Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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source: AP
(AP)

Since the beginning of the season, everyone knew that the Big Ten was Wisconsin’s to lose after returning four starters from last season’s Final Four team. Now that senior center Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the Player of the Year, the Badgers solidified themselves as a top-ten team all season and won the league by two full games over Maryland.

Speaking of Maryland, the Terps have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season and they’ve emerged as a top-ten team and the Badgers’ biggest threat in the tournament. Mark Turgeon’s team is the only team in the Big Ten to beat Wisconsin with Frank Kaminsky this season and they know how to win in tight ball games thanks to their tremendous 75 percent free-throw shooting.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

From there, the Big Ten gets a little muddy in the middle. Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State all finished within a game of each other in the league and Indiana and Illinois finished at .500 by faltering a bit down the stretch. Michigan also somehow finished 8-10 in the league despite significant injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton.

Just as we saw to start the season, Wisconsin is the the heavy favorite to win in Chicago. Let’s see if the Badgers can hold true on that like in the regular season and build some momentum towards the NCAA Tournament and a potential No. 1 seed.

Bracket

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MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-15

Where: United Center, Chicago

Final: March 15, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Wisconsin

With a record of 16-2, the Badgers won the league by two full games. Senior center Frank Kaminsky is the leader for Player of the Year and along Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, the trio forms a tremendously versatile and talented frontcourt. Sophomore Bronson Koenig has emerged as a steady replacement for injured senior Traevon Jackson and senior Josh Gasser can hit 3-pointers and also makes free throws at an 85 percent clip. As a team, Wisconsin is 13th in the country at 75 percent from the charity stripe. When the get ahead, they know how to close.

And if they lose?: Maryland

The Terps have ascended to No. 8 in the country and recently defeated the Badgers at home. Like Wisconsin, Maryland is great from the free-throw line, where they actually are better than the Badgers and rank No. 12 in the country. Freshman guard Melo Trimble is an NBCSports.com All-American this season as he leads a trio of talented scorers along with senior guard Dez Wells and junior forward Jake Layman. It’s the first time Maryland will play in the Big Ten Tournament and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle it. They’ve been one of the pleasant surprises of college basketball this season.

Other Contenders

  • Michigan State: The Spartans seem to always peak in March and Tom Izzo’s team has played better down the stretch with some minor exceptions. Senior Branden Dawson is a warrior and junior Denzel Valentine is a jack-of-all-trades wing.
  • Purdue: The Boilers sport some of the most talented big men in the Big Ten with junior center A.J. Hammons and his 7-foot-2 backup in freshman Isaac Haas. It also helps they get an additional bye over Iowa

Sleeper: Iowa

Winners of six games in a row, Iowa is playing with a lot of confidence heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Senior forward Aaron White has put up some stellar performances and he’s surrounded by an experienced and deep team.

Deeper Sleeper: Ohio State

The front court for the Buckeyes can be dreadful at times, but freshman guard and NBCSports.com first-team All-American D’Angelo Russell has been sensational this season. Russell is talented enough to take a game over and senior guard Shannon Scott can also set up others for easy baskets.

Big Ten Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

What can be said about Kaminsky that hasn’t already been said this season? He’s been remarkable in nearly every facet of the game and somehow exceeded expectations entering the year. The senior led Wisconsin in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and shoots 41 percent from 3-point range.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Before the season, Turgeon was a major candidate on the hot seat after losing five players to transfer. Now? He’s coaching a top-ten team in his first season in a brand-new league. Tremendous turnaround year for Turgeon and the Maryland program and the head coach deserves a lot of credit for melding a talented freshman class together with the returning pieces he had left.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Kaminsky
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State – Russell averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range. The smooth lefty also throws some of the prettiest assists in all of basketball.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – One of the best closers in college basketball, Trimble shoots 87 percent from the free-throw line and helped the Terps go 11-0 in games decided by six points or less this season.
  • Branden Dawson, Michigan State – In the final go-around for the senior forward, Dawson averaged 11.6 points and a conference-leading 9.3 rebounds per game. Dawson also shot 54 percent from the field.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana – Although Indiana has struggled down the stretch, the electric junior guard is averaging 16 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game with efficient splits (44% FG, 42% 3PT, 84% FT) 

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Dez Wells, Maryland
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State
  • Aaron White, Iowa
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue

CBT Prediction: Wisconsin takes down Maryland as the Big Ten’s two best square off in the title game.

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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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.