NCAA tourney builders and blunders, post-marathon style

0 Comments

With the 24-hour ESPN College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon complete,  here are a few post-marathon resume notes from the season’s opening 10 days …

RESUME BUILDERS:  Akron, Cleveland State and Kent State all compiled impressive road wins.  It’s been a while since the Mid-American Conference put two teams in the NCAA Tournament, so the fact that Akron and Kent State both have strong out-of-conference wins this early is significant.  Akron won at Mississippi State (SEC) and Kent State at West Virginia (Big East).  Cleveland State owns the biggest upset to date – taking down Vanderbilt in Nashville.  In other Horizon League action, Detroit missed an opportunity at Notre Dame.  The good news is the Titans still have multiple chances to still make non-conference statements (@Alabama, Mississppi State most notably). CSU’s schedule doesn’t provide the same BCS resume-building opportunities, so beating Vandy was huge.  On a side note: Cleveland State plays both Akron and Kent State.

In the Missouri Valley, Evansville rallied to beat Butler.  If the Aces can back it up with a win over Indiana (tonight), that’s even better.  Northern Iowa traveled over 3,000 miles in 60 hours – winning a big road game at Old Dominion before falling at St. Mary’s.  A 50-50 split is pretty solid.  MVC favorites Creighton and Wichita State haven’t been tested yet.  But that changes soon – as Creighton plays UAB, Iowa, and San Diego State in its next four games. Wichita State has chances in Puerto Rico this week.

Drexel posted a solid victory (with a 6:00 a.m. tip) at Rider on Tuesday.

Belmont looked and played like an NCAA team during a brutal two-game road swing.  That’s why we’ll consider the Bruins’ two losses as resume builders.  One would think a single-point loss at Duke and a solid showing at Memphis would hold some weight if the Bruins falter in the Atlantic Sun Tournament.  That said, Belmont’s toughest remaining non-conference opponent is probably Marshall.  Beating the Herd, a potential NCAA team, would certainly be helpful.

St. Mary’s protected its home court vs. the aforementioned Panthers of Northern Iowa.  And Gonzaga handled Washington State. Not necessarily difference-making wins, but worth mentioning.

Not that Duke and Kentucky will have at-large concerns.  But neutral-court wins against quality teams are still valuable and help with seeding decisions (region and s-curve ranking).  Duke surged past Michigan State in Madison Square Garden Tuesday and Kentucky took out Kansas. Ohio State’s win over Florida was important for the Buckeyes because it was a home game.  North Carolina beat the same Spartans in the inaugural Carrier Classic.  When it comes to strength of schedule, Michigan State will benefit from its Tobacco Road beginning. A strong SOS helped MSU earn a bid last year.

RESUME BLUNDERS: No BCS team has had a worse start than UCLA.  The Bruins opened the season ranked in the Top 25 and proceeded to lose home games to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State.  The Bruins have also suspended Reeves Nelson for conduct unbecoming a member of the basketball team.

LSU and South Carolina weren’t really NCAA contenders this season but both suffered surprising road  losses.  South Carolina fell to Elon and LSU to Coastal Carolina.  It should be interesting when Kentucky, Florida, and Vanderbilt visit Columbia and Baton Rouge.

Speaking of Vanderbilt, the Commodores’ home loss to Cleveland State was a head-scratcher.  Not because CSU is a bad team – they aren’t.  Rather, it’s that a superior Vanderbilt team should win this type of matchup on its home floor.  For an experienced team with aspirations of a two or three seed in March, these types of outcomes remain surprising.

Dave Ommen runs the site Bracketville, where he has been among the most NCAA tournament predictors for the last three years. Follow him on Twitter @BracketguyDave.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.