Gonzaga, Baylor remain atop AP Top 25; Alabama cracks top 10

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga and Baylor have remained firmly atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll all season while everyone else keeps rotating in and out of the top 10 beneath them as potential challengers.

This week, that includes Alabama for the first time in 14 years.

While the Bulldogs and Bears earned all 64 first-place votes in Monday’s latest Top 25 poll, the Crimson Tide had the week’s biggest jump by climbing nine spots to No. 9. That is the program’s highest ranking since last cracking the top 10 in January 2007.

Alabama has won nine straight games, with several wins marked by hot shooting and blowout margins.

“They’re playing together,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said Monday. “They’re showing great leadership, the chemistry’s good. Everything’s good around the program to the point where these guys deserve to be ranked in the top 10. Their play shows it. But all the hard work you put to get there, one bad outing and you’re probably out of it.”

Alabama (13-3, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) has won five league games by double-figure margins, including a 105-75 win at LSU last week that included the Crimson Tide hitting a league-record 23 3-pointers. They have scored at least 81 points in six straight games, including an 85-65 win at Kentucky and a 90-59 win against Arkansas.

THE TOP TIER

Mark Few’s Bulldogs earned 61 first-place votes while Scott Drew’s Bears claimed the other three, keeping both teams locked in their 1-2 position for the season’s 10th poll.

Villanova remained third followed by Michigan, with the Wolverines cracking the top five for a second straight season under Juwan Howard after being unranked earlier in the year. The rest of the top 10: Texas, Houston, Iowa, Virginia, Alabama and Texas Tech.

COVID-19 IMPACT

Michigan’s rise comes after the school announced a two-week pause in all sports activities due to concerns about a new COVID-19 variant believed to spread at a higher rate. That has led to the postponement of the Wolverines’ next four games through at least Feb. 11.

It remains to be seen how much their ranking will fluctuate during that time.

In Villanova’s case, the Wildcats were No. 5 when they beat Marquette on Dec. 23 before pausing team activities due to COVID-19 protocols. They didn’t play again until beating Seton Hall last Tuesday, though they had inched up to No. 3 by that point.

Florida State went the other direction. The Seminoles fell out from No. 25 in the midst of having three straight January games postponed. But they’ve won four straight games – three by double-digit margins – since returning and re-entered the poll Monday at No. 16.

RISING

Beyond Alabama’s big jump, Missouri climbed seven spots to reach No. 12 for the second time this season following Saturday’s win at then-No. 6 Tennessee. Virginia had the week’s other notable rise, climbing five spots after a 6-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

In all, 11 teams climbed from last week’s poll.

SLIDING

The Volunteers took the week’s biggest tumble, falling 12 spots after a 26-point loss at Florida followed by the Missouri home loss.

There were also six-spot slides for No. 15 Kansas and No. 17 Creighton. The Jayhawks lost at Baylor to start last week then fell at Oklahoma, marking the program’s first three-game skid since February 2013 and dropping them out of the top 10 for the first time in two years.

A total of seven teams fell from last week’s poll.

IN AND OUT

No. 24 Oklahoma and No. 25 Louisville joined Florida State as the week’s new additions to this week’s poll. Clemson (No. 20), Oregon (No. 21) and Connecticut (No. 23) fell out of the rankings.

The fall has been rapid for the Tigers, who were No. 12 two weeks ago before having to pause team activities. Since returning, Clemson has lost by 35 to Virginia, 18 to Georgia Tech and 19 to FSU.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Big 12 lead the way among the conferences.

Both have a national-best six ranked teams, though the Big 12 has five in the top 15 (Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, No. 11 West Virginia and Kansas). The Big Ten’s haul includes No. 13 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 19 Illinois and No. 21 Minnesota.

The ACC is next up with four teams, followed by the SEC (three) and the Big East (two).

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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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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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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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.