Viewer’s guide to November hoops tourneys

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‘Tis the time for early season college basketball tournaments.

If you’re like us, you’ll spend the next two weeks glued to the TV, watching every game you can and trying to figure out a way to DVR the rest. In fact, there’s so much basketball to watch, it’s too much for one person to properly describe. That means it’s time for back-forth between me and Rob Dauster. We’ve got you covered.

Can’t miss tournament

Mike: The CBE Classic might feature more NCAA tournament-worthy teams (Duke, Gonzaga, K-State and San Diego State among them), but the Maui Invitational is the biggest deal. The field’s solid (Michigan State, UConn and Wichita State), but the potential semifinal matchup between Washington and Kentucky is as good as it gets this fall. When Terrence Jones intially committed to Washington in May, then immediately changed his mind and eventually headed to Lexington, it set off a mini-recruiting war of words between each program’s supporters. The players also want a piece of each other. Huskeis guard Isaiah Thomas said as much on Twitter.

Rob: The CBE Classic is certainly loaded at the top, but in my humble opinion, it does not qualify for this category. You see, this is the Can’t Miss “Tournament” category, and the CBE

Classic is not a tournament. Let me explain. The four “hosts” — Duke, Marquette, Kansas State, and Gonzaga — automatically make it to the round of four, which is held in Kansas City. For these early season tournaments, that generally isn’t a huge issue, but one of the early matchups in the CBE is between Gonzaga and San Diego State. There are some that would argue SDSU and Gonzaga the two best teams on the west coast, but if the Aztecs win — in Spokane, nonetheless — the Zags still advance? That’s not a tournament!

(Excuse me while I step down from my pedestal.)

Back to the point, I’m going to go with the Puerto Rico Tip-off simply because I apparently have no desire to agree with you in this category. North Carolina gets Hofstra and Charles Jenkins in the first round and looks destined to play an underrated Minnesota team in the second round. On the other side of the bracket, tourney teams Vanderbilt and West Virginia loom while Sun Belt favorite Western Kentucky is fresh off of a 28 point beatdown of St. Joe’s.

Mike: OK, it’s settled. You head to Puerto Rico, I’ll head to Maui — in late November. It’s a win-win!

Breakout player

 

Rob: One thing that is great about the Coaches vs. Cancer is that it happens at a time when most people will be able to tune in. That means that those people are going to get a chance to see Pitt’s Brad Wanamaker play. When you think about the Panthers, the first kid that comes to mind is Ashton Gibbs, their leading scorer and a potential first team all conference player. And while Gibbs is listed as a point guard, he really is the scoring guard for that team. Wanamaker is the playmaker. He’s the guy that facilitates that offense. He looks like he has streamlined his body and gotten more explosive in his senior season. Through three games he is averaging 19.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 6.3 apg while shooting 65 percent from the floor. Don’t be surprised when he makes a name for himself at Madison Square Garden.

Mike: I do like Wanamaker, and that whole Pitt team. Wanamaker reminds me of how college hoops used to be — a guy would stay in school four years, improving each season. By the time they’re seniors, it all pays off. Of course, Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer doesn’t fit that stereotype given everyone’s known he’s a big-time talent for years. And if they haven’t, they’re not paying attention. The 6-10 senior forward is smooth and efficient offensively, hits the defensive glass and doesn’t commit turnovers. He’s perfect for Bo Ryan’s offense — or any offense, really. He’ll help the Badgers take the title in the Old Spice Classic and propel himself into the national spotlight early.

Or, if you prefer your stars to play above the rim, try the Preseason NIT on Monday night. Pepperdine’s Keion Bell is bound to have at least three (nasty) dunks on UCLA players.

Rob: That’s the Keion Bell that did this, right? Right.

Team in for a rude awakening

Mike: I would pick on your Hoyas, but after their scare at ODU, I think they’ll be ready for Wofford in the Charleston Classic semifinals. (He writes without much conviction.) Wake Forest, on the other hand, should be shaking at the thought of playing Virginia Commonwealth in the Preseason NIT. The Demon Deacons are supposedly the No. 3 seed in the event, but the odds of them advancing to NYC aren’t good. Not with VCU’s underrated offense coming to Winston-Salem. Jeff Bzdelik doesn’t have the players to beat ACC foes yet, let alone top-flight non-BCS schools like VCU.

Rob: Can Wake Forest be rudely awoken again? They just got smacked at home by Stetson, losing their starting point guard in the process. I think it is safe to say this team is going to be at the bottom of the ACC this season.

Mike: Fair enough. What if I stick in the ACC and tell everyone to keep a close eye on UNC? You’ve already mentioned the Tar Heels’ opponents (Hofstra and likely Minnesota), which only adds to the steep learning curve Roy Williams’ team has this year.

Rob: I’ve got two teams for you. I’ll stay in the Big East for the first one and go with the UConn Huskies. Don’t get me wrong, I see this UConn team having some potential this season. I love Kemba Walker, and Alex Oriakhi looks well on his way to becoming a bigger Jeff Adrien after corralling 18 boards in their opener on Friday. But beyond that, the Huskies are young. Talented? Yes. Athletic? Yes. But they are very inexperienced and will be going up against a Wichita State team that is loaded with experience, plays tough defense, and is the favorite to win the MVC. Should they manage to win that game, UConn gets Michigan State in the second round. That could get ugly.

The second team is Kansas State. Wildcat fans may not agree with this pick, but I think that K-State is a bit overrated right now. Its not that they don’t have the talent, but I think that there are a lot of question marks — things like Curtis Kelly getting benched, a lack of scoring on the wings, a back court mate for Jacob Pullen — that need an answer. An early season matchup with a team as good as Gonzaga or potentially Duke could expose K-State.

Skip it

Mike: Unless you’re a Missouri fan dying to see the Tigers run up the score on sub-par teams, skip the Cancun Challenge. If the teams are smart, they’ll blow off the games and go sit on the beach.

Rob: You weren’t joking. The Cancun field is terrible. Other than Missouri, the only potential tournament team is Morgan State, and that is because they are the favorite to win the MEAC, which may be the worst conference in the country. I’d recommend skipping the Legends Classic as well. Syracuse should be pretty good, but Georgia Tech and Michigan are down, and UTEP just lost to Pacific.

Most vivid memory 

Rob: Simple. Gonzaga knocking off Michigan State 109-106 in the Maui Invitational in 2005. Three OT’s, Adam Morrison going for 43, buzzer beaters, future NBA players, two of the best coaches and the best programs in the country, and a missed layup that could have won the game with 4 seconds left in the third OT. It was terrific. The lasting image I have from that game comes courtesy of Maurice Ager. Ager led the Spartans rally at the end of regulation by hitting five threes in the last 7:10. The fifth came at the buzzer in regulation, and after hitting the shot, Ager stood at center court, screaming to the ceiling while pounding his chest before getting enveloped by his teammates.

That is what college basketball is all about. I still get chills watching the YouTube highlights.

Mike: That’s one of mine, too. I remember thinking we were bound to see a Final Four rematch, but it wasn’t to be.

My most vivid memory isn’t a fond one. A year after I graduated from Kansas, the Jayhawks played Ball State at Maui – and came away with a numbing 93-91 loss. It didn’t mean much that season (Kansas went to the Final Four and Ball State landed in the NIT), but it was a sight to see KU players on the sidelines nursing cramps and getting beaten badly on defense. It’s just one of the reasons why the early season tourneys can be so fun – sometimes, the unexpected happens, just like in March.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.