Bubble Banter: Here are the 13 potential bid thieves that will play this week

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Bid Thievery is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the act of winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at the cost of a team that is a lock to get an at-large, thus robbing the field of one of the available at-large bids. 

It’s not a criminal act. 

In fact, in a year like this, where the bubble is weaker than wet toilet paper, these Bid Thieves will be doing America a favor.

For every successful heist, there will be one less 14-loss high major team backing their way into a bid. 

So with that in mind, these are the leagues — and the teams — that you need to be the most concerned about if you happen to be a fan of a program that has spent the last three weeks on all over bubble watch.

NOTE: We discussed the mid-major bid thieves here

ATLANTIC 10 (March 13-17, Barclays Center)

The Atlantic 10 is increasingly looking like a one-bid league if VCU (NET: 31) takes the conference tournament.

Enter Dayton (NET: 65), a team who has won five out of six games entering the postseason. The Flyers are the No. 3 seed in the A10 tournament. They played VCU to two close losses during the regular season, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Dayton to win some games and play spoiler here.

Similar to Dayton, DAVIDSON (NET: 68) can very easily win the Atlantic 10 tourney. The one-two punch of Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellen Grady is arguably the best in the conference. Davidson was once a bubble team, but they lost a few too many games in a league that simply does not have enough depth to carry more than one at-large bid. The Wildcats know they need to win this event to get into the field. Don’t sleep on this group having a big week in Brooklyn.

MOUNTAIN WEST (March 13-17, Las Vegas)

The Mountain West has been slept on for most of the season, but at this point it looks like the league is going to be able to support two at-large teams.

NEVADA (NET: 18) is the obvious one. The Wolf Pack are probably looking at a No. 4 seed if they can win the MWC tournament. And while UTAH STATE (NET: 30) is hardly a lock at this point, I do think that they are going to get into the dance as long as they don’t do anything stupid in Vegas.

The No. 3 seed in the league’s tournament, FRESNO STATE (NET: 79) has a chance to play spoiler and make a run. With two high-scoring guards in Braxton Huggins (19.3 ppg) and Deshon Taylor (18.4 ppg), the Bulldogs have already played close games against Nevada and Utah State, and there was a point in time that it looked like they were going to be near the tournament bubble. They’re dangerous, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Fresno State get hot and win this whole event.

The other team to keep an eye on is SAN DIEGO STATE (NET: 134). The Aztecs lost three of their last four games — to the top three teaams in the league — but they did have a four-game winning streak in February that featured wins over Utah State and Nevada. Jaden McDaniels is a future pro and he is capable of taking games over all by himself.

AMERICAN TOURNAMENT (March 14-17, Memphis)

Houston, Cincinnati and UCF are all going to be in the NCAA tournament field on Selection Sunday. TEMPLE (NET: 50) is in the tournament as of today, so they’re not going to be included in this conversation.

And while the AAC as a whole is down while WICHITA STATE (NET: 90), MEMPHIS (NET: 53) and UConn reload, two of those three are going to make some noise this weekend.

Let’s start with the former. Would you want to face Gregg Marshall and the Shockers with a postseason spot on the line? If Wichita State advances past No. 11 seed East Carolina in the first game of the American conference tournament, then they’ll get a crack at No. 3 seed Temple — a team fighting for its at-large life with every game. The Owls need to get that one to feel safe. Wichita State has won four consecutive games. Bubble teams will make this potential game appointment viewing on Friday night.

Next year is the year everyone continues to mention with Memphis. But why not now? Penny’s bunch has been surging with four wins in their last five games heading into the postseason. Senior guard Jeremiah Martin is one of only a handful of players capable of dropping 40 on any given night. The No. 4 seeded Tigers could get a shot at UCF in the quarterfinals in a winnable matchup that would be one of Friday’s underrated games to watch.

Should I mention that they have been dangerous at home and that they’ll be playing this tournament at home?

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

THE BIG BOYS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Illinois: Although Illinois has gone through a recent slide, there was a random stretch in the middle of Big Ten season where the Illini won five of six games — including wins over Maryland, Michigan State and Ohio State. Playing in Chicago at the United Center for the Big Ten tournament, a chunk of the Illinois roster calls the Windy City home as Illinois is going to have a small homecourt advantage in certain matchups. If freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu takes over a game, Illinois could crush a bubble team’s hopes.

Penn State: Winners of five of their last six games, the Nittany Lions are one of the hottest teams in the country — regardless of NCAA tournament status. While the Nittany Lions have been mostly feasting on Big Ten bottomfeeders during that span, they also earned a notable double-digit win over Maryland that opened some eyes. Beginning the Big Ten tournament with a matchup against Minnesota, Penn State could very easily play a spoiler role in Chicago this week.

DePaul: It’s easy to scoff at the Blue Demons being a credible threat given their No. 10 seeding in the Big East tournament. This isn’t the typical DePaul team we’ve seen over the years. Entering the postseason above .500 for the first time since 2007, the Blue Demons actually swept the season series over Big East tournament first-round opponent St. John’s. If Max Strus gets loose (he dropped 43 points on the Red Storm less than two weeks ago) then St. John’s is going to be sweating on Selection Sunday.

Xavier: The Musketeers have turned the corner over the last several weeks as they earned a No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament despite barely touching the bubble. And during that streak, Xavier picked off NCAA tournament-caliber teams and other hopefuls like Creighton, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova and two wins over St. John’s. Armed with five double-figure scorers, Xavier is playing some of the best ball of any team in the Big East right now as they shouldn’t be counted out in any game at Madison Square Garden.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks could immediately cause chaos in the SEC tournament with an opening-round game against Florida. Big man Daniel Gafford is one of the premier post threats in the country and a young Arkansas team has shaken off a late-season swoon to win three straight games. This could be a dangerous situation for the Gators as they’ve been inconsistent throughout this season.

UCLA: This lost season in Westwood could get interesting if the Bruins get a shot at Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament. We’ve seen how up-and-down the entire Pac-12 has been this season. UCLA has the talent to compete with any of those teams on the right night. The Sun Devils have had some puzzling games with losses to bad opponents. It’s entirely possible that the Bruins beat Arizona State and end their bubble hopes in the quarterfinals.

Oregon: Winners of four straight games — including a win at Washington, the Pac-12’s best team — the Ducks are another talented team who as straightened the ship late in the year. Point guard Payton Pritchard has plenty of big-game experience while freshman Louis King can take over a game if he gets hot. The Pac-12 has been so unpredictable this season that the Ducks could take advantage and make a run here.

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.