Washington’s one season with Markelle Fultz looks destined to end in obscurity

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The hardest thing to do at a Power 5 school is to lose consistently, to put together an extended run of underwhelming, disappointing seasons without having to find new employment.

Only three of the 65 head coaches employed at Power 5 schools have missed five straight NCAA tournaments at their current job. Two of those three are basketball coaches at football schools, Penn State’s Pat Chambers and Clemson’s Brad Brownell. Chambers has built enough recruiting momentum in Philly that the argument can be made that his program is trending up; at least that’s the pitch that earned him a sixth-year. Brownell made the tournament his first season with the Tigers, and with Jaron Blossomgame back this season and Elijah Thomas coming eligible in December, this group will be the best team he’s had since then.

The third member of that ignominious group isn’t like the others.

Both Chambers and Brownell have coached a single NBA player at their current gig – Tim Frazier and K.J. McDaniels, respectively – and neither of them were first round picks.

Washington’s Lorenzo Romar has had five first round picks in the last five years.

None of them have played in the NCAA tournament, and without a win over No. 8 Gonzaga on Wednesday night, there’s a very real chance that Markelle Fultz, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, will find himself watching the NCAA tournament on television as well.


As of today, Washington is 4-3 this season. They lost to Yale at home in their season-opener. They lost a pair of games to TCU – one on a neutral court, one on the road – and while the Horned Frogs are currently undefeated this season, they haven’t really landed a win that would let us know just how good they actually are.

After Wednesday, the Huskies won’t get another chance against a real team until Pac-12 play, and that could end up being a real problem.

A loss tonight puts them at 4-4 on the season and ensures that they will not have a quality non-conference win on their résumé, which wouldn’t be a huge issue if we could ensure that neither Yale nor TCU would eventually show up as a bad loss. But the other side of it is that the Pac-12 isn’t quite as loaded as we expected it to be. Oregon has fizzled out of the gate, failing to impress during non-conference play, while Arizona’s one relevant win – Michigan State – looks like it is anything but a marquee victory. UCLA is carrying the torch for the league.

Put another way, we’re looking at a situation where, for the second straight season, the best NBA prospect in college basketball will end up missing the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Ben Simmons-to-LSU experiment started slowly and ended as a train wreck, with the team opting not to accept a bid to the NIT.

How did this go so wrong?

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TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 14: Head coach Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies gestures during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on January 14, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. The Arizona Wildcats beat the Washington Huskies 99-67. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Lorenzo Romar (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

There are a couple reasons:

1. Washington just does not have the talent around Markelle Fultz that Romar needed, and it’s not entirely his fault. Marquese Chriss and DeJounte Murray, who both ended up being first round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, were one-and-done players that no one expected to head to the NBA when they did. Chriss was a borderline top 50 recruit coming out of high school. Murray was closer to the top 30, but you’d be lying if you said you thought he was going to be able to leave school after one season with a guaranteed contract.

What’s left is a crop of players that are just OK. David Crisp is a fine player but isn’t necessarily a guy you want as your second option at the Pac-12 level. Malik Dime and Noah Dickerson are, at worst, serviceable high-major bigs. Matisse Thybulle hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that he had entering the season. Part of the reason that Romar is left with a roster bereft of high-level talent is a result of the way that he coaches.

Romar is going to play his most talented guys right away, said a person with knowledge of the way that Washington’s staff operates. It doesn’t matter if they are freshmen or seniors, he’s going to let his best players do what they can do. If that comes with a learning curve – Fultz isn’t going to get pulled for turnovers the same way that Chriss and Murray were allowed to play through their freshmen mistakes – then so be it. Compare that with a program like Wisconsin, where guys like Devin Harris and Frank Kaminsky, eventual top ten picks, were buried on the bench until they learned the system and earned the playing time. Even Bill Self has struggled with when to let his one-and-done stars play through their issues and when to hold them accountable.

Romar gives his talent a chance to showcase what they’re capable of, for better or worse. And, of late, it’s been the latter.

2. His teams don’t defend. “They were so ******* bad on defense. It was like they had never been coached,” a coach who has played the Huskies this season told NBCSports.com. “They had no plan.” The Huskies are entertaining to watch offensively because of how fast they play – they’re currently sixth in KenPom in tempo – but there isn’t much structure on that end and it comes at the expense of any kind of discipline on the defensive end.

That’s a by-product of giving his young guys freedom that they wouldn’t necessarily experience at other programs. It’s also a result of how he wants to play defensively. His best teams would get out and play a pressuring, half-court man-to-man defense, and with the new freedom of movement rules, that just doesn’t work. All Washington does is foul. They’ve been in the bottom 25% nationally in free throw rate the last two seasons. Chriss fouled out of 15 of the 34 games he played in college.

3. That environment isn’t necessarily the best for getting the most out of a guy like Fultz. For as talented as he is, Fultz still has some warts. He’s a slow-starter, a guy with a sleepy demeanor that has a habit of slowly growing into games. He’s a talented defender that doesn’t always play with the kind of effort on that end of the floor that he needs to. If he was from the west coast, he’d get criticized for having the same kind of “Cali-cool” that Lonzo Ball gets knocked for.

And it’s a shame, because Fultz really is an unbelievable talent.

But, at this point, it looks like he’ll be the unknown in this NBA Draft.

With the exception of Washington’s only game against Oregon and their second matchup with Arizona, every quality opponent that Washington plays will tip after 10:30 p.m. ET.

How many people are going to stay up that late to watch what could very well end up being a series of blowouts?


Lorenzo Romar is in a decidedly unique situation at Washington.

On the one hand, in the last five years, his teams have underperformed given the amount of talent that has come through Seattle. In 2011-2012, Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title but failed to get an at-large bid to the Big Dance with Terrence Ross, the No. 8 pick, and Tony Wroten, the No. 25 pick, on the roster. C.J. Wilcox, the No. 28 pick in the 2014 Draft, couldn’t get Washington into the dance either of the next two seasons, and this past year, Romar was NIT-bound despite having Marquese Chriss, the No. 8 pick, and DeJounte Murray, the No. 29 pick, on his roster. The only time in his Washington coaching tenure that he didn’t have a future first round pick on the roster was the 2014-15 season, and, in theory, that fact could change if current Gonzaga point guard and Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss gets drafted.

In 15 years with the Huskies, Romar has reached the tournament just six times, the Sweet 16 just three times and finished with fewer than 10 losses just three times despite a nine-year run where U-Dub finished top three in the Pac-12 seven times and won two regular season titles.

But he’s also been by far the best coach in the history of the program. The Huskies reached the Final Four in 1953, and in the nearly 50 years between that day and the day that Romar was hired, Washington reached just six NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s.

Washington fans have a right to be frustrated with the way his tenure has gone, but that frustration stems from the fact that Romar carried Washington to an unprecedented level of success.

But that’s in the past. Brandon Roy’s college career ended a decade ago. Isaiah Thomas was drafted in 2011.

So while there’s an outside chance that both Fultz and Michael Porter Jr., the star that Romar has committed in the Class of 2017, could end up being the No. 1 pick in their respective NBA Drafts, it may be more likely that, without a win on Wednesday night, Romar may never end up coaching the latter.

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.