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No. 15 Tennessee shows off toughness in win over No. 24 Kentucky

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The lone matchup of ranked teams on Tuesday’s schedule, a matchup between No. 15 Tennessee and No. 24 Kentucky, was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. In the end the outcome came down to late-game execution, with Rick Barnes’ Volunteers making the plays that needed to be made on both ends of the floor.

Lamonte Turner buried a three to give Tennessee the lead with 26 seconds remaining. That was followed by a forced turnover and an Admiral Schofield dunk, and the Volunteers won by a 61-59 final score.

It’s Tennessee’s first season sweep of Kentucky since the 1998-99 season, and after ripping off three straight blowout victories the visitors called upon their toughness to pick up a critical road win.

Picked to finish 13th in the SEC’s preseason poll, Tennessee has emerged as the league’s second-best team behind No. 8 Auburn. And in a year that has seen the conference as a whole put forth an improved product on the court, the rise of the Volunteers and Tigers is the biggest development.

Auburn was picked to finish ninth, and with the FBI scandal that saw the team lose an assistant coach and two expected starters even less was expected of the Tigers in the aftermath. But here they are, sitting atop the SEC with a 21-2 record and in the top ten of the national polls for the first time in over a decade.

So what would Auburn’s success have in common with that of Tennessee? Simply put, both teams have an incredibly firm grasp of who they are. The Volunteers aren’t a team that will beat opponents with finesse; they do it with a talented, experienced rotation that can get key contributions from both starters and reserves alike.

Against Kentucky, leading scorer Grant Williams finished with ten points but tallied just three official field goal attempts (making one). A player who enters a game averaging 16.2 points per game having that few field goal attempts would be a major issue for many teams to overcome. For Tennessee, not so much thanks to the likes of Turner and Jordan Bowden.

Turner came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points, and Bowden added 13 points to go along with eight rebounds and two steals. Admiral Schofield shot just 6-for-16 from the field, but in addition to scoring 12 points he chipped in on the glass with six rebounds. Kentucky’s front court length certainly impacted Williams’ shot opportunities around the basket, but Tennessee was able to receive contributions in other areas.

It wasn’t pretty offensively, but the Volunteers managed to do enough to supplement its work on the other end of the floor.

After shooting poorly early Kentucky’s issues with ball and player movement proved to be the biggest issue late. While Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s key turnover led to the aforementioned Schofield dunk, the freshman was responsible for six of Kentucky’s seven assists.

Also, on the play in question none of Gilgeous-Alexander’s teammates did much to get into a position where a passing lane could come open for the point guard. The end result was his over-penetrating and getting caught up in multiple Tennessee defenders.

Will Kentucky be able to properly address its issues on the offensive end of the floor ahead of postseason play? That remains to be seen, and the team’s inconsistency is in large part a product of the lack of influential veterans. Sure Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones are both sophomores, but neither played a major role last season. With that being the case, there’s only so much those two can call upon when looking to help get the freshmen all headed in the same direction.

Tennessee doesn’t have that problem, and it’s a big reason why the Volunteers managed to leave Rupp Arena with the win.

And it’s also a big reason why this team is capable of doing even more as college basketball’s biggest month approaches.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?