 69-52.
  • No. 23 Xavier raced out of the gates against USC and led by as much as 32, going on to win 87-77 in Orlando. Trevon Bluiett led four Musketeers in double figures with 16 points and James Farr added 12 to go along with nine rebounds off the bench.


  • Stanford finished third at the Preseason NIT with a 69-66 win over Arkansas, closing the game on a stunning 21-1 run. Rosco Allen scored eight of his career-high 25 points during that run, and Marcus Allen’s goal-tended layup with 2.6 seconds remaining gave the Cardinal the lead for good.
  • Taurean Waller-Prince had 25 points to lead Baylor to a win over Arkansas State.

Good luck Goodluck: UNLV’s Okonoboh to transfer

Goodluck Okonoboh
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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UNLV sophomore Goodluck Okonoboh is transferring out of the program, a source told

The 6-foot-10 center was the No. 31 recruit in the Class of 2014, but he never was able to find a place in the UNLV rotation. He averaged 2.9 blocks as a freshman, but is a career 34 percent free throw shooter that never proved he could be more than just an athlete.

With Ben Carter getting eligible and UNLV landing Stephen Zimmerman this season, Okonoboh’s minutes dried up. He played just 19 minutes total against UCLA and Indiana.