BUBBLE BANTER: Vandy’s key win, UCLA in trouble?

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Two weeks ago, Vanderbilt (KenPom: 37, RPI: 63) was barely even on the bubble radar. But last Tuesday, the Commodores picked up a win over Florida, an RPI top 25 win, and after losing (in fairly unimpressive fashion) at Texas over the weekend, Vandy went out and beat down Texas A&M on Thursday.

And suddenly, Vanderbilt might be in the tournament as of today.

Seriously.

That’s the difference that two wins of that quality can make. Because if you do the math now, Vanderbilt now has three top 50 wins, six top 100 wins and zero sub-100 losses to go with a top 50 non-conference strength of schedule and three more chances at top 25 wins before the regular season is over. To put it simply, 3-7 against the top 50 looks far better than 1-7 against the top 50.

I’m not saying they’re a lock to dance mind you. (If that’s the way you took it, you probably couldn’t get into Vanderbilt.) They’re very much on the cut line and likely will be until the last week of February; their last three games are at Florida, Kentucky at home and at Texas A&M. That stretch will make or break their bid.

But they went from afterthought to in the mix really, really quickly.

And I promise you, if you’re a No. 6 seed, you do not want to see Vanderbilt in the first round.

WINNERS

  • Oregon State (KenPom: 84, RPI: 52): The Beavers landed a huge win over Utah at home on Thursday. The Utes are an RPI top 20 team, and that random foul by Utah’s Brandon Taylor at half court could end up being a difference maker on Selection Sunday. The win over Oregon will look great on their profile all year long, and the Beavers now have four top 35 wins in total, including three top 20. They also have no bad losses, although they are just 4-6 against the top 50 and 5-8 against the top 100. With seven top 100 opponents — including three top 25 — left on their schedule, they still have some work left to do. There are no easy nights in the Pac-12.
  • Cincinnati (KenPom: 33, RPI: 56): The Bearcats avoided what would have been a killer loss to South Florida on Thursday night. Cincinnati’s margin for error is going to be small moving forward. They play just three more top 100 opponents, and only one of them (SMU) is ranked in the top 50. With VCU being their best win and just four top 100 wins in total, the Bearcats are not as safe as Mick Cronin would like them to be.
  • UConn (KenPom: 27, RPI: 57): UConn won at Memphis on Thursday, which sounds a lot more impressive than it is on paper. UConn is currently just 4-6 against the top 100, but they do own a win at Texas that continues to look better and better. They have some awful teams left on their schedule, and with mediocre computer numbers, I think this group could really use a win in one of their two games against SMU.
  • Gonzaga (KenPom: 35, RPI: 71): Gonzaga avoided what could have been a killer loss to Loyola Marymount on Thursday night. The Zags are just 4-5 against the top 100 with nothing resembling a great win. Call it a gut feeling, but I think their NCAA tournament chances come down to whether or not they win at SMU.
  • USC (KenPom: 30, RPI: 19): USC now owns a sweep of UCLA after knocking off the Bruins in the Galen Center tonight. They have four top 50 wins and are 8-5 against the top 100. Their worst loss of the season? At Oregon State. The Pac-12 is a bear, so the Trojans are going to be tested every night the rest of the season, but at this point, we should feel pretty safe slotting this team in the tournament.

LOSERS

  • Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 24, RPI: 46): The Gaels lost at BYU on Thursday, which, in a vacuum, is not a bad loss. But we’re not in a vacuum, we’re currently in a world where the Gaels don’t have a top 50 win on their résumé and have won just four RPI top 150 games all season long. With just two top 100 teams left on their schedule, I’m not sure this group can get an at-large bid.
  • Colorado (KenPom: 49, RPI: 23): The Buffaloes got smacked around at Oregon on Thursday, a loss that looked far worse on TV than it does on their NCAA tournament profile; the Ducks are the No. 3 team in the RPI and this game was in Eugene. I think Colorado will end up getting a bid as long as they avoid a total collapse. They’re 6-6 against the top 100 with no sub-50 RPI losses. Add a few more top 100 wins, avoid losing to Washington State, go to the NCAA tournament.
  • UCLA (KenPom: 62, RPI: 68): A loss to USC on Thursday dropped the Bruins to 13-10 on the season. They’re just 2-8 against the top 50, and while they do have seven top 100 wins, they lost to Washington State, who slots in as an RPI sun 150 team. The good news for UCLA? They have a top 30 strength of schedule and finish the season with five top 50 and three more top 100 opponents. They’re talented, and if they get hot, they can beat anyone. And if that happens, they can still churn out a really strong profile. So … when is that run going to start?

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 St 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 BC 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.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.