Tony Wroten is the most important player on Washington

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There are a myriad of reasons for Washington’s struggles early in the season.

They don’t rebound the ball well, they don’t force turnovers, they’re mediocre defensively, they have no low-post presence.

But perhaps the biggest reason for their struggles early in the season is arguably the most important player on their roster: Tony Wroten, Jr.

The reason for that is Wroten’s unbelievably high usage rate. When he is on the floor — which is for more than 24 mpg — the possession ends with Wroten 35.7% of the time. That’s the third-highest number in the country. The problem? Wroten’s efficiency is absolutely horrendous. His offensive rating is just 89.9, well below the efficiency numbers of players like Terrence Ross, CJ Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy.

The get an idea of what that means, the two players with higher-usage rates that Wroten are Josh Watkins of Utah and Chase Plummer of UMBC. Both Watkins and Plummer have similar efficiency numbers to Wroten. Utah and UMBC have combined for two wins on the season. When you have one player using such a high-volume of possessions, and that player is getting minimal results from the possessions that he uses, its very difficult to win basketball games.

So the question that must be asked of Washington is whether or not this is a permanent thing. Can Wroten turn it around? And, frankly, based on the way that he was played the past couple of games, I’d lean towards to affirmative. Wroten had 13 points, six boards and three assists against Marquette at MSG, following that up with 23 points — but five turnovers and zero assists — in a loss to Duke. He brought Washington back from 19 down late in the game to make things interesting.

There are two reasons why Wroten’s efficiency is so low: he turns the ball over at an ungodly rate and he cannot make free throws despite living at the foul line.

Wroten is fourth on the team in minutes played, but he has more than double the number of turnovers this season of anyone else on the roster. With averages of 4.4 t/o’s and 24 mpg, Wroten is turning the ball over once every five-and-a-half minutes. There are players that would be happy if they scored that often. Wroten’s also made more free throws than anyone else on his team has taken despite making just 51.9% — 27-52 — from the charity stripe. There is no way that those numbers don’t improve.

(It also should be noted here that Aziz N’Diaye, who is by far the least efficient player in Lorenzo Romar’s rotation, has the third-highest usage rate. The guys that are the most ineffective are making the most plays right now. Not a good combination.)

Wroten is only a freshman. He’s also a high-risk player. Like Isaiah Thomas last season, Wroten is the kind of guy that is always in attack mode, but he’s still learning how to harness his immense ability and utilize it as effectively as possible. He has to learn how to better delineate what is a good shot or what is a bad pass. He’s capable of the spectacular, but he has to learn when and where to pick his spots; when the spectacular fails, Wroten looks reckless and selfish.

“As long as he’s not trying to make the fancy play every time and is just being a solid point guard, he’s going to be really good,” CJ Wilcox said after Saturday’s loss to Duke at the Garden.

Those turnovers are even more costly for a team like Washington. The Huskies have quite a bit of offensive firepower on their perimeter with the likes of Terrence Ross, Wilcox and Gaddy joining Wroten on the perimeter. Throwing the ball away not only costs them the opportunity to put points on the board, but it takes away from their ability to get into a rhythm. The best way to slow down a shooter that is in a zone is to have a point guard that doesn’t get him the ball.

I believe Wroten will put it all together before the season is over. I don’t think he will ever protect the ball like Jordan Taylor, but I do think that he will make better decisions as time goes on. Freshman are on a learning curve, and Wroten is no different.

There’s a quicker way for him to improve as well.

Start hitting your damn free throws.

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

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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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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.