Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech proves they have more issues than just Grayson Allen

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Losing was inevitable.

In a league where Virginia can win at Louisville three days before losing at home to Florida State, in a league where a bottom-feeder like Georgia Tech can pick off a top ten team like North Carolina, in a league where it wouldn’t be crazy to see ten teams get to the NCAA tournament, we knew that Duke was going to get picked off a time or two – or three, or four – before March got mad.

It was always going to happen.

Conference road trips are the most miserable place to be in college basketball, and Duke was never going to get through nine of them unscathed.

We all could see that coming.

But did you see this coming?

A trip to Blacksburg ending with an 89-75 drubbing, a game where the final score doesn’t do justice to the control that Buzz Williams’ club had on the game? (Before I continue this, a disclaimer: Virginia Tech is very good. They are top 25 good. They are Sweet 16 good. The Hokies won this game, and may have done so even if Duke played well.)

In the first game of Grayson Allen’s suspension stemming from his third tripping incident in 2016, No. 5 Duke went scoreless or the first four minutes, dug themselves a double-digit hole before the second TV timeout and spent 40 minutes getting totally and completely outplayed by Virginia Tech. If it wasn’t for a 34-point effort from Luke Kennard, who was the only Blue Devil that decided to show up on New Year’s Eve, the final score would have looked much worse.

Duke missed Allen.

But this loss had nothing to do with the absence of Allen and everything to do with the fact that this Duke team is not what the sums of its parts says it should be. That doesn’t mean that they can’t get there, it doesn’t mean that they can’t win a national title this season, but it does mean that, as of today, Duke is not a very good basketball team.

What’s wrong with them?

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after losing 76-62 to the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Let’s start with their defense, which was awful against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils gave up 1.235 points-per-possession to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were able to penetrate at will on Saturday, and the rim protection that was supposed to be provided by the health of Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden simply wasn’t there. That side of the ball has been an issue with recent Duke teams, including 2014-15, when Duke’s defense during the NCAA tournament covered up the fact that it was a mess for most of the regular season.

It wasn’t just half court defense on Saturday, either; the Hokies got layup-after-layup in transition.

They also have plenty of issues on the offensive end of the floor, where Duke’s possessions would eventually devolve into one of their guards trying to beat a Hokie defender one-on-one. Much of that credit has to be given to Virginia Tech, who proved themselves a top 25-caliber team that will be a factor in the ACC this season, but it’s certainly worrisome that a team with this kind of talent had that kind of trouble against anyone.

Because youth can no longer be an excuse for Duke. Yes, it took a while for them to get Giles, Bolden and Jayson Tatum healthy, but the latter two have been back in the mix for a month while it’s been three weeks since Giles missed a game. Duke has played just twice since they beat Florida, 84-74, in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 10th. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to get the newcomers up to speed.

So what is it?

Leadership? There isn’t an alpha-dog on this roster, and when the junior captain (well, ex-captain) is continuously tripping people and having on-bench meltdowns, it’s fair to wonder just who is the voice in the locker room that holds teammates accountable, the voice that the freshmen listen to.

Because that seems to be a problem as well. After the Elon game, Luke Kennard told reports that “I just don’t think we’re a very unselfish team right now.” It’s hard to convince players that expect to be one-and-done stars to play into a role, especially when that role is limited. Just because John Calipari makes it look easy doesn’t mean it is.

But that’s all speculative.

It’s also fixable, or at least it should be.

Because Duke’s ceiling is higher than anyone else’s ceiling.

But it’s time to start being concerned about whether or not they will ever actually get there.

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.