Weekend Preview: The regular season comes to a close

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GAME OF THE WEEKENDNo. 14 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke, 9:00 p.m.

It really doesn’t get better than the Duke-Carolina on the final weekend of the regular season. The only odd part about it is that there really isn’t all that much on the line anymore. Virginia’s already locked up the ACC regular season title. Duke pretty much cost themselves a shot at a No. 1 seed by losing to Wake Forest on Wednesday. North Carolina did the same with their struggles earlier this season. If anything, this game will be a chance for the Blue Devils to prove that they actually are a Final Four contender.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 New Mexico at No. 10 San Diego State, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

This will be fun. The two best programs in the Mountain West will square off in arguably the rowdiest environment on the west coast for the right to call themselves Mountain West regular season champions. The Aztecs have long been considered the favorite to win the league title, with their win at Kansas and New Mexico’s struggles earlier in the season. But the Lobos are peaking at the right time. Like I said, this will be fun.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 19 UConn at No. 11 Louisville, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Senior night for Russ Smith will also feature a chance for the Cardinals to lock up the AAC regular season title in their only year in the conference. The Cards already went up to Storrs and knocked off UConn this season. The Huskies will be playing to stay out of the 4-5 game in the AAC tournament, which means they would have to play Memphis or SMU instead of one of the league’s bottom-feeders. Shabazz Napier vs. Russdiculous is appointment viewing.

FIVE MORE TO WATCH:

  • No. 18 SMU at No. 20 Memphis, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: SMU is tough to peg. They were rolling people at home and struggling on the road … and then won at UConn and lost to Louisville in Dallas.
  • No. 25 Kentucky at No. 1 Florida, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: So is Kentucky really going to make some noise in March? Or is this team a lost cause? If it’s the latter, Saturday could get ugly in Gainesville.
  • Oklahoma State at No. 16 Iowa State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Oklahoma State is a different team when Marcus Smart plays the way he has since the 10 minute mark of the second half against Kansas. Even still, I don’t think anyone is expecting a win at Iowa State.
  • Providence at No. 13 Creighton, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Doug McDermott’s senior night. The Friars will hope that the Bluejays are distracted so they can pick up a much-needed resume win, while Creighton is looking to end a two-game losing skid.
  • No. 22 Michigan State at Ohio State, Sun. 4:30 p.m.: Can Michigan State turn this thing around? Are they ever going to be able to live up to the potential they had earlier this season?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 3 Arizona at Oregon, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The Wildcats struggled at Oregon State on Wednesday night. The Ducks like to get up and down the floor as well, which is how Sean Miller is now trying to get his team to play. Mike Moser’s scalding hot of late, and will be fun to watch matchup with Aaron Gordon.
  • No. 5 Virginia at Maryland, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: Maryland is probably out of the bubble picture at this point, but it would be nice for them to pick off Virginia in their final regular season game as a member of the conference.
  • No. 7 Syracuse at Florida State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Syracuse apparently cannot score anymore. Florida State is good defensively and desperate for a win. Hmm.
  • No. 17 Saint Louis at UMass, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: The Billikens are struggling of late and play a completely different style from that of UMass. Who stops Chaz Williams?
  • No. 9 Wisconsin at Nebraska, Sun. 7:30 p.m.: Lincoln has suddenly turned into one of the toughest places in the Big Ten to play, and that won’t change with the Huskers needing a win over Wisconsin to get a bid to the Big Dance.

FIVE THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

1) Five automatic bids to the NCAA tournament will be determined by the Sunday night, the most notable of which is the Missouri Valley’s. Arch Madness kicked off on Thursday night, Wichita State will play their first game on Friday night and, if all goes to plan, they’ll be ready to head to the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record Sunday afternoon.

RELATED: Our latest bracket projections — is your team in?

Harvard will earn the Ivy’s automatic bid on Friday night with a win at Yale. If the Crimson lose, they’ll need a win at Brown or a Yale loss to Dartmouth on Saturday. The Ohio Valley’s championship game is on Saturday, while the Atlantic Sun and Big South bids will be given out on Sunday.

2) The four biggest bubble games of the weekend:

  • Georgetown at No. 6 Villanova, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Utah at Stanford, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
  • Missouri at Tennessee, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Colorado at Cal, Sat. 6:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Clemson, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at Alabama, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at Oregon State, Sat. 4:30 p.m.
  • Indiana at No. 12 Michigan, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Richmond at Dayton, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

3) No. 8 Kansas at West Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Don’t be surprised if West Virginia gives the Jayhawks a fight in Morgantown.

4) St. John’s at Marquette, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: St. John’s has to win this game if they want a chance to dance.

5) Baylor at Kansas State, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: Both teams are likely going dancing already.

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

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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.