SEC turns to Tranghese to bolster league’s hoops profile

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
0 Comments

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese proved his commitment to the Southeastern Conference with one simple task this week: He boarded a plane.

Tranghese is terrified of flying. It’s one of the reasons he retired as a conference administrator. So making the trip to the SEC’s annual spring meetings was no easy feat for him.

Improving the league’s basketball profile and NCAA Tournament presence could be an even more challenging endeavor.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey hired Tranghese as a “special advisor to the commissioner for men’s basketball.” In short, Tranghese was brought aboard to turn around the SEC’s hoops fortunes. He spoke to coaches and athletic directors for the first time at the league meetings this week and drew praise for his plans to help the league’s 14 basketball teams close the gap on their football counterparts.

The SEC landed just three teams in the 2016 NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last four years. Six conferences received more bids in March, and four of those had seven teams make the field.

“The league is capable of doing so much more than it did this year,” Tranghese said.

Tranghese has some ideas to make it happen. It starts with scheduling games against better competition and winning more of those key, non-conference matchups. But Tranghese also wants coaches to work together to expand the SEC brand.

They are planning to televise a weekly basketball show on the SEC Network, and Tranghese encouraged them to embrace (instead of complain about) late games on television and use football as a recruiting tool.

“You’ve got to use it in your favor,” Tranghese said. “If I’m bringing a recruit in, do I want to bring him in the weekend of the Tennessee-Alabama football game versus somebody who doesn’t have football? You bet your life I do. Because you have the best football league in the country doesn’t mean you can’t be good in basketball. That’s an excuse.

“Get rid of all those negative perceptions. … Because you’re better than they are at football, kids shouldn’t come here? It’s illogical. If fact, I would argue you should come here. It’s something to do on fall weekends, something really good to do on fall weekends.”

Tranghese was former Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt’s right-hand man when the league formed in 1979 and helped make it as much a basketball power as the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“The Big East was step-children to the Big Ten and the ACC back in the day, and the Big East didn’t take a back seat to anybody,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “And that was sort of the attitude that he brought to the meeting, that the reason he’s taking on this challenge is he believes in our league, he believes in our coaches, he believes in our commissioner and he wants to win.”

Texas A&M, Kentucky and Vanderbilt made the 2016 tournament, but only the Aggies advanced beyond the first weekend.

Tranghese insists the SEC has the foundation for better results. With high-profile coaches Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Ben Howland (Mississippi State) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) entering their second seasons, and Pearl beginning his third, those programs could be on the verge of getting back to national prominence.

Florida and South Carolina might be even closer. Both were considered locks for the tournament in February, but the Gators had a four-game losing streak late in the regular season and the Gamecocks were done in by losing in the first round of the SEC tournament.

“It’s unfortunate that a couple late-season losses wiped some teams out, and it probably shouldn’t have,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

The Gamecocks could be the poster child for the league’s non-conference scheduling issue. Coach Frank Martin’s team went 12-0 outside the SEC last season, but its non-conference schedule was ranked as low as 271st.

The SEC has since tweaked its non-conference scheduling rules, saying everyone’s opponents must have a three-year RPI average of 175 or better. That number will drop to 150 in the future.

“If you can’t beat decent people, you don’t deserve to be in the tournament anyway,” Tranghese said. “So play them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Everything.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

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
Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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).”

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

michigan state basketball
Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

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
2 Comments

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
0 Comments

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.