Pregame Shootaround 3.5.13: Bubble battles, and IU’s Senior Night

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Game of the Night: No. 14 Ohio State at No. 2 Indiana (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

I’m still of the mindset that Indiana is the best team in the country, regardless of where they are ranked in relationship to Gonzaga. Why? Well, because they currently hold a two-game lead in the toughest league in the country with two games to play. Winning the Big Ten is quite impressive. Doing so while leading the four teams tied for second-place by two games is a very difficult thing to do.

Tonight, the Hoosiers host Ohio State, who is one of those four teams currently sitting in second place in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes made a statement last Sunday when they knocked off Michigan State at home despite getting a 4-16 shooting performance out of Deshaun Thomas. To be Indiana, however, OSU is going to need Thomas to play much better while having guys like Craft and Lenzelle Smith step up the way they have in recent games.

Winning in Bloomington is a tough thing to do on any given night. Tonight is senior night for the class that put Indiana basketball back on the map. There is going to be a lot of emotion in that building. I have a feeling the Buckeyes are going to be running into a buzzsaw.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Boise State at UNLV (10:00 p.m. ET)

This isn’t technically a mid-major matchup, but work with me here. Boise State, for now, seems to have strengthened their at-large profile enough that they should feel pretty good about getting a bid. One surefire way to lock that bid up, however, is winning in the Thomas & Mack Center, where UNLV is a completely different team. One thing to watch for: Anthony Bennett’s injury status. He’s played just 21 minutes the last two games and shot 0-5 from the floor while dealing with a shoulder problem.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 25 Memphis at UTEP (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Ranked teams on the road. It’s always a problem. Ask Memphis what happened when they went to Xavier last Tuesday. That said, UTEP, while talented, isn’t quite as good as Xavier. And their head coach apparently is already talking publicly about the interviews he’s accepting for other jobs.

Five Things

1) The Big South tournament kicked off this afternoon. Here’s our preview of it. The Horizon holds their three first round games tonight as well. Here’s our preview for that tournament.

2) Two games in the MAC to make not of. Ohio will be visiting Buffalo, who handed Akron their first loss of league play on Saturday. And the Zips will be hosting Miami OH. An Akron loss and an Ohio win will mean that there is a tie atop the MAC standings.

3) Alabama visits Ole Miss in what could be a play-out game for the two SEC teams, which is, frankly, amazing. Ole Miss has lost to South Carolina and Mississippi State in the last two weeks, while the Crimson Tide have losses to Tulane, Mercer, Dayton, Auburn and LSU. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

4) Mike Anderson will be making his first visit to Missouri since leaving the Tiger program to take over at Arkansas. The Razorbacks might have a shot at an NCAA tournament bid if they can win on the road, although that’s easier said than done for them. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

5) Iowa’s chances for an at-large bid are gone, but beating Illinois and heading into the Big Ten tournament with some positive momentum would be a good thing.

Top 25

  • Virginia Tech at No. 3 Duke (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • TCU at No. 9 Kansas State (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • No. 14 Ohio State at No. 2 Indiana (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 15 Marquette at Rutgers (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • St. John’s at No. 24 Pitt (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 25 Memphis at UTEP (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.