National Title Game Preview: Everything you need to know about Villanova vs. North Carolina

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WHEN: Monday, 9:19 p.m. ET on TBS

MAJOR STORYLINES: The question that everyone wants an answer to is whether or not this is going to be the last time that we see Roy Williams on a college sideline, and if there is anything that Ol’ Roy has made clear this week, it’s that this is not going to be the end of his tenure with the Tar Heels. What it may be, however, is his third national title, which will put him on par with some of the legends of the coaching profession: the only other coaches that have at least three national titles are John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun.

That’s mighty fine company to be in, particularly for a head coach like Williams, who has dealt with his fair share of criticism throughout the years. Where as the others on that list tend to be guys that are giants in the profession, Williams is never thought out as or mentioned in the same breath with the best of all-time. This would be his third time in the last 12 years. Would that be enough to make him considered one of the very best ever?

Jay Wright is in a different situation. He’s looking for that first national title, for that piece of evidence that he’s one of the greats — a guy that will deserve a look from the Hall of Fame — as opposed to just another really good coach that sustained a program for a long, long time. Beating the Heels in the title game would be quite the feather in his cap.

But it would also make him one of the most unique national title winners, as he’s not doing it with a team that is loaded with future NBA stars. Josh Hart will probably play in the NBA, and I would bet that Mikal Bridges will end up there as well. I’m not sure either of them are destined to be stars at that level, however, and I don’t think that there is another pro on the roster. It’s not often that teams without an abundance of NBA talent win the whole thing, and while that probably says something about the year in which Villanova is winning the title, it should also tell you a thing or two about the guy that is coaching them along the way.

KEY MATCHUP: Kris Jenkins and whoever the Tar Heels decide they are going to use to try and slow him down. Jenkins has gone from a recruiting afterthought to an undersized, under-athletic gunner … to the guy that has been the most dangerous offensive weapon for the Wildcats. Perhaps more relevantly, he’s become the matchup problem for Villanova. He’s a skilled scorer with a lethal three-point stroke and the best pump fake in college basketball. He draws more fouls on three-point shots than anyone in the country.

He’s also now able to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, which creates a bit of an issue: Who’s checking Jenkins? Will they put the slower-footed Meeks on him and allow Brice Johnson to act as a rim protector or will they do the opposite and let the stronger Meeks try to battle Ochefu in the post?

And just as important: How will Jenkins handle post defense and defensive rebounding against the Tar Heel big men?

X-FACTOR: Who will guard Daniel Ochefu, who has suddenly turned into arguably the most irreplaceable offensive piece for the Wildcats. Ochefu is a 6-foot-11 center who developed into one of the most consistent and reliable post scorers in the country this season. That’s relevant because he is going to get quite a few chances to go one-on-one against UNC’s big men on Monday night. The Wildcats put four shooters on the floor, making it really difficult for opponents to double-team any post touch. If Ochefu can find a way to be effective on the block, it would for the Tar Heels to make a change on the defensive end.

POINT SPREAD: North Carolina -2.5

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Can North Carolina run offense against Villanova? The Wildcats do not get the credit they should for how good they’ve been defensively. They don’t have many great individual defenders — Mikal Bridges is a problem, and Josh Hart did the heaviest-lifting in slowing down Buddy Hield — but this is a team that plays tough, physical and, most importantly, disciplined team defense while constantly changing the looks that they use on that end of the floor. It’s tough to execute against, and we saw that in full effect on Saturday night. Will UNC have an easier time of it than Oklahoma did?
  2. Which Josh Hart shows up on Monday night, and just how physical will UNC wings be willing to be with him. Hart is a nightmare to play against. He’s annoying to play against, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. He’s a junkyard dog in every sense of the word, and UNC hasn’t always dealt with guys like that in an effective manner.
  3. What position does Theo Pinson play? Personally I think that he is going to play a big role on Monday night just because he matches up well with Villanova’s personal. UNC needs him to play the majority of his minutes at the three, which will mean that their size is effective. If he’s playing at the four, it means that Jenkins won the battle of the bigs and UNC had to adjust.

CBT PREDICTION: Villanova wins the National Title and Josh Hart gets named Final Four MOP.

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.