NCAA Tournament: Previewing Thursday’s bracket action; picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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GAMES OF THE DAY

No. 12 Nevada vs. 5 Iowa State (-6.5), 9:57 p.m., truTV: This is one of my two favorite first round matchups. I’m not sure there is a hotter team in college basketball than Iowa State. The Cyclones were on the bubble roughly six weeks ago. Now they’re a No. 5 seed that finished second in the Big 12 and won the Big 12 tournament title. Monte’ Morris is playing great and Naz Long looks like a new man. But the Wolf Pack are the most talented double-digit seed in the field. They have a center that will play in the league, a guard that averages 20 and another forward that went for 45 points in a road game against New Mexico. This is going to be a fun, fun basketball game.

PREDICTION: Iowa State (-6.5)

No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 6 Maryland (-2), 6:50 p.m., TNT: This game is fascinating to me because I think Xavier will win this, but also because Maryland always, always, always plays close games. They’re good enough to keep pace with just about anyone in the country, and they have the ultimate closer in college hoops in Melo Trimble, who is 30-8 in games decided by six points or less in his college career. Xavier has just one win over a team not named DePaul since Feb. 4th, but with Trevon Bluiett’s ankle finally healthy and the Musketeers getting used to life without Edmond Sumner, I think they win this game, and I would not be surprised if it came on a buzzer-beater.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+2)

UPSETS BREWING

No. 12 UNC Wilmington vs. No. 5 Virginia (-7), 12:40 p.m., truTV: I’ve written and talked about this plenty, but I have a real concern about UNCW in this game simply because I don’t love the matchup. UNCW wants to press, force turnovers, speed things up and make opponents make mistakes. That’s not an easy thing to do against Virginia. I do, however, think that, given the pace UVA plays at, the Seahawks will have a good shot to cover.

PREDICTION: UNCW (+7)

No. 13 East Tennessee State vs. No. 4 Florida (-10.5), 3:10 p.m., truTV: A bet on ETSU is a bet on Steve Forbes, a former Wichita State and Tennessee (under Bruce Pearl) assistant that has had success everywhere he’s been in the coaching world. He now has a team with some high-major talent and an elite guard in T.J. Cromer, and he’ll be going up against a Florida team that is missing their starting center. Florida is an elite defensive team, and their guards are going to make ETSU work, but I think the Buccaneers have a puncher’s chance here.

PREDICTION: ETSU (+10.5)

No. 12 Middle Tennessee (-1) vs. No. 5 Minnesota, 4:00 p.m., TNT: It feels so weird writing about this game as a potential upset when the team that I think will be doing the upsetting is actually the team that is favored in this game. But since this is all about the tournament and all about the brackets, we can call Middle Tennessee winning an upset without the gambling dorks losing their minds. If there’s anything I’m worried about with Minnesota, it’s that they have a pair of dynamic guards and a couple of big, athletic bodies up front. As good as the Blue Raiders are, I’m worried about the athleticism advantage that Minnesota will have. I’m still riding with Kermit Davis, though.

PREDICTION: Middle Tennessee (-1)

No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida State (-12), 9:20 p.m., TNT: So I think Florida-Gulf Coast wins this thing. Florida State is really talented and crazy athletic with a ton of size, but I just don’t trust them. I don’t think they have great guard play and I don’t think that they realize that Jonathan Isaac is the best player on the floor every time he steps on the floor. I don’t even think Jonathan Isaac realizes it. Throw in the fact that FGCU is well-coached and has a really good guard in Brandon Goodwin, and I’ll ride that Dunk City train.

PREDICTION: Florida-Gulf Coast (+12)

HOPEFULLY, IT’S CLOSE LATE

  • No. 12 Princeton vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (-6.5), 12:15 p.m., CBS: Princeton is better than you may realize, controls tempo and should keep this one close. PREDICTION: Princeton (+6.5)
  • No. 13 Winthrop vs. 4 Butler (-11), 1:30 p.m., TNT: I actually think Pat Kelsey’s club has a chance to pick off Butler, who is a team I absolutely cannot figure out. PREDICTION: Winthrop (+11)
  • No. 10 VCU vs. No. 7 Saint Mary’s (-4.5), 7:20 p.m., TBS: Saint Mary’s has a chance to make something of a statement against a program with a reputation in March that is only in the tournament because of a pair of fluky wins. PREDICTION: Saint Mary’s (-4.5)
  • No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Purdue (-10.5), 7:27 p.m., truTV: The Catamounts should keep this close. They’re well-coached, control pace and tough defensively. Staying out of foul trouble will be the key. PREDICTION: Vermont (+10.5)
  • No. 9 Virginia Tech vs. 8 Wisconsin (-5.5), 9:40 p.m., CBS: You know a No. 8 seed has been miss-seeded when they show up as a 5.5 point favorite. And while I love Buzz in a tournament setting, I’ll get my money in on Wisconsin. PREDICTION: Wisconsin (-5.5)
  • No. 13 Bucknell vs. No. 4 West Virginia (-14), 2:45 p.m., CBS: There is no way that Bucknell is going to know what’s coming when they face Press Virginia. They may have prepared for it, but practice and what happens in an actual game are two different things. PREDICTION: West Virginia (-14)
  • No. 9 Vanderbilt (-2) vs. No. 8 Northwestern, 4:30 p.m., TBS: In the battle of the brainiacs, I fully expect a Vanderbilt team with three wins over Florida that is coached by a guy that made one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history to be able to handle a Big Ten program playing their first ever NCAA tournament game. PREDICTION: Vanderbilt (-2)

THE ONLY DRAMA IS WHETHER OR NOT THEY COVER

  • No. 16 South Dakota State vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (-22.5), 2:00 p.m., TBS: This matchup is intriguing because SDSU’s Mike Daum is the second-leading scorer in college basketball, but I can’t see this Gonzaga team being the first ever No. 1 seed to lose in the first round when they’ve blown everyone out this year. PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-22.5)
  • No. 16 Mount St Mary’s vs. No. 1 Villanova (-26.5), 7:10 p.m., CBS: Jamion Christian has done a terrific job at The Mount, but there’s a reason Villanova is the reigning champ, even though they’ve been stuck in Buffalo for three days. PREDICTION: Mount St. Mary’s (+26.5)
  • No. 15 North Dakota vs. No. 2 Arizona (-17), 9:50 p.m., TBS: Arizona is coming off of a Pac-12 regular season and tournament title, and Allonzo Trier is playing as well as he has all season long. PREDICTION: Arizona (-17)

 

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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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.