Blogger Spotlight: Inside Kansas-Missouri with Upon Further Review

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This weekend’s not just about the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. Well, at least not in the Kansas City area.

No. 2 Kansas travels to Columbia, Mo., Saturday for their annual second showdown with longtime rival Missouri. And there’s reason for Jayhawks fans to be concerned despite the Tigers’ recent woes in this rivalry.

Will Kansas lose focus after clinching a share of the Big 12 title on Wednesday? And how will it fare at a place where the Tigers are

For answers to those questions and more – like the greatness of statistics when measuring teams – I turned to Martin Manley for this week’s Blogger Spotlight. He writes about the Jayhawks, Tigers and Wildcats for Upon Further Review, a blog owned by the Kansas City Star.

Q: Kansas owns this rivalry lately. Is Bill Self’s system a bad matchup for Mike Anderson’s style, or are the Tigers on the verge of making this competitive again?   

A: I don’t think Self’s system or style of play is a variable in why KU is somewhat dominant. It mostly boils down to the fact that KU has superior players. Anderson’s style works extremely well against lesser quality teams because they can press them and create a lot of turnovers. That’s why they are usually at the top of the NCAA charts on opponents’ turnovers. But, good teams can manage that press.

Q: Do the fans care more about the rivalry than the players and coaches? That must drive Norm Stewart nuts.

A: I think the majority of fans care more than the coaches simply because part of the mindset of any coach is to try to avoid making one game more important than another. Every coach wants to keep his team mentally prepared at all times. Sure, they will give a little extra locker-room rah, rah when playing a major rival, but it’s really nothing compared to the intensity that fans have – especially in Kansas City – especially between Lawrence and Columbia, civil war and all.

Q: OK, aesthetics and sheer enjoyment : Which team’s more fun to watch?

A: In recent years, I have considered Mizzou to be more enjoyable to watch – just a lot more action. Self’s teams, on the other hand, are more disciplined and based upon setting up in the half court.

However, I have to say this particular season, KU is incredibly fun to watch – easily the most enjoyable of Self’s teams at Kansas. It’s not because they run a lot, but because the half court offense is the best I have ever seen in college – amazingly efficient. It reminds me of the 1980’s Celtics.

Q: You’re right about the offense. Kansas has so many offensive options – and underrated players on a national level such as Tyrel Reed – that this seems like the first year when the offense is overshadowing the always solid defense. (Though, I’d say the defense is far from its usual intimidating self.) Are you a believer that defense, not offense, wins titles? And will this year put that to the test?

A: I recently did a study on defense winning titles and there is no doubt that it does. Kansas always has a very good defense based upon points allowed per possession coupled with defensive FG%. Typically, it is their defense that wins most of the time. In 2011, it’s more their offense.

Q: Does Kansas give you some pause about their national title hopes then? Or is the offense that good?

A: You have to realize KU has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 at some point in all but four seasons since 1991 and yet they have only won one title in that span. Of course, there are 340+ teams too.

The bottom line concern for Kansas fans is that they have had some very disappointing early exits from the tournament. Only the most optimistic would default to a national championship (2008) over an early exit (multiple). The superior offense gives reason for hope in 2011, but KU has had better defenses and still fallen way short. So, it’s pure guesswork.

Q: What’s with Missouri and its road woes? Should that be a warning sign for March Madness? 

A: Missouri’s style of play feeds off the fans. It’s 40 minutes of hell…ter skelter. The fans get involved and it helps MU and hurts their opponents. They don’t have that advantage on the road. Even so, the jury is out on neutral courts. They are 3-1 this year with their only loss being a last second collapse against Georgetown.

Q: A promising sign for the NCAA tournament then. Is Missouri’s ceiling going to depend on their seed, then? Or is this a team that’ll max out in the Sweet 16 regardless of seed?

A: I’m not a believer in seeds having much to do with any team’s ceilings. We talk a lot about who is seeded where and if they are too high or too low, but that always means one position at most. Suppose MU is a #8. Does it matter if they are a #9 instead… or a #7. I don’t think so. The advantage Mizzou has is that their style is unique and other teams don’t plan for it. That should help them no matter where they are seeded. On the other hand, their big disadvantage is that they don’t bang well and that can be important in the tournament.

Q: Kansas City loves its Chiefs. But when it comes to hoops would it be a Jayhawks backer or Tigers backer?  (And is K-State ever going to be on that level of fan interest?)

A: In Kansas City, there is a larger KU presence than MU, but not by a lot. K-State is third. I suppose the Cats could be on the Hawks or Tigers level of interest, but they would have to be very good at basketball to make it so. MU is the major school in the state, so people on the Missouri side are partial. Lawrence is very close to KC, so the Kansas side is heavily influenced by the Hawks.

Q: Upon Further Review isn’t afraid to whip out the stats. Do find you’ve cultivated an audience that expects this from you? Or do they still want some of the sports clichés?

A: As to Upon Further Review, all I can say is that I write about what interests me – and that means it’s going to be predicated upon statistical evidence the huge majority of the time. UFR is not about subjectivity and unsupported opinion. Just the opposite. Sports clichés, tweets, quotes, typical reporting are all unacceptable.

The only thing that matters to me, and the vast majority of UFR readers, is what can be quantified and what can be proven. Of course, even within those parameters, there is room for debate. If a person wants something else, there are 10,000 other places to go on the net, but there is only one UFR.

Q: Are there any college hoops misnomers or myths you find people cling to? And how long until advanced statistical analysis makes those myths go away?

A: I’ve dealt with a lot of “myths” on UFR over the years. There are still a lot of them that people cling to. One I’ve been dealing with recently is how even the media clings to the notion that whoever had the most points in a game “led the team to victory”. Almost nothing irritates me more than that.

I invented the Efficiency Rating (EFF) in 1985 – not to be confused with John Hollingers Efficiency Rating. The NBA adopted EFF a few years ago. It’s overwhelmingly more accurate in determining which player was the most valuable in a game than simple points scored. The media (mainstream) is too lazy to look beyond points, but someday, somewhere in another land far, far away… perhaps EFF will become commonplace. In baseball, stats like OPS are starting to become more widely known, so there is hope.

Q: How did you get into blogging and how does it fit into your “real” job?

A: I work for the Kansas City Star. I’m primarily responsible for statistical information in the paper. Newspapers are, as everyone knows, struggling. So, more and more emphasis has been put on kansascity.com – which is owned by The Star.

A few years back we began UFR as a place thinking people could congregate – a place removed from the “your team sucks” mentality that is so pervasive so many other places. Upon Further Review concentrates on the Kansas City area – primarily Chiefs, Royals, Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State.

However, there are quite a few stories on Big 12 football and basketball as well as NFL, MLB and NBA. I’m the primary contributor and do all the behind the scenes work, but we also have reader contributions that I post from time to time.

You can read more of Martin’s work by clicking here.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.