Ranking the positions: The Small Forwards


Outlook: The small forward position in this Final Four is a bit of the X-factor position. We know what we will (or should) get from the stars, but for three of the four teams, the difference maker may end up being the players on this list. Its not because they are the best player on the team, but its because they have a skill that no one else on the team can provide.

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As with the shooting guards, some of these listings may look a little bit off as all four teams have lineups that are fairly fluid.

Ranking the SFs:

1) Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, UConn
Jeremy Lamb has been sensational during the month of March for the UConn Huskies. A lanky, athletic 6’5″ freshman, Lamb sputtered early in the season as he tried to find his role on this UConn team. As he gained confidence, his game started to take over. And Lamb has plenty of game. He’s got range to the three point line, he can score slashing to the rim, he has one of the best floaters in the country, and his length allows him to be a terror on the defensive end. Lamb is averaging 16.0 ppg in UConn’s nine postseason games and 18.3 ppg in the NCAA Tournament, becoming UConn’s secondary option. Coombs-McDaniel is an important piece for the Huskies as well. Where Lamb can play the two and the three, Coombs-McDaniel can play the three or the four. JCM is instant offense off of the bench. He only averages 5.8 ppg, but he has gone for 20 a couple of times this season.

2) DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky
Liggins may very well be the most important player on the floor on Saturday night in Houston. He’s one of the best defensive players in the country, and his job on Saturday will be to guard the unguardable — Kemba Walker. At 6’6″ with great quickness and length, Liggins is a difficult match up for smaller guards that can’t shoot over him. But Liggins is more than just a defensive stopper these days. He’s also a play maker and a guy that John Calipari looks to for creating offensive. The most amazing part of all of this is that Liggins averaged 3.8 ppg in his first two seasons in Lexington, sitting in Billy Gillispie’s dog house and then John Calipari’s dog house. He’s had a change in attitude. He’s accepted the fact that he is a role player. And he’s excelled at it.

3) Bradford Burgess, VCU
Burgess is the ultimate x-factor for this VCU team. There isn’t much that Burgess is not capable of doing on the offensive end of the floor. He’s an excellent shooter from deep, he can rebound the basketball, he can score around the rim, and he can put the ball on the floor and make something happen. Burgess is a natural wing player, possibly even more of a shooting guard than a small forward, but he spends a lot of his time on the court playing the four. He has enough size that he can compete inside and on the glass — especially when VCU goes zone — and he creates a mismatch problem for opposing big men with his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter.

4) Chase Stigall, Butler?
The reason I have a question mark after Stigall’s name is that Butler doesn’t really have a small forward anywhere on their roster. Stigall is more of a shooting guard than anything, but at 6-4 he’s the biggest of Butler’s wing players, so he gets put into this slot. Brad Stevens plays three guards at a time, and that is part of the reason that Butler has struggled on the defensive end of the floor this season. Losing Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley hurt their versatility defensively.

Future Pros: Jeremy Lamb’s play late in the season has put him into a position where he will have to think about actually entering the NBA Draft. Its a shocking statement to make considering where he started the year. But Lamb has terrific tools — length, athleticism, fluidity — and a very well-rounded offensive repertoire. He still has a number of holes to fix, most notably his strength and weight, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t a first round pick whenever he decides to leave.

DeAndre Liggins probably has a good shot at the NBA as well. He’ll never be a star, but he has the size to defend NBA perimeter players and he can hit a three. Guys like James Posey and Bruce Bowen made a lot of money doing just that.

Essential to winning a title?: What makes this spot so important isn’t the star power. For Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins, and Brad Burgess, they provide something to their team that no one else on the roster is able to. Calling them “glue guys” would not give them enough credit.

UConn needs Jeremy Lamb to score to win. DeAndre Liggins needs to slow down Kemba is Kentucky is going to win. Brad Burgess has to be able to create a mismatch on the offensive end of the floor is VCU is going to advance. These guys are the x-factors.

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.