Blogger spotlight: Bearcatsblog previews Cincinnati-Xavier

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Today kicks off a weekly feature where we spotlight a college hoops blogger and hit ‘em with a serious of questions heading into one of the week’s big games.

This week, it’s Scott King, who runs Bearcatsblog.

His Cincinnati Bearcats play Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout tonight. We chatted about that, the best Cincinnati team he’s seen the team’s fast start this season. When you’re done, be sure to check out Bearcatsblog, where Scott’s done a bunch of great posts on the Shootout, including the worst games and the biggest villains. (Well, from his point of view. Sorry Xavier fans.)

Q: Critics point to Cincinnati’s unimposing non-conference schedule as the main reason for a 14-0 start and why it just joined the AP and coaches’ polls. Fair or unfair?

A: It’s absolutely fair. Cincinnati played one of the absolute worst non-conference schedules in the country. It was easiest the worst slate of games that I’ve seen them schedule. The only tests they took were against Dayton, who seems to be a little down, and Oklahoma, who was a replacement for Duke.  I said it a day or so ago, I don’t think this team should be ranked. Rankings should be on merit, and I don’t think this team has done enough. And I write a Cincinnati blog.

Q: Last season’s Cincinnati squad featured two high-profile players in Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson, yet was largely unimpressive throughout the season. Yet Cincy’s off to its best start since 2004. What do you expect from here, both overall and in the Big East?

A: That’s the $64,000 question right now. Things really step up with the schedule now, with Xavier, and 3 of the next 4 games after that at Villanova, at Syracuse and at Notre Dame. If Cincinnati could get 3 wins out of that, I think it would be a huge boost to the team for the Big East slate. I think this team has the potential to be a top 6, top 7 team in the conference. I expect them to be around 9, 10 and in the bubble discussion.

Q: Biggest difference between this season and last?

A: I think there are a couple of huge differences. Yancy Gates has progressed nicely, and the combination of him and Ibrahima Thomas on the interior play very good defense, and they are great rebounders. Thomas especially on the offensive end. The guards, especially Dion Dixon, have really worked hard to improve their games. This team seems to have players that know what their roles are on the team, and they like playing with each other. Larry Davis, Sean Kilpatrick, and Darnell Wilks have all contributed quality minutes off the bench. Davis and Kilpatrick have both gone for 20 in games this year, Kilpatrick a couple of times.

I think last season there was a whole lot of deferring to Deonta Vaughn and to Lance Stephenson. They were good players, but everyone else took a back seat. This year, the guys seem to be all for one.

Q: Who’s your go-to guy? Do you need one?

A: I would say the go to guy is Dion Dixon. He wants the ball in his hands. He has really worked on his shot, despite his recent mini-slump, and when that’s not falling, he gets to the line. And to top it off, he’s second on the team in assists.

I think every team needs a go to guy. That guy doesn’t need to take all of the shots at the end, but he has to have a hand in them. You need someone to make a play when you team is in trouble and needs a score.

Q: Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick. When’s the last time Cincinnati’s had a core group of players this solid?

A: You have to go back a ways. I think it was the 2005 squad that had Jason Maxiell, Eric Hicks, James White, Nick Williams, Armien Kirkland. Coincidentally, that team was the last UC team to make the tournament. The team the next year was pretty solid, and nearly the same group minus Max and Kirkland, who got hurt in the Big East opener I believe.

Q: The defense reminds me of how it used to be played under a certain coach who always wore black. Is it there yet? Will it ever be?

A: It’s been there so far. All the defensive metrics have Cincinnati as a team who’s been very, very good. Most of that is due to playing bad teams, but Cincinnati has held both Big East foes to substandard shooting percentages, and controlled the tempo. I think that things could get back to the way they were definitely. Mick Cronin has a nice recruiting class coming in next year, and Wright, Gates, Kilpatrick and Dixon should all return. 

Q: It’s gotta be strange to see Huggins standing in front of the other bench when West Virginia comes to town, right? People still miss the guy?

A: The first time a few years ago was pretty surreal. It’s really weird watching the man who was the face of your program for years end up at a place where he’s also beloved, and that team is a conference foe. The first game was pretty good closure for me. Now, he’s West Virginia’s coach. I know that people still miss him, because people still say him getting fired is a reason they aren’t UC fans anymore. I mainly feel bad for them.

