Kansas guard play atrocious in loss to VCU

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I called them the most complete team remaining in the tournament no less than 48 hours ago, and I could not have been more incorrect.

Relying far too heavily on The Brothers Morri, Kansas was downed by VCU 71-61 in a game that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary may or may not have an adjective to precisely describe how improbable the result was.

Despite jumping out to an early 6-0 lead from two lay-ups and two made free-throws,  the remaining 36:26 of the Southwest Regional Final was tough sledding for the last standing No. 1 seed, as the Rams from the CAA were shockingly quicker and more effective on the offensive ends, ending yet another season in sorrow for Rock Chalkers.

We speak with alacrity on just how important good guard play is in the NCAA Tournament. It was missing in KU’s rotation this afternoon, and it was evident when the Rams executed their first head-butt.

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With a “Winning” label tagged to them, guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar shot a combined 2-16 from the floor with only four assists. Just for good measure, freshman Josh Selby continued to show he’s a ways away from being an elite player, scoring a measly lone field goal himself.

As the game wrapped up, it dawned on me that all these articles on the success of Reed and Morningstar might have a lot more to do with their surroundings than the talent they possess themselves. It’s tough not to accumulate all those wins when you’re surrounded by future pros. If either of these outgoing seniors had the make-up needed to eek out a victory today, Bill Self would be exiting his post-game press conference lauding this duo for stepping up when it mattered most. Instead, they were porous when it mattered most, looking far less valuable (and talented) than their primary defensive assignments.

With the loss, the focus now shifts to Bill Self. An elite program with a penchant for losing to programs in March that are on a tight athletic budget, and have inferior breadth and depth of talent, should he shoulder the blame?

In eight seasons under Self, Kansas has won seven straight Big 12 titles and hung one national championship banner at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but they’ve also conspicuously fallen victim to the upstart mid-major four times in the last seven seasons. Since 2005, the Jayhawks have lost to Bucknell as a No. 3 seed, Bradley as a No. 4, Northern Iowa as a No. 1 and now the Rams, again as a No. 1.

How does Self explain this to the local media? How does he explain it to the Kansas University suits and boosters and alum who value his talents as a basketball coach to pay him $3 million a year?

The people who pay the bills don’t want to hear things like, “well, Sherron Collins isn’t walking through that door, and that’s why we had to start Tyrel Reed all season despite his mediocre scoring and assist output. And Josh Selby has a ways to go before he reaches his potential.” Elite programs aren’t supposed to have excuses. They just pluck stars from high school and reload.

Surely, VCU-Butler brings with it a story line we’ve never really seen before in the Final Four, but it’s still a real shame Kansas isn’t marching on to Houston. Big programs aren’t supposed to stumble like this. I guess that’s just how it goes when your ball-handlers are inadequate.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelin.

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.

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.