Looking Forward: Here’s what the Big 12 has in store for the 2016-17 season

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big 12 over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

  1. Will the league expand?: Potential realignment won’t be of consequence to this upcoming season in the Big 12, but the conference appears to be seriously considering adding two programs to the league that has been at 10 since 2012. Of course, the move would be made with football in mind, but it would have vast ramifications on the basketball side of the conference. The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference in recent years, due in part to the true double round-robin schedule they play with really only one program (TCU) failing to be NCAA-tournament caliber. If the Big 12 does expand, it’ll likely lose its signature schedule, but the schools being mentioned (Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn) would certainly make the league even tougher.
  2. Kansas’ pursuit of 13: It’s one of the most amazing streaks in American sport, really, as Kansas has won 12-straight Big 12 championships. It’s a total anachronism when you look across the rest of the college basketball landscape. The Jayhawks lost significant pieces from last year’s team, but that’s never stopped Bill Self from being the best in the conference before. Kansas will again be the favorite to win the Big 12 as one of the most consistent programs in the sport’s history.
  3. A new talent pool: Of the 15 players named to all-conference teams last season in the Big 12, just four will return to the league next season. Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Kansas’ Frank Mason, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu and Baylor’s Jonathan Motley are all exceedingly good players, but they don’t have the star power that the league lost with the likes of Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Perry Ellis all moving on. It will be a very new-look conference this season.
  4. The challengers: Kansas will be the no-doubt favorite in the Big 12, but typically there is an obvious threat or two to their throne every year. That may not be the case this season. Beyond the Jayhawks, the rest of the league is retooling after a season after 70 percent of its membership made the NCAA tournament. Every team in the league seems to have major questions entering this summer.
Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The country’s consensus No. 1 recruit pledged to the Jayhawks this spring, giving Self yet another NBA-caliber player to his arsenal. Jackson will be compared to 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins given his size, athleticism and position, but he won’t be asked to carry the load Wiggins was during his one season in Lawrence.
  • Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have a strong track record under self of impact big men, and Azubuike would appear to be next in line. The 6-foot-11 center is expected to make an immediate impact at Kansas, unlike recent freshmen forwards like Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, who languished on the bench during their first collegiate seasons.
  • Andrew Jones, Texas: The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American will help ease the transition for Shaka Smart as his roster undergoes a dramatic turnover. The Longhorns will need him to contribute in a big way right away.
  • Austin Grandstaff, Oklahoma: One of the top 2015 recruits in the country, Grandstaff left Ohio State after the first semester last season and enrolled at Oklahoma. He won’t (who could) fill the shoes of Buddy Hield, but he’ll give the Sooners a deadly shooter with size and athleticism.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Everyone expected the Texas point guard to test the NBA waters, but few truly expected him to leave Austin behind. He’s not an expected first-round pick and very well could go undrafted. It would have been his show at Texas this season, but instead Shaka Smart will have to find another player to build around.
  • Devin Williams, West Virginia: Another player who could go undrafted, Williams was a huge part of the Mountaineers’ identity last year, but instead of returning for his senior season, he’ll move on to professional basketball.
Arkansas Little Rock head coach Chris Beard reacts after his team draws a foul against Iowa State during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in the NCAA Tournament in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Chris Beard (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

COACHING CHANGES

Chris Beard, Texas Tech: After a one-week stint as UNLV’s head coach, Beard jumped to fill Tubby Smith’s vacated spot in Lubbock, where he spent years as an assistant previously. His track record as a head coach isn’t extensive as a head coach after just one year in Little Rock (where he won an NCAA tournament game last year), but Texas Tech is a place he wants to be, which is half the battle such a Big 12 outpost.

Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State: All Underwood did at Stephen F. Austin was win and win big. He could have jumped to a bigger job earlier, but waited and got the gig in Stillwater and the Big 12, where he played his collegiate career for Kansas State. Travis Ford left the program in less than a healthy state, but Underwood will have the T.Boone Pickens resources to rebuild quickly.

Jamie Dixon, TCU: Dixon accomplished so much at Pitt, but the fanbase there had grown restless after seasons of seeming stagnation, paving the way for Dixon to return to his alma mater. The Horned Frogs are investing heavily in basketball since their move to the Big 12, and Dixon very well could be the key to unlocking what could be a powerful program in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, which is teeming with talent.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Frank Mason (Kansas): Player of the Year
Monte Morris (Iowa State)
Christian James (Oklahoma)
Josh Jackson (Kansas)
Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Kansas: All the Jayhawks do is win the Big 12. No reason to think this year will be any different.
  2. West Virginia: Losing Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams hurts, but Bob Huggins has developed a deep bench and effective style in Morgantown.
  3. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger has a lot of spots to fill, but there’s still plenty of talent in Norman to keep things rolling even with the loss of a talented senior class.
  4. Iowa State: Losing All-American Georges Niang along with starters Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader will be hard to overcome, but getting Monte Morris back for his senior season raises expectations in Ames.
  5. Texas: The Longhorns have major holes to fill in Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era, but freshman Andrew Jones will help ease the transition.
  6. Baylor: Johnathan Motley will move from role player to focal point this year for Baylor, which has to replace three all-league players.
  7. TCU: Jamie Dixon will have some talent to work with in his first year back in Fort Worth, including incoming top recruit Jaylen Fisher.
  8. Texas Tech: Beard will have his work cut out for him trying to follow-up an improbable NCAA tournament berth for the Red Raiders and Tubby Smith.
  9. Kansas State: In what could very well be a make or break year for Bruce Weber, the Wildcats will be counting on Wesley Iwundu to be huge.
  10. Oklahoma State: This season will be a total rebuild under first-year coach Brad Underwood, not only from a talent perspective but winning over an apathetic fan base.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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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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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

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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.