Memphis leaves Big Dance bubble; who’s still sweating?

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One day until Selection Sunday and we still have some unanswered questions.  Here’s the latest bubble update through 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, including Memphis’ thrilling comeback win over UTEP in the Conference USA title game.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble. If a team isn’t listed, they aren’t a bubble team at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to CollegeRPI.com.

UPDATED: Saturday, March 12 | 1:15 p.m. ET

Automatic Bids (14): UNC-Ashville (Big South), Morehead State (OVC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Indiana State (MVC), Butler (Horizon), Wofford (Southern), Arkansas Little Rock (Sun Belt), Gonzaga (West Coast), Memphis (C-USA) Old Dominion (Colonial), Oakland (Summit), St. Peter’s (MAAC), Long Island (NEC), Northern Colorado (Big Sky), Bucknell (Patriot)

Total Spots (68): Number of total teams in the Field.

  • Projected Locks (29): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (7): These teams are teams in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (23): Teams projected to be at or near the cutline for being selected as at-large candidates.
  • Spots available (8): Number of projected available openings for the bracket.
  • Leaving the Bubble: Colorado State, Memphis, Washington State
  • Joining the Bubble: None
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through 1:00 p.m. ET on March 12.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Xavier, Temple | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Richmond
  • Richmond (25-7 | 14-3) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 141 | – The Spiders closed with 10 wins in 12 games – their only losses to Xavier and Temple. The win over Purdue continues to be a major helping point, and a victory over VCU is looking better again. Because the Spiders suffered lopsided losses against Xavier and Temple in their regular-season meetings, do they need to beat one of them in the A-10 tournament? We’ll see. Today’s matchup with Temple could be huge.
ACC
Locks: Duke, North Carolina | Should Be In: Florida State | Bubble: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech
  • Boston College (20-12 | 10-8) | RPI:58 | SOS: 38 | – BC ended its season with a lopsided loss to Clemson. Highlights are an early win over Texas AM and a sweep of Virginia Tech. Lowlights are a 1-8 mark vs. Top 50 teams, plus a home loss to Yale. Eagles have 7 Top 100 wins, but four of those are VT and Maryland. It’s going to be a long wait until Sunday night.
  • Clemson (21-10 | 10-7) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 72 | – The Tigers rolled over BC Friday and into the ACC semis. The victory also gave Clemson a sweep of Boston College – for what it’s worth. The Tigers may still have work to do. Their best win is Florida State and they are 1-6 vs. Top 50 RPI teams. Up next is North Carolina – the type of marquee win the Tigers lack. Outside the ACC, Clemson’s best win is Charleston. They do have 9 Top 100 wins, but that can sometimes be deceiving. Clemson has losses to Old Dominion, Michigan, and South Carolina to go along with hiccups against NC State and Virginia.
  • Virginia Tech (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 86 | – Beating Florida State Friday was a must. Now, the Hokies get another shot at Duke. Do they need it? Will be a close call. Beating the Blue Devils would probably secure it. The Hokies entered the ACC Tournament squarely on the cutline and continue to hover. Besides Duke, the Hokies beat Florida State twice, plus have a win over Penn State. Being swept by Boston College and losing their only game to Clemson are concerns. They were also swept by Virginia, lost at Georgia Tech, and are 4-6 in true road games. VT is 2-4 vs. the Top 50 and 8-7 vs. the Top 100.
BIG EAST
Locks: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, St. John’s West Virginia, Cincinnati | Should Be In: Marquette | Bubble: None
 
