Monday Overreactions: Should we be worried about San Diego State and Gonzaga?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

Azubuike put together one of the most dominant performances I can ever remember seeing on Saturday against Baylor. He finished with 23 points points on 11-for-13 shooting, 19 boards and three blocks, but that really doesn’t entirely reflect the impact that he had on the game.

Offensively, it was obvious. The first time that Kansas and Baylor faced off, the Jayhawks were smothered by Baylor’s defense, as the Bears completely took away Doke by, essentially, double-teaming him before a pass was even made into the post. Kansas answered on Saturday by putting Doke in ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen, and his ability to be a vertical spacer was something that the Bears had no answer for.

But he was just as impactful defensively. Part of the reason that Baylor’s guards struggled as much as they did was because Doke has turned into maybe the best defensive five in the game. His ability to zone up against ball-screens — keeping the ball-handler from getting past him to the rim while being enough of a deterrent to defend against a pass to the roll man — neutered Baylor’s offense and allowed Kansas to keep control over this game for 40 minutes.

I’m not sure it will be enough to truly get Azubuike put into the conversation for National Player of the Yea —  or even for first-team All-American, not with Devon Dotson on his team — but it was certainly a statement.

Azubuike is as improved as anyone in college basketball even if the numbers don’t entirely show it, and Saturday was the day that the national finally realized it.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes are back!

On Sunday, Ohio State picked up what is probably their best win of the Big Ten season when they knocked off No. 7 Maryland in Columbus, 79-72. Ohio State is now 18-9 on the season and have won three of their last four and six of their last eight games. They are starting to look like the team that everyone thought was the best team in the country back in December.

We’ll see how long this lasts or if this is just a function of the Buckeyes getting a couple of games in a row at home, but if there was ever a time for a team to hit their stride, the last week of February would be it.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. SAN DIEGO STATE IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE

I’m not worried about San Diego State after the Aztecs lost to UNLV on Saturday.

I’m disappointed. In a season where the most interesting storyline seems to whether or not Kansas can win a national title with the FBI investigating, the NCAA bearing down and Snoop Dogg shooting fake money at dancers on stripper poles, I desperately wanted San Diego State to get into the NCAA tournament undefeated, blow through some East Coast juggernaut in Madison Square Garden and get to Atlanta with a shot at becoming the first team in 44 years to have a perfect season.

It would have been awesome.

But now that dream is dead, and T.J. Otzelberger killed it.

So that sucks.

But that doesn’t mean I’m worried about the Aztecs. This team is just as good now as they were before losing to the Rebels. UNLV has been one of the most improved teams in college basketball since conference play started. They caught fire early on a night where San Diego State, one of the best shooting teams in the country, didn’t actually start making shots until there were six minutes left in the game. They came out fired up and ready to make a statement on a night where the Aztecs, who have all-but locked up a No. 1 seed, celebrated their Mountain West regular season title by hanging a banner.

If anything, this was a pretty good wake-up call for the Aztecs. They got caught slipping, and while it cost them a chance at a perfect season, it might be just what they needed to actually win a national title.

And if you’re going to take a loss, it’s better to take it now than in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Ask Wichita State.

2. GONZAGA? THEY’RE GOING TO BE JUST FINE, TOO

Gonzaga also lost on Saturday, and while I’m not concerned about San Diego State, I’m even less worried about Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs went into the Marriott Center on Saturday, in front of 20,000 screaming fans and lost to a team that is quietly putting together the kind of a season that can get them into the five-seed conversation. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think that anytime the Zags lose, it’s a disaster because the WCC is the WCC, but this BYU team? …

3. BYU IS A TEAM THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE IN MARCH

… This BYU team is different.

They are one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams. They have a pair of guards in T.J. Haws and Jake Toolson that have to be guarded out to 30 feet but are also capable of exploiting defenses that sell out to stop them with their passing ability. Mark Pope is one of the more underrated coaches in the country, and watching his team run offenses is so much fun, especially when they are playing in their own building.

And should I mention that Yoeli Childs is an absolute monster?

I’m not sure there is a better fit at the five for BYU than an athletic and strong 6-foot-10 center that can catch lobs, dominate defenders in the post 1-on-1 and even step out and knock down a three. There are definitely reasons to be concerned about this team making a run in the tournament — defense, mainly — but if they happen to have one of those nights, they can beat literally anyone in college basketball.

4. I HOPE YOU DIDN’T FORGET ABOUT PAYTON PRITCHARD

The Ducks fell out of the top spot in the Pac-12 this week thanks to a loss at Arizona State, and it feels somewhat like Payton Pritchard has fallen out of the national consciousness a little bit.

And that’s too bad.

Because he is an absolute killer that can take over a game in ways that 6-foot point guards shouldn’t be able to. On Saturday, he had 38 points and four assists in a 73-72 overtime win at Arizona. He was awesome. Again.

I don’t think I’d have him as the National Player of the Year at this point, but I do think that he is deserving of being in the conversation. And if there is one guy that can pull a Kemba or a Shabazz and lead a team to a national title out of nowhere, it’s him.

5. UCLA AND PROVIDENCE ARE GOING TO GET INTO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

These are the two weirdest teams in the country.

UCLA lost to Hofstra and Fullerton at home before New Years, was sitting at 8-9 overall after starting Pac-12 play 1-3 and, as of today, is one game out of first place in the league title race. The Bruins swept the Mountain road trip and have now won nine of their last 11 games. They swept Colorado. They won at Arizona. And if they win out, they are guaranteed to win at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season title.

That’s wild.

Almost as wild as the fact that Providence might actually be able to get into the NCAA tournament after taking four Quad 3 and 4 losses during the non-conference season. They started out the year 11-10 overall, but after winning five of their last seven games, the Friars now have seven Quad 1 wins. In the last three weeks, they have won at Butler and at Marquette and beaten Creighton and Seton Hall at home.

I would expect nothing less from this roller coaster college basketball season than for these two programs to end up in the Sweet 16. I, for one, am here for it.

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.