10 coaches with the most on the line in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

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The fixation on March Madness for the general public often centers around players. Shabazz Napier helping lead UConn to a national championship last season often overshadowed Kevin Ollie doing such a tremendous job as a young head coach.

Coaches are often defined — both fairly and unfairly — by NCAA Tournament accomplishments. Coaches need to win games in March in order to keep jobs or ascend up the coaching ladder. The NCAA Tournament is when the spotlight of the sports world is fixated on college basketball, and as a coach, delivering results when people are actually taking notice is very important. Here’s 10 coaches with the most on the line entering the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

1. John Calipari, Kentucky – The head coach facing the most pressure entering the NCAA Tournament is John Calipari and second place isn’t even close. With Kentucky being viewed nationally as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Calipari faces the external pressure of not only living up to national expectations, but also coaching the first undefeated season since Indiana in 1976. If Kentucky wins the title, Calipari will be completely untouchable. He’ll have gamed the one-and-done system to his advantage and had a record-setting year while doing it. None of Calipari’s peers in Division I coaching can say they’ve had an undefeated national championship season.

2. Sean Miller, Arizona – The six-year head coach of Arizona has done a tremendous job rebuilding the program to national prominence, but it’s a Final Four-or-bust proposition for the Wildcats this season. Arizona hasn’t made a Final Four appearance since 2001 and the fanbase is starving for a return to the national semifinals after Miller has made two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 appearance during his tenure. While Miller wouldn’t have to worry about his job if Arizona didn’t make it, some in the fanbase would continue to question whether he was the right guy for the job if he can’t make it to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Miller can quiet all of those doubters with a big run in 2015.

3. Rick Barnes, Texas -Without a run in the NCAA Tournament, Rick Barnes could be in trouble at Texas. Expectations were incredibly high in Austin this preseason and the Longhorns barely made the tournament as a No. 11 seed. With a new athletic director looking to make a splash, and donor money needed for a new basketball arena that Texas is looking to build, it could be Barnes who takes the fall as a product of bad timing.

4. Tom Crean, Indiana – Although a decent showing in the Big Ten Tournament last week quieted the critics a little bit, Indiana could still use a win or two to really get the heat off of Crean in Bloomington. No matter what Crean does, there is always going to be a segment of Indiana’s fanbase that dislikes him because he doesn’t do things like Bob Knight once did. There are also the rumors of Crean looking at other jobs. If Crean is looking to stay at Indiana, or move on to another job, winning a game or two this weekend would really help in that equation.

5. John Thompson III, Georgetown – Since making the Final Four in 2007, Georgetown has been eliminated by a double-digit seed in all five subsequent NCAA Tournament appearances. This year, the Hoyas are even getting called out by No. 13 seed Eastern Washington, as Eagles head coach Jim Hayford is guaranteeing a win. The little guy isn’t scared of big, bad Georgetown anymore. If Georgetown loses to a double-digit seed for the sixth consecutive time, it could get ugly in D.C.

6. Mark Few, Gonzaga – The long-time Gonzaga head coach has won at least 23 games and made the NCAA Tournament for 16 consecutive seasons. He’s also never made it past the Sweet 16. It’s not like Few is facing pressure to save his job with a deep tournament run, but the Zags could really use at least an Elite 8 appearance this season to quiet some of the very vocal critics who say the program can’t win against the best.

7. Ben Jacobsen, Northern Iowa – It’s been a great season for the Panthers and now many believe Northern Iowa could make a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. Many also believe that Jacobsen is staying put in the Missouri Valley Conference regardless of tournament outcome. But if you look over Jacobsen’s career with the Panthers, he’s lost at least 13 games in six of nine seasons. He’s only made the NCAA Tournament three times. The Valley is tough and if a great job comes calling after a potential Northern Iowa run, Jacobsen will have to listen.

8. Larry Brown, SMU – With Brown being 74 years old and SMU facing potential NCAA sanctions, this could be the Hall of Fame coach’s final time in the NCAA Tournament. It’s tough to speculate what will happen to the Mustangs in light of this season’s academic scandal, but many around college basketball believe that Brown could get out of coaching sooner than later.

9. Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin -One of the rising stars in the coaching world, Underwood has more wins in his first two seasons as a head coach than any Division I coach in college basketball history. Stephen F. Austin already won a NCAA Tournament game last season in Underwood’s first campaign and another win in the tournament would make Brad one of the hottest names in the coaching carousel.

10. Bobby Hurley, Buffalo -Much like Underwood, Hurley is a second-year head coach making a splash at an emerging program. Despite losing MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea from last season, the Bulls still made the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The former All-American point guard from Duke retooled the Buffalo roster and brought in some talented players on the recruiting trail. Now all that Hurley needs is a signature win and that could come this week.

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

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.