A few good wins get you in our latest NCAA tournament projections

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There’s a lot of good news in Pittsburgh these days: the Steelers are headed to another Super Bowl, and – more important for hoops fans – the Panthers are leading the Big East and back on pace for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Our latest bracket projection has Pittsburgh as No. 1 in the East with trips through Cleveland and Newark.  Ohio State remains the top overall seed and No. 1 in the Southeast.  It’ll be interesting to see if the Buckeyes end up East or Southeast should the current projection move forward.  Duke and Kansas are the other No. 1 seeds.  Close behind our two-seeds Connecticut, Texas, San Diego State, and Syracuse.

As we noted in our Bubble Preview, there is a large group around the cutline.  Bubble Banter officially returns on February 1.  On that note, the Big 12 is very bunched.  Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, and Kansas State are all on the bubble.  This week, KSU squeezes in a single spot above Marquette to avoid being among the Last 5 In.  The Wildcats get the nod based on a superior strength of schedule.  How these teams separate will be important to watch over the next few weeks.  Safe to say, there are a lot of teams who will play their way “in” and/or “out” during February.

If you had to pick a Game of the Week, how about San Diego State at BYU?  Can either earn a No. 1 seed? The short answer is yes, obviously.  But it will probably require an outright  Mountain West regular-season title.  What happens at the top of the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC will matter, too.  Duke, for example, figures to post a gaudy record in the ACC.  We’ll see. 

Rebounds always welcome.  Follow along at Bracketville.

UPDATED: Monday, January 24 | Records reflect Division I games only – through January 24.

Teams in CAPS represent the projected conference champion for this bracket. Exceptions are made for those teams that traditionally use an abbreviation (UTEP, BYU, etc).

NOTE: In the new 68-team format you will notice two pairing games that represent the First Four pairings. In this bracket the First Four games in Dayton would be … UCLA vs. South Carolina | Penn Sate vs. Wichita State | Texas Southern vs. McNeese State | Austin Peay vs. Long Beach. The final four at-large teams are paired along with the teams seeded 65-68 on the S-curve. The matchups are indicated in the bracket below.

Next Update: Monday, January 31.

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTNewark   SOUTHEASTNew Orleans
Cleveland   Cleveland
1) PITTSBURGH (19-2)   1) OHIO STATE (20-0)
16) LONG ISLAND (14-5)     16) AUSTIN PEAY / LONG BEACH
8 UNLV (15-5)   8 Florida State (15-5)
9) Virginia Tech (13-5)   9) MISSOURI STATE (16-4)
     
Tampa   Chicago
5) Florida (15-4)   5) Vanderbilt (14-4)
12) VCU (15-5)   12) MEMPHIS (15-4)
4) Wisconsin (15-4)   4) Notre Dame (17-4)
13) CHARLESTON (14-6)   13) OAKLAND (13-8)
     
Charlotte   Denver
6) West Virginia (13-5)   6) Tennessee (12-7)
11) Penn State / Wichita State   11) Kansas State (12-7)
3) KENTUCKY (15-4)   3) BYU (17-1)
14) BUCKNELL (14-7)   14) FAIRFIELD (15-4)
     
Tulsa   Washington, DC
7) Georgetown (14-5)   7) Temple (13-5)
10) Arizona (16-4)   10) Boston College (14-6)
2) Texas (16-3)   2) Connecticut (16-2)
15) BALL STATE (12-3)   15) FLORIDA ATLANTIC (13-6)
     
SOUTHWEST – San Antonio   WEST – Anaheim
Charlotte   Tulsa
1) DUKE (18-1)   1) KANSAS (18-1)
16) HAMPTON (14-4)   16) McNEESE ST / TX SOUTHERN
8 Cincinnati (17-3)   8 North Carolina (13-5)
9) ST. MARY’S (14-3)   9) St. John’s (11-7)
     
Denver   Chicago
5) Minnesota (15-4)   5) WASHINGTON (15-4)
12) UCLA / South Carolina   12) CLEVELAND STATE (16-3)
4) Missouri (16-3)   4) Purdue (17-3)
13) UTAH STATE (18-2)   13) BELMONT (18-3)
     
Tucson   Tampa
6) Michigan State (11-7)   6) Illinois (14-6)
11) Marquette (13-7)   11) XAVIER (13-5)
3) Texas AM (16-2)   3) Villanova (17-2)
14) PRINCETON (11-4)   14) COASTAL CAROLINA (14-2)
     
Washington, DC   Tucson
7) Georgia (14-4)   7) Louisville (15-4)
10) Washington State (14-6)   10) Gonzaga (12-7)
2) Syracuse (18-2)   2) SAN DIEGO STATE (18-0)
15) MAINE (11-7)   15) NORTHERN COLORADO (9-7)

NOTES on the BRACKET: Ohio State is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Pittsburgh, Duke, and Kansas. The two seeds in order are Connecticut, Texas, San Diego State, Syracuse

Last Five teams in (at large): Marquette, Penn State, UCLA, South Carolina, Wichita State

First Five teams out (at large): Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, Butler, Old Dominion

Also Considered: Richmond, Central Florida, Duquesne, Dayton, Colorado State, Maryland, Miami-FL, George Mason, Southern Mississippi, UTEP

Bracket adjustments: The First Four matchup of Penn State/Wichita State (East) moves up to the No. 11 line to avoid a conference conflict and Memphis drops to the 12-seed in the Southeast.

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big East (11): PITTSBURGH, Connecticut, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, St. John’s, Marquette

Big Ten (7): OHIO STATE, Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State

SEC (6): KENTUCKY, Vanderbilt, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina

ACC (5): DUKE, North Carolina, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Florida State

Big 12 (5): KANSAS, Texas, Texas AM, Missouri, Kansas State

Pac 10 (4): WASHINGTON, Arizona, Washington State, UCLA

Mountain West (3): SAN DIEGO STATE, BYU, UNLV

Missouri Valley (2): MISSOURI STATE, Wichita State

West Coast (2): ST. MARY’S, Gonzaga

Atlantic 10 (2): XAVIER, Temple

Conference USA (1): MEMPHIS

Colonial (1): VCU

Horizon (1): CLEVELAND STATE

Auto Bid conference champions … Utah State (WAC), Austin Peay (OVC), Fairfield (MAAC), Ball State (MAC), Northern Colorado (Big Sky), Charleston (Southern), Oakland (Summit), Long Beach (Big West), Long Island (NEC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), Princeton (Ivy), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Hampton (MEAC), Bucknell (Patriot), Vermont (America East), McNeese State (Southland), Texas Southern (SWAC)

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.