BIG 10
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State
  • Illinois (19-13 | 9-10) | RPI: 46| SOS: 16 | – The Illini blew a lead on Michigan and bowed out in their first Big Ten tournament game. While the general feeling is the Illini will make it, their outlook would have been more solid with a second win over the Wolverines. Good wins include N. Carolina, at Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State. Down the stretch, however, Illinois went 5-7 in its last 12 games. Strong SOS numbers and 11 Top 100 wins are a plus. The loss at UIC is a major sore point – along with a loss at Indiana.
  • Michigan State (18-13 | 11-9) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 9 | The Spartans made a statement by pounding Purdue Friday night and certainly helped their case. Next is Penn State; the Lions may need one more to stay in the bracket. MSU is hoping its strong SOS will be rewarded; we’ve seen it in the past. The Spartans are just 5-12 vs. Top 50 teams, but 10-12 vs. the Top 100. They are 15-13 vs. the Top 200. MSU might be able to absorb a loss to PSU, but it’s hard to move the Spartans completely off the bubble. Maybe by tonight.
  • Michigan (19-12 | 10-9) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 17 | Michigan played well down the stretch and rallied to beat Illinois Friday afternoon in Indy. Thanks to Clemson’s surge, the Wolverines have 5 Top 50 wins at the moment and may very well have played themselves in. Next up is Ohio State. Find a way to beat the Buckeyes and any doubts will end. Outside the league, Michigan’s best win is at Clemson, although they did beat Harvard at home. In the Big 10, Michigan swept Michigan State and Penn State. Their only “bad” loss was at Indiana in early January.
  • Penn State (18-13 | 11-9) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 5 | The Nittany Lions staved off elimination by beating Indiana Thursday and then upset Wisconsin Friday night in a low-scoring game. Penn State has three solid victories at home (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State) to go along with a second win over the Badgers. The Lions are a 3-8 on the road – which could still be a problem. Despite a solid SOS, PSU’s best non-conference victories are Fairfield and Duquesne. Will that be a factor? Plus, they lost at Virginia Tech. They are 4-9 vs. the Top 50 and 9-12 vs. the Top 100.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Texas, Texas AM, Missouri, Kansas State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Colorado
  • Colorado (20-13 | 10-9) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 47 | – Beating Kansas State for a third time may be enough to push – and keep – Colorado in the Field of 68. But given their no-show in non-conference play (No. 323 SOS), we can’t take the Buffaloes off the bubble. CU lost to Georgia and New Mexico, along with three sub-100 RPI losses (San Francisco, Oklahoma, Iowa State). The big upside is an 8-10 mark vs. the Top 100 including a win over Texas.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV | Should Be In: None | Bubble: New Mexico
  • New Mexico (20-12 | 9-8) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 77 | – The Lobos made a strong surge to close the season, but will probably fall a bit short after losing to BYU in the Mountain West semis. Yes, the Lobos beat BYU twice and Colorado outside the league, but UNM’s non-conference SOS (No. 255) is still a problem. UNM is 5-8 vs. the Top 100
PAC 10
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: UCLA, Washington | Bubble: USC
  • USC (19-14 | 11-9) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 39 | – Credit the Trojans for making a late charge. USC piled up some solid wins (Texas early and at Tennessee included), but they also have 6 sub-100 RPI losses – including 3 sub-200 losses (TCU, Oregon State, Bradley). They were also swept by Oregon. Such a high number of bad losses – throughout the season – will probably keep USC a little short. How Selection Committee members view the information remains to be seen.
SEC
Locks: Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt | Should Be In: Tennessee | Bubble: Georgia, Alabama
  • Georgia (21-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 40 | – Losing to Alabama a second time doesn’t help, but Georgia has one big advantage on other bubble teams – no bad RPI losses. Of their 11 losses, 9 came to teams ranked 35 or higher in the RPI. Outside the league, Georgia beat Colorado but lost to Xavier and Temple. Georgia isn’t safe, but their profile isn’t that much different than Marquette’s. If the Committee gives Marquette credit for “good” losses, they have to do the same for Georgia, right? The Bulldogs non-conference slate is slightly better, too.
  • Alabama (21-10 | 13-4) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 127 | – What will the Selection Commitee do with Alabama? That’s a big topic of debate. After rallying to beat Georgia a second time, Alabama has 13 SEC wins – including Kentucky and at Tennessee. Outside the SEC, Alabama’s profile is very questionable – and could be why the Tide still need another win over Kentucky to stay in the field. Their non-conference SOS ranks No. 283 and the Tide’s best non-league win is Lipscomb. They also have early losses to Iowa and Seton Hall.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: NONE | Should Be In: George Mason, Old Dominion | Bubble: Missouri State, Memphis, UAB, St. Mary’s, Utah State
  • Missouri State (25-8 | 17-4) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 125 | – Long wait coming up for the Bears who lost to Indiana State in the finals of the MVC tournament. With no Top 50 wins and just a 3-6 mark vs. the Top 100, Missouri State has to hope the Selection Committee values an outright MVC regular season title. Odds aren’t promising, given the current bubble situation.
  • UAB (22-7 | 12-5) | RPI: 30 | SOS: 79 | – UAB finished early than hoped after losing in the C-USA quarterfinals to East Carolina. The Blazers ended with a regular-season C-USA title, but an 0-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams. UAB did beat VCU and has a host of mid-level wins against league teams. Will that be enough with a 9-5 road record? Being swept by Memphis won’t help. Like Missouri State, the Blazers may come up just short.
  • VCU (23-11 | 14-7) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 86 | – VCU rallied to beat Drexel and then upset George Mason in the CAA tournament, but fell short in the title game with Old Dominion. The Rams have a neutral-court win over UCLA and also won at Wichita State in the BracketBuster. VCU is 3-5 vs. the Top 50 and 8-8 vs. the Top 100. A loss at UAB could come into play. Has VCU done enough? It could depend on how other bubble teams perform.
  • St. Mary’s (23-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 99 | – The Gaels lost to Gonzaga in the WCC title game and now have an anxious wait until Selection Sunday. An early win over St. John’s helps, and St. Mary’s split with Gonzaga in the regular season. The rest of the resume is light, however, (1-4 vs. Top 50 teams and 3-6 vs. the Top 100). A home loss to Utah State could also pose a problem. In an interesting note, SMC beat Weber State Friday to end its season.
  • Utah State (28-3 | 16-1) | RPI: 18 | SOS: 123 | – The Aggies thoroughly dominated the WAC and may very well have done enough. Still, with a very light 2-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams – and one of those being Long Beach State (No. 86) – we can’t assume USU is a lock. Only thing left for USU is beating Boise State in the WAC final – thus erasing any concerns.

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.