Q: Xavier’s on Thursday. I consider your rivalry to be the nastiest in the country, and in a good way. Is there a way to describe the Crosstown Shootout to someone who’s never seen one?

A:It’s very intense. There was always the big school/small school dynamic. There is the Jesuit school v. school that dudes punch police horses. There is the Pete Gillen’s coaching staff grabbing their crotches thing. All the players play each other in summer leagues and the like, and there is a rivalry there. Now mix in the fact that not only is Xavier beating big, bad Cincinnati, but they are beating them in the worst scenarios possible. Charles Williams dribbles the ball off his foot and Lenny Brown makes the winner? Check. Lloyd Price lay up? Check. Stupid jerk Kevin Frey hitting 3s and running down the court like a moron as Xavier beats top ranked UC again? Check. Kenny Satterfield missing a runner off the front of the rim? Check. Derek Brown getting a big dunk late? Check. Double overtime heart breaker? Check. Now mix in the fact that, while not all, many Xavier fans are gigantic a-holes and the hate level rises. It’s 1 town, 2 teams. While not quite up there with Louisville/Kentucky and Duke/Carolina, I think X/UC is definitely in the top 5 rivalries.

 Q: The Bearcats own a 47-30 advantage in this series, yet the Musketeers have won three straight vs. Cincinnati and 10 of the last 14. When will that swing back to Cincinnati’s favor?

A: Hopefully starting this year. The only time Cincinnati has beaten Xavier lately was Mick Cronin’s first season, which was his worst team. The talent level has risen back to near even between the schools, and I think we are in for years of highly competitive games with Cincinnati beating Xavier every year. I can hope.  

Q: Time to reminisce. Ever find yourself wondering what would’ve happened if Kenyon Martin hadn’t broken his leg in 2000? That was one of the best teams of the last dozen years, yet people seem to forget just how good they were.

A: That use to happen all the time when I watched the Nuggets or Nets. That team was absolutely loaded. They had DerMarr Johnson, who said he went pro because of the injury, Pete Mickeal, who was a second team All-American I think, Kenny Satterfield, Steve Logan, Jermaine Tate, who could rebound. That team had skill at every position. They hammered nearly everyone they played. The only losses were to Xavier, ugh, and to a good Temple team, who UC seemingly never beat. UC won their conference games by an average of like 17 a game. They destroyed St Louis by like 40 a few games before, and everyone expected a walkover in the first round of the tourney. Unfortunately, bad things happened. I still think UC walks to that title. No way anyone was stopping Kenyon.

Q: Best Cincinnati team you’ve seen.

A: It was the 1999-2000 team. But, I’m going to shout out to the 2001-02 Bearcats. That was the Steve Logan team. That was not a team that was supposed to be that good. Marquette was supposed to win the conference if I recall. UC lost the first game of the season, and then didn’t lose until February. Coincidentally, that was to Marquette. UC lost later that month, but crushed teams in March, including a dominating performance against Marquette in the C-USA final. They ended up being matched with an underachieving UCLA team in the second round, and blew a double digit second half lead. Logan was amazing that season. Lenny Stokes had a very good season as well. That team featured a freshman Maxiell off the bench.

Q: Favorite player?

A: Kenyon Martin

Q: Why?

A: Because Kenyon was the most bad ass basketball player in the world. He blocked shots, he scored, he rebounded, he intimidated, he dominated. He did everything. Youtube the highlights from the DePaul game, or as it’s called around Cincinnati, the Kenyon game. Martin lead a UC comeback down 10 with 3:45 to go by hitting back to back turn around jumpers, went to his left for another bucket, blocked a shot that led to UC free throws, blocked another shot, hit the tying bucket, went baseline on two defenders to re-tie the score, and took the ball up the floor to get the assist on the game winning basket. Like I said, bad ass.

Q: Bottom line: Is Cincinnati a football school or basketball school?

A: Basketball school. I think Cincinnati is a football town, mainly because the NFL has become religion in America. When I think Cincinnati Bearcats, I think basketball. Some of that could just be the time I was growing up. I grew up with the Huggins era. The Final Four run was right in my formative years as a basketball fan. I still remember Nick Van Exel hitting a half court shot against Xavier. Plus, Cincinnati has one of the 5 greatest basketball players of all time, and 2 national championships. They have none of that in football. That makes you a basketball school. 

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.

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.