Thoughts on UNC, Michigan State and the Carrier Classic

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There is plenty to take out of North Carolina’s 67-55 win over Michigan State on Friday night.

But the details of the game come secondary to the experience of the event. And I was a good 3,000 miles away from the USS Carl Vinson, watching the game couchside in my drafty apartment instead of courtside in the Coronado, California.

I mean, we got President Obama to come to a mid-November basketball game that included an unranked team! Granted, it took playing the game outdoors on an aircraft carrier to commemorate Veteran’s Day, but the setting just made the game that much more incredible. There was legitimate concern about the game being rained out. Harrison Barnes voiced concern over the sun being in his eyes while he played. The court became slippery when the sun went down and the temperature dropped because of the condensation that formed.

And of course, there was the wind. Because, as Sidney Dean so memorably told us, out there on a boat, the wind can push the ball to the left or the right 6-8 inches.

Everything about the game and the setting was so perfect and so cool and tastefully done. The focus, of course, eventually ended up on the game, but the fact that ESPN was willing to broadcast 40 minutes worth of pregame ceremonies — which included a speech from Obama and a delay in the first half for the Retiring of the Evening Colors — was a nice touch that ensured there was plenty of emphasis on the real stars of the night: our veterans.

But there was an actual basketball game played, and seeing as this is a college basketball blog, it would probably make some sense to discuss it.

It would be silly to read too much into the results of Friday night. Not only was this the first game of the season, but it played on an outdoor court in front of the smallest, but easily the most important, crowd that either team will face this season. As such, I think we can reserve judgement on the shooting troubles — particularly Michigan State’s — and the turnover issues that both teams had.

That said, there are a couple of things that we can take away from this game:

– North Carolina needs to find a way to get tougher inside. John Henson and Tyler Zeller can both do a lot of different things on a basketball court, but those two are approaching 14 feet of front court player and combined, may not crack 450 lb. It showed against Michigan State. While Henson managed to chalk up nine blocked shots, he finished with just seven boards in 31 minutes. Zeller only had six. In the meantime, the Spartans grabbed 24 offensive rebounds (48% OR) and, at times, physically overwhelmed UNC inside. If the Spartans didn’t shoot so horribly, the Tar Heels would have been in some trouble. James McAdoo may eventually be the answer for UNC, as he’s built like a tight end, but he’s clearly still learning how to put his physical tools to use.

– Kendall Marshall threw some absolutely gorgeous passes tonight, and not all of them led to an assist. There are not many players in the country that are as good as he is as taking an outlet pass and, without using a dribble, passing ahead and hitting a streaking wing in stride. Some of the passes he threw were strikes, fitting the ball in an impossible window. The problem with taking some risks like that, however, is that those passes aren’t always successful. Marshall finished the game with five turnovers. As much as I love when the difficult pass is thrown perfectly, the easy pass is usually the right pass.

– Michigan State is going to be just fine this season. While there is not the level on talent on this roster that there has been in recent years, this group is perfect for Tom Izzo. I’ve been saying it all preseason. They are physical defensively and they attack the glass on both ends of the floor. Yes, they had their issues offensively, but with so many new players this year — and with so many returners playing new roles — its understandable they would struggle. Keith Appling is in his first season as the starting point guard. Brandon Wood is playing his first season in the Big Ten. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are no longer part-time role players. Playing the No. 1 team on national television in front of the President is not exactly a pressure-free start to the year.

– I expect more out of Draymond Green. While the work he did on the back boards was thorough and he played admirably on the defensive end against a bigger and more athletic front line, his decision making offensively was fairly questionable. And I’m not just talking about late in the game, when he had to force things as the Spartans scrambled to try and mount a comeback. Even early in the game, there were times he forced the issue, took ill-advised shots (did he really think he could get off a turnaround jumper against John Henson on the block?) and turned the ball over. Again, tough conditions so I’ll reserve judgement, but that will be something to keep an eye on. If Green is the star and the go-to player on this team, is he still going to be able to play within himself?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.