Russ Smith introduces himself to the country

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No. 4 Louisville entered its matchup with Memphis on Saturday as one of the best defensive teams in the country.

Kenpom had them ranked second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing just 83.6 points per 100 possessions. Translated to raw numbers, only one team had managed to score more than 60 points against the Cardinals this season, and that was the 66 points and fast-breaking Long Beach State managed to post. Hell, Louisville managed to hold Arkansas State to a measly 27 points. Seriously. 27 points. In an entire game.

Its easy to put up defensive numbers like that when you are one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers and forcing opponents to miss shots.

The question mark surrounding this Louisville program early in the season is on the offensive end of the floor. The Cardinals are 63rd in adjusted offensive efficiency, and those numbers are bolstered by the blowout wins Louisville notched against IUPUI and Fairleigh Dickinson in the past two weeks. Two Louisville starters (Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan) as well as their high-usage gunner off the bench (Russ Smith), the three players that attempt the highest-volume of shots per-minute, all notched efficiency numbers below 100 prior to Saturday.

Against Memphis, however, Louisville was a different team, nearly breaking the century mark in their 95-87 win over the Tigers.

And Russ Smith was the spark.

The sophomore got the start over Chris Smith because of the way that Louisville matched up with Memphis, and it paid off for Pitino immediately. The sophomore scored 13 of the first 17 points for Louisville, sparking a first half surge that allowed the Cardinals to open up a 10 point halftime lead. He finished with 24 points, easily a career-high, and seven steals on 6-16 shooting.

Smith brings a different dynamic to this Louisville team. Where starting point guard Peyton Siva has become something of a controlled point guard — the guy that Rick Pitino trusts to get the Cardinals into their offense and the guy that has the ball in his hands at the end of a clock — Smith is all attack, all the time. Given the way that Louisville likes to play, pressing and pushing in transition, Smith’s ability makes him a terrific fit on this team.

The issue is that there is some bad that comes with the good.

For every great move that Smith makes in transition, he throws up a challenged floater while going 1-on-3. For every three he hits, he misses two. Every foul he draws is nullified by a turnover he commits.

And while I’m sure there are a few hairs on Rick Pitino’s head that will turn grey before the season is over thanks to Smith’s shot selection, the veteran coach also must understand that by trying to rein in his young point guard, he eliminates the opportunity for a performance like tonight. Smith was a difference maker. He was the guy that got Louisville going and provided counter-attack after counter-attack against a team in Memphis that runs the floor as hard as anyone in the country.

The Cardinals are going to have to come to terms with the fact that it is in their best interest to deal with a couple “What in the hell is he DOING?!?” moments with Smith.

Because he’s capable of making a lot of things happen on both ends of the floor.

What We Learned

Louisville:

– I’ll go ahead and say it — Louisville is the most selfless team in the country. They can go ten or eleven deep right now, and that’s with injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Stephen VanTreese. They had three players — and two starters — give up their scholarships without a fuss to bring more players into the program. They had seven players score in double figures. They were led by a players that got a spot start because of the matcup. The guy he started over finished with 11 points.

– I think we can now officially say that Gorgui Dieng is a game-changer inside. He finished this one with 14 points, 14 boards and six blocks. Seven of those rebounds came on the offensive end. More impressive to me, at least, is that he began the game missing his first five shots. Its not offensive that you see a player that limited offensively able to work through a slow start.

– Louisville doesn’t need Peyton Siva to be a big time scorer. 13 points, nine assists, 4-8 shooting, just three turnovers? I’ll take that line out of him every night.

Memphis:

– Will Barton is a different player from last season. He notched yet another overpowering double-double on Saturday, finishing with 28 points and 16 boards. He loves to get out in transition and is fearless attacking the basket. If Memphis can turn this thing around, he deserves legitimate all-american consideration.

– Joe Jackson has deserved some of the criticism he has gotten this year, but certainly not all of it. Jackson is a terrific talent, and while he has his ups and downs (as any young point guard would) and works through his understanding of good passes and shot selection, he has the ability to keep Memphis in games like this because of how well he can push the ball in transition. Right now, he’s not very good at operating in the half court, and hopefully that comes with time. But there is no denying his natural ability.

– It frustrates me to watch Memphis play. I don’t think Wesley Witherspoon could possibly care less about the outcome of any game, maybe even this season. Tarik Black still hasn’t become the player we expected him to be this year. Adonis Thomas looks like he could use a solid kick on the rear-end every now and then. With the Tigers, its all about effort, intensity and desire. Jackson, Barton and Chris Crawford played with it tonight. The rest of the team didn’t.

– Stan Simpson is not good to be on the Tiger’s roster.

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.