BUBBLE BANTER: The SEC’s bubble teams are in action today

(Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)

Vanderbilt (KenPom: 23, RPI: 48, CBT Bracketology Seed: 10) may have just played their way out of the NCAA tournament.

The Commodores lost to Tennessee in their opening game of the SEC tournament on Thursday afternoon, falling behind by 12 at the half and losing when a game-tying layup from Wade Baldwin was waived off at the buzzer.

Let’s take a look at their profile: Vandy has a pair of really good wins in league play, beating both Texas A&M and Kentucky in Nashville. But that’s it in terms of elite wins for the ‘Dores. They did sweep Florida and they do have seven top 100 wins, but they’re 2-8 against the top 50 and they have three losses to teams outside the top 100.

Their KenPom rank is terrific, and there may be an argument to make that that will be enough to get them into the dance. I don’t think it will be enough, however.

Vandy is headed to the NIT.


  • Florida (KP: 44, RPI: 54, CBT: First Four Out): The Gators beat Arkansas in their first game in the SEC tournament, setting themselves up for a clash with Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the event. That’s the game that Florida has to get if they want to get themselves onto the right side of the bubble. Barring a win tomorrow afternoon, Mike White’s promising first season in Gainesville is going to end in the NIT.
  • Michigan (KP: 55, RPI: 67, CBT: Next Four Out): It was closer than the Wolverines probably would have liked, but they eventually held on to knock off Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines will now get a shot at Indiana in the quarterfinals, and they cannot get a bid without beating the Hoosiers. Even that may not be enough. But they’ll have their shot now.
  • San Diego State (KP: 38, RPI: 43, CBT: 11): The Aztecs picked up a win over utah State in the opening round of the MWC tournament, meaning that SDSU still has a chance to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday. I’m not sure they’ll have the profile to get an at-large bid should they lose this week in Vegas.
  • Alabama (KP: 91, RPI: 69, CBT: N/A): The Crimson Tide beat Ole Miss on Thursday setting themselves up with a date against Kentucky in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. Alabama has to win that if they even want a prayer of getting to the dance.


  • Pitt (KP: 42, RPI: 45, CBT: 9): The Panthers held an early lead on North Carolina, but a late 10-0 second half run combined with a flurry midway through the second half was too much for Jamie Dixon’s club overcome. The Panthers are probably in a position where they will be able to get into the NCAA tournament — losing to UNC only hurts their profile in the sense that it didn’t add to it — but there’s a chance they end up in one of the play-in games. Selection Sunday will be a sweat, but I’d wager that it ends up being a happy day for Pitt.
  • Butler (KP: 33, RPI: 44, CBT: 8): Like Pitt, I’m not sure Butler is in real danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament following their loss to Providence on Thursday afternoon, but stranger things have happened. They have a sweep of Seton Hall and a neutral court win over Purdue which, when combined with their lack of bad losses, should probably do the trick. It’ll be a sweat, though.
  • USC (KP: 47, RPI: 39, CBT: 8): The Trojans are in the same boat at Butler and Pitt. They’ve probably done enough to finish on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday, but a win tonight over Utah would have been the clincher. They lost, so they’ll have a moderately stressful Selection Sunday.
  • Oregon State (KP: 58, RPI: 26, CBT: 8): The Beavers would have locked up a bid with a win over Cal on Thursday. They lost to the Bears, but I think that this group has done enough to get into the dance.


Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

tennessee basketball
1 Comment

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).”


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.


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.


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

michigan state basketball
Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports

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

virginia tech basketball
Erica Denhoff/Getty Images
1 Comment

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.


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.


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

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.