NCAA Tournament Day 4 recap

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Game of the Day: Arizona 70, Texas 69

Arizona was sitting pretty. The Longhorns were playing like garbage, digging themselves a 13 point hole early in the second half, despite the Wildcats getting absolutely nothing from Derrick Williams early on. The all-american sophomore had just three points and two boards in the first half, going 0-6 from the floor.

But in the second half, J’Covan Brown brought Texas back, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half and making a short jumper with just over a minute left to give Texas a 69-67 lead. At the other end, Texas forced consecutive misses from Arizona, but on the ensuing inbounds, Cory Joseph was called for five seconds (very questionably), giving the ball back to Arizona. Kyle Fogg ran a pick-and-roll with Derrick Williams, throwing a gorgeous bounce pass to Derrick Williams for a tough, left-handed layup. Jordan Hamilton bailed out on taking a charge, which gave Williams an and-one. At the other end of the floor, both Brown and Gary Johnson missed layups that feasibly could have been called fouls.

Team of the Day: Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles were one of the last eight to ten teams to get into the tournament, and like Georgetown without Chris Wright, they were clearly not the same team without Chris Singleton. Singleton is back, but he’s only healthy enough to give Leonard Hamilton’s team 26 minutes in two games. That didn’t matter against Notre Dame, as the Seminoles beat down the Big East’s second best team, 71-57.

Florida State is a defensive minded team, but without Singleton there was concern that not only would the Seminoles, a team that struggled to score, be without their best defensive player, but also their best scoring threat. Not so on Sunday night. Florida State went 9-19 from three, shot 45.8% from the floor, and assisted on 15 of their 22 field goals. It was an impressive offensive performance from a team not known for impressive offensive performances.

The other Team of the Day: VCU Rams

The Rams completed a three game winning streak in just five days with a beat down of three seed Purdue, 94-76. And don’t be fooled, this was a beat down. Purdue has the reputation of being one of the best defensive teams in the country, and deservedly so. But the Boilermakers were torched in every aspect of the game. VCU shot 56.5% from the floor, consistently getting open looks in the paint and around the rim. They hit eight threes. They assisted on 26 of their 37 field goals and turned the ball over just four times. VCU scored 1.32 PPP. That’s impressive.

Indelibly, the comparisons between VCU and the 2006 George Mason are going to get made. And rightfully so. Mason was one of the last at-large teams to get into the tournament, as was VCU. Both decisions were relatively controversial. Both teams were 11 seeds. Both knocked off big name programs en route to the Sweet 16. Both had favorable matchups in the Sweet 16, and both were lined up to face the most talented team in the tournament in the Elite 8. Can the Rams put together the same finish that the Patriots did?

Player of the Day: David Lighty, Ohio State

Lighty, in his homecoming to Cleveland and on the day that he graduated from Ohio State, finished with 25 points against George Mason. He was 9-10 from the floor and hit all seven of his threes. Lighty also added four rebounds and three assists. In fact, the only thing that Lighty did wrong in Ohio State’s 98-66 win was miss a pair of free throws and commit a turnover.

In all honesty, any one of a number of Buckeyes could be named player of the day. Jared Sullinger had 18 points and eight boards in just 22 minutes. Jon Diebler and William Buford added 31 points and eight threes. Most impressive, however, was Aaron Craft. The freshman point guard showed no signs of being a freshman, finished with 15 assists (to just two turnovers) and six boards.

UNC 86, Washington 83: We may not have had a more entertaining basketball game this tournament. Its pretty much what you would expect coming from two teams that like to get out in transition. Washington was in the lead for much of the game, but down the stretch, their execution failed them. UNC used a 15-4 run to take a 84-78, the last basket of which came on a steal by Harrison Barnes that led to a Dexter Strickland layup. The Huskies had a shot late, getting a couple of stops and a missed free throw from Kendall Marshall. But a couple of dumb shots from Venoy Overton and a turnover by Justin Holiday did Washington in.

Duke 73, Michigan 71: Nolan Smith took over midway through the second half, leading the Dukies to a 15 point lead and seemingly putting them in control of the game. But Michigan started to get some stops and Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris led the Wolverines back. After cutting the Duke lead to just one point, Irving hit one of two free throws. Morris went the other way, but he missed a 12 foot runner off the back of the rim, and Duke advanced. Smith led the way with 17 of his 24 points in the second half.

Marquette 66, Syracuse 62: In what turned into a classic Big East battle, the Golden Eagles and the Orange found themselves tied with just over a minute left in the game. But an unfortunate back court violation (which appeared to be the wrong call) on Scoop Jardine gave Marquette the ball back. Darius Johnson-Odom knocked down a three with under a minute left, and after another dumb shot from Jardine with 20 seconds left — a three that bounced off the back board — the Golden Eagles went on to win.

Kansas 73, Illinois 59: The knock on Illinois all season long was their lack of interior strength, and Kansas exploited that. The Jayhawks pounded the ball into the Morrii, who finished with a combined 41 points and 24 boards.  Illinois was within single digits for most of the second half, but the Jayhawks were never seriously threatened by the Illini.

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.