The Valley is a three team race — will two of them be dancing?


Bradley’s win over Creighton, the first for the Braves in conference play, was not the most significant news to come out of the Missouri Valley Conference Tuesday.

With Wichita State’s 70-54 win over Indiana State, the Valley has essentially become a three team race. The loss dropped the Sycamores — who rode a soft early schedule and a couple of buzzer beaters to a 7-1 start in league play — to fourth place, a full two games out of third with only six games left to play.

The Shockers are now all alone in first at 10-2 in league play, with Missouri State a half game back in the win column and Northern Iowa a game behind the Bears. Its sure to be an exciting finish — Wichita State still has to play at Northern Iowa and Missouri State, while the Bears and the Panthers have already split their home-and-home — but the more interesting question is whether the Valley will be able to earn a second bid to the NCAA Tournament this season.

The bubble is wide open this year, but a major reason there are so many at-large bids up for grabs is that their really aren’t many suitable mid-major threats. Tourney stalwarts Gonzaga, Butler, Memphis, and even Xavier all have quite a bit of work to do if they are going to get in without winning their conference tournament. Teams like St. Mary’s and Utah State have pretty records without much in the way of impressive wins.

Here’s a quick look at the tournament resume for each team:

Wichita State:

  • RPI/Kenpom/SOS: 48/43/109
  • Record: 19-4, 10-2
  • Best Wins: Evansville, Indiana State, LSU, Tulsa, Virginia
  • Bad Losses: None

Missouri State:

  • RPI/Kenpom/SOS: 46/70/111
  • Record: 17-5, 9-2
  • Best Wins: at Wichita State, at Northern Iowa, Evansville, Creighton X 2, Pacific
  • Bad Losses: Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Indiana State

Northern Iowa:

  • RPI/Kenpom/SOS: 51/95/108
  • Record: 17-6, 8-3
  • Best Wins: New Mexico, Indiana, Wichita State, Missouri State, Morehead State, Iowa State
  • Bad Losses: Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Iowa, Southern Illinois, Indiana State

Its not difficult to tell that all three of these teams struggled in non-conference play against schedules that were, frankly, pretty bad. They have combined for all of five wins against the RPI top 100, and only one of those — Northern Iowa’s win over New Mexico in Las Vegas — come against someone other than one of these three teams.

Wichita State probably has the best chance to get an at-large bid because they don’t have any bad losses — in addition to losing to UNI and MSU, the Shockers lost by four to UConn and 14 at San Diego State. They play both of those teams on the road before the season is done, while also getting a shot at VCU in Bracket Busters.

That said, Missouri State has already notched road wins against Creighton along with UNI and WSU in league play. They easily have the softest finish to MVC play, and being able to claim a conference regular season title will hold some weight.

Northern Iowa seems to finally be rounding into form. They struggled to start the season, including a 1-3 start in league play, but the Panthers have bounced back with seven straight wins. The last game in that winning streak happened to come against Missouri State. Remember, this is a team that has been there before (who can forget Ali Farokhmanesh) and that win over New Mexico could still end up looking quite impressive.

Whether or not the Valley ends up getting a second bid to the tournament may likely depend on the league’s performance in Bracket Busters. The conference as a whole didn’t have a great non-conference season — they lost 8-1 to the Mountain West in the MVC-MWC Challenge — and wins over teams like George Mason, VCU, and Valparaiso can only help boost the league’s overall profile, especially against other mid-major bubble hopefuls.

The problem with talking about the bubble, however, is that it takes focus away from what truly is important here.

Once again, the Valley is going to have a terrific race for first in the regular season. Its going to, once against, have a terrific conference tournament. All of it is going to be happening in front of packed arenas full of loyal and loud fanbases.

The Missouri Valley is what mid-major hoops is all about.

Lets celebrate that instead of discussing the league’s bubble hopes.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

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.