Sweet 16 Preview: Everything you need to know about the East Region

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The East Region is going to give us what is probably the best matchup of the Sweet 16. North Carolina and Indiana are two blueblood, powerhouse programs that would be the favorite to get to the Final Four should they win this game. The Tar Heels have been the favorite all season and are peaking at the right time, while Indiana fans may love this team as much as any in recent years given their improvement and what the expectations were for them as recently as December. 

The one downside to this region? The best game is going to be played on Friday night. 

KEY STORYLINES

  1. Is this the last time that we’ll see Roy Williams in the Sweet 16?: North Carolina has an NCAA Investigation hanging over its head. Roy Williams is old, he’s got bad knees and he’s been battling vertigo for years. He’s got a team that can legitimately win a national title. If he does, is there a better way to ride off into the sunset? I don’t know if it is going to happen. But it is going to be something that is talked about.
  2. Can Tom Crean actually get Indiana through the Sweet 16?: Tom Crean changed the way that he is viewed by Indiana fans when a win over Kentucky in the second round of this NCAA tournament. No longer is he the coach of a team that couldn’t find a way to guard anyone in December. He’s the coach of a Big Ten champion that beat the biggest thorn in the Hoosier side en route to Philly. This is now the third time he’s been this far in the tournament since he’s been in Bloomington. It’s the furthest he’s been in the tournament with a team that didn’t have Dwyane Wade. Does that qualify as a monkey on his back?
  3. Is the UNC-Indiana winner the region winner?: Let’s call it like it is: North Carolina and Indiana are hands-down the two best teams in his region. Beyond the whole talent angle, both Notre Dame and Wisconsin are probably lucky to be where they are right now. The Irish beat Stephen F. Austin on the back of a fluky tip-in at the buzzer by a kid that hadn’t made a shot all postseason, and Wisconsin needed a pair of threes and a questionable charge call in the final 15 seconds in order to get past Xavier. It will be interesting to see what the line is on the Elite 8 game in the East.
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts after dunking the ball against Providence guard Jalen Lindsey (21) during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

WHY THEY’LL GET TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 1 North Carolina: There may not be a team in the country with a higher ceiling that North Carolina. When they’re hitting their threes — they have been the last two weeks — and when they’re playing defense the way that they have since the start of the ACC tournament, they could every well be the best team in college basketball.

No. 5 Indiana: The Hoosiers may have the best player in the region in Yogi Ferrell. And if he’s not the best, he’s arguably the most-capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them to two wins. But there’s more to it than that: The Hoosiers are finally defending like a Big Ten champ, Troy Williams has been a nightmare in transition and O.G. Anunoby suddenly looks like a guy that is going to end up getting looked at heavily by NBA scouts. And that defensive improvement didn’t come at the expense of their ability to score or to play in transition. Indiana is a dangerous team.

No. 6 Notre Dame: There are a couple things to like about this Notre Dame team: Demetrius Jackson can take a game over, Zach Auguste is a hoss in the paint, Steve Vasturia has developed into a pretty good shut-down defender. Throw in a roster full of guys that can shoot the heck out of the ball, and this is a group with a high ceiling that can beat good teams.

No. 7 Wisconsin: I honestly have no idea. I can’t figure out how Wisconsin turned their season around and earned a No. 7 seed, let alone how they managed to play their way into the Sweet 16. It almost feels like they’re playing with house money right now. But I will say this: Nigel Hayes — when he’s not trying to prove that he’s a jump-shooter — and Ethan Happ are a formidable front court duo while Bronson Koenig has proven that he is one of the best clutch-shooters in college basketball. Throw in a coach that has them running the Swing Offense well, and what you have is a team that has surprised us for two months straight. Why would they stop now?

The Wisconsin bench celebrates a basket during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Xavier in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 20, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
The Wisconsin bench (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

BUT THIS IS WHY THEY WON’T

No. 7 Wisconsin: Nigel Hayes is supposedly the best player on this roster, and he’s shooting 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three on the season. It’s not like he’s taking over in the tournament, either. He’s 5-for-27 from the floor in two games. How many more good teams can they beat when Hayes plays that way?

No. 6 Notre Dame: The Irish needed a fluky late-game run and last-second shot to beat Stephen F. Austin. They barely got by a Michigan team playing without Caris LeVert. They lost by 31 to North Carolina in the ACC semifinals and needed a miraculous, 16-point comeback to beat Duke and get to the ACC semis. That’s their last four games. Why should we be impressed?

No. 5 Indiana: The major concern for this Indiana is getting past North Carolina, and the reason that is a concern is because of the size that the Tar Heels have on their roster. When Indiana has their best lineup on the floor, they have Troy Williams and O.G. Anunoby at the forward spots. One of them is going to be tasked with guarding Kennedy Meeks or Isaiah Hicks? That could get ugly, but …

No. 1 North Carolina: … the flip side of it is that Meeks, Hicks or Brice Johnson is going to be asked to guard one of them. My guess is that it will Anunoby, simply because Williams is far too dangerous in transition or slashing to the rim to risk him being guarded by a slow-footed big man. That is why …

THE X-FACTOR

  • Power Forwards: … that particular matchup is so interesting. Will North Carolina’s size win out? Will Tom Crean be forced to play Max Biefeldt and Thomas Bryant together? Will the Tar Heels punish the offensive glass and prevent run outs? Or will Williams and Anunoby be able to hold their own well enough in the paint that they’ll be able to get out in transition and score with the floor spread? To me, whoever wins that matchup will win that game, and that, in turn, will be what gets them to the Final Four.

CBT PREDICTION: North Carolina gets past Indiana and steamrolls whoever they end up playing in the Elite 8.

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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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.