Nevada’s Deonte Burton deserves national respect but needs wins to get it

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Nevada Athletics

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Their first season as a Mountain West member was a tough one for the Nevada Wolf Pack. Lacking depth in the front court, David Carter’s team took more than its fair share of lumps in a season that ended with eight straight losses and an overall record of 12-19 (3-13 Mountain West). Offensively guards Deonte Burton and Malik Story were asked to lead the way, with Burton averaging 16.3 points and 3.6 assists per game.

For his efforts the Los Angeles native was a third team All-Mountain West selection, and the league’s coaches named him to the league’s preseason all-conference team earlier this month. But due in large part to the Pack’s lack of success, Burton remains anything but a household name outside of the conference, and that’s something both player and coach understand.

“I think sometimes it falls on your record and how you finish,” Nevada head coach David Carter told NBC Sports. “In our conference I don’t think he’s overlooked at all. We finished at the bottom of the league last year and he was still a third-team all-league selection. I just think that around the country he’s probably one of the most underrated players, especially at his position.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Mountain West Preview)

Amongst Mountain West players who factored into at least 24% of their team’s possessions Burton ranked sixth in offensive rating per kenpom.com, and with four of the top five players ahead of him gone (Boise State’s Anthony Drmic is the lone returnee) Burton should be able to improve his standing in that statistical category. And if there’s one area in which Burton saw the need to improve entering the 2013-14 season, it was his perimeter shooting.

After making 37.2% of his three-point attempts as a sophomore, Burton shot just 30.1% in his Mountain West debut. Burton noted that he worked on his perimeter shooting and overall shot selection throughout the offseason, but on a team that didn’t have a high number of consistent scoring options, the shot selection was bound to be an issue last season. A contested shot by Burton was, at times, their best option offensively.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaNUd8r-nVo]

“Myself and Malik Story were the only two guys who had the ability to pick the team up offensively, so it was tough in that regard,” said Burton. “This year I have great teammates, guys who can finish and score inside and hit perimeter shots that I can rely on.”

It’s a lot to ask a point guard to run a team as well as be a primary scoring option, and for that reason there aren’t a high number of players at the position entrusted with both tasks. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and California’s Justin Cobbs would be two examples of this, but both had multiple scoring options at their disposal and that ultimately led to more team success. The hope in Reno is that even with Story having graduated, there are enough pieces around Burton to help him flourish while also lightening the load on his shoulders.

The team’s summer trip to Italy helped with the growth process, as Burton and the other returnees were able to get some valuable court time with the team’s seven newcomers.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“They want to get better each and every day. That alone is a big step for them,” said Burton when asked of the newcomers with one being UTEP transfer Michael Perez, who’s expected to help fill the void left by Story. “They’re willing to listen and want to get better, and they come in each day and work hard at everything we do.”

With Story gone Burton’s role won’t change much at all, but the presence of those seven newcomers means that the senior point guard’s role as a team leader becomes even more important. The summer trip to Italy certainly helped in regards to Burton’s individual skill set and his bond with his teammates, but it also helped Burton improve as a leader.

“I think for him, his role stays the same in terms of being a leader and taking ownership of the team, and that’s what he’s done so far,” Carter said of his point guard. “His teammates were obviously excited that he chose to come back, and I think when he decided to come back that sent a strong message to our guys who were returning that he’s the leader. I think Italy just strengthened that bond between Deonte and his teammates.”

Ranking in the top ten in school history in points (10th), assists (8th) and steals (9th), Burton’s destined to go down as one of the most productive players in Nevada history. The respect from Mountain West foes is there as well.

The national praise hasn’t come as quickly however, but all involved know that the only way to change that is to go out and win more games.

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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Erica Denhoff/Getty Images
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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.