Memphis’ loss hurts more than Harvard, Creighton or Gonzaga

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There were five teams ranked in last week’s Coaches Poll that came from outside the Power Six conferences: Xavier, Creighton, Memphis, Gonzaga and Harvard. Four of those five — with the exception of Xavier, depending on how you view the aftermath of their brawl with Cincinnati — lost this past week.

Harvard’s loss, which came on Thursday, is explainable and was expected. There aren’t going to be many teams going into Storrs and beating UConn this season. And while the Crimson lost by 14 points, they did so valiantly, answering every UConn surge with a couple of big baskets of their own. As you might expect, Harvard fell out of the rankings this week; that’s simply what happens when you lose a game, particularly if your program hails from the Ivy League. But that doesn’t mean that there has been a shift in the majority opinion of this team: they are tough and disciplined and have enough talent to win a game or two in the tournament, but they will struggle if they get matched up with a team that has more size and athleticism.

The remaining three teams have some explaining to do:

Creighton: I’m not overly concerned about the Bluejay’s 80-71 loss at St. Joseph’s on Saturday afternoon. To be frank, this team was overrated at 17th in the country. They don’t play enough defense, and it came back to bite them against St. Joe’s. Up 35-30 at the half, St. Joe’s hit 15-26 from the field in the second half as Tay Jones scored 20 of his 29 points to lead the Hawks to a nine point win.

That wasn’t the only issue, either. Doug McDermott played great as usual, finishing with 26 points and 10 boards. But take away the 10-16 that McDermott shot, and the rest of Creighton’s lineup was 17-45 from the floor. Creighton also got beat up on the glass, giving up 13 offensive rebounds getting just five. St. Joe’s has struggled over the last couple of years, but a talented recruiting class that Phil Martelli brought in last season — Langston Galloway, CJ Aiken, Ronald Roberts, Daryus Quarles — is starting to pay dividends. This Hawk team is one of the most improved in the Atlantic 10 this season and a tough team to beat at home. Combine that with an off-night for Creighton, and, well, losses like this happen all the time.

Gonzaga: The Zags ran into a buzzsaw known as Draymond Green. Michigan State’s versatile power forward had one of the best games of his career on Saturday night, going off for 34 points as the Spartans knocked off Gonzaga 74-67. Green was the only player on Michigan State to finish the game in double-figures. Michigan State is probably better than they are being given credit for — they’ve now won eight in a row since losing to Duke — but they didn’t exactly play like it on Saturday.

That should be concerning for Gonzaga. Why? Because they have a versatile power forward of their own that got eaten alive by Green. Elias Harris finished with just six points and five boards on 2-11 shooting from the floor in 32 minutes. Harris is supposed to be the best player on the Gonzaga team, but he couldn’t slow down Green enough for the Bulldgos to win at home on a night when everyone else on Michigan State was strugging? Yes, Robert Sacre and David Stockton played well. Yes, Gonzaga did an admirable job keeping Tom Izzo’s club from getting to the offensive glass. That’s all impressive.

But until Harris can consistently be a strength for Mark Few’s team, the Zags are always going to have question marks.

Memphis: The Tigers, without a doubt, have the most to worry about from this group. While Murray State is a far cry from being a bad team, Memphis should never lose to the Racers at home. Not with that team and not on their home court. Its clear that Josh Pastner is in over his head trying to coach these guys.

They’ve already begun to take away from Joe Jackson’s ball-handling responsibilities. One of the most talented point guards in the country, Jackson is now spending just as much time as an off-guard, allowing Chris Crawford to be the one. Wesley Witherspoon has reverted back into his old self. Tarik Black fouls too much. No one on the team knows how to box out and, despite having as much size and athleticism as anyone they are going to play this season, no one on the roster — save for maybe Will Barton — has any desire to go and get an offensive rebound.

Frankly, outside of Barton, it doesn’t seem like anyone on the Tigers has any desire period. Josh Pastner is a terrific recruiter, but if he cannot get the kids he brings in to play for him, it will cost him his job eventually.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.