Conference Catch-ups: The Big Ten


Favorite: Ohio State

This pick will be as much of a consensus as any league in country with one, absolutely crucial technicality: Jared Sullinger stays healthy. I love Aaron Craft and his ability to control a game without being a scorer. William Buford may be the best wing in the country. DeShaun Thomas can score with the best of them. Hell, even Lenzelle Smith and Evan Ravenel have been impressive at times this season. But without a healthy Jared Sullinger, Ohio State is a different team. His is the single most dominant force in the paint in the country, and his presence makes it so much easier for his teammates to operate.

And-1: This may not be the popular pick, but I am going to go with Michigan State. They are not the most talented team in the conference, but they have gotten rid of the egos that ruined their chemistry the past couple of seasons. In other words, this is just the kind of blue-collar team that Tom Izzo thrives with, led by the player with the bluest collar in the country in Draymond Green.

Biggest Surprise: Indiana

Everyone thought that Indiana was going to be better this season. With everyone coming back and a star big man entering the fold, it only made sense, right? But next year was supposed to be the year that Indiana vaulted themselves back into the national consciousness, not this season. But here we are hitting Big Ten play and the Hoosiers are still undefeated. How? Well, Zeller has been better than expected, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey have become impact role players and Christian Watford, Verdell Jones and Jordy Hulls have embraced their leadership roles.

And-1: Minnesota lost Trevor Mbakwe, their star big man, to a torn acl. They’ve had what seems like six players transfer out of the program in the last few years. They are a young team and have a roster devoid of a point guard. Yet Tubby Smith has this team at 12-1 heading into league play. That’s impressive.

Biggest Disappointment: Wisconsin

Well, not the entire Wisconsin team, because the Badgers actually aren’t having a bad year. Yes, they lost to Marquette at home. And yes, they lost to UNC on the road by three (which is anything but a bad loss). In fact, the Badgers are currently sitting in first place in the country based on the numbers that Kenpom crunches. But what’s scary is to think about how good this team could be if Jordan Taylor was playing like, well, Jordan Taylor. His shooting numbers are way down, his turnover numbers are up and he just isn’t the same presence on the floor. The good news? Taylor’s going to come around eventually, and in his absence Jared Berggren has developed into a very good big man.

And-1: Its tough to label anyone in this conference a disappointment considering how good the league, as a whole, has been, but if I have to pick another disappointment I’ll go with Purdue. Specifically, Purdue’s late-game execution. The Boilermakers could be sitting at 12-1 if they hadn’t blown big leads against both Butler and Xavier.

Something left to prove: Michigan and Illinois

I actually like both of these teams. I think Michigan has a chance to be a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament and I think that Illinois has the pieces to make it to the second weekend of the tournament. But I also think that both teams have some flaws. I’m not yet convinced that Michigan is a good enough defensive team. I think they have some holes in their front line and that, when facing a good team with a smart point guard, will have their defensive weaknesses exposed. With Illinois, I think the issue is that they don’t have a closer. There isn’t a star on that roster. There is no one that makes me say “he could go for 30 any night”. They’ll win their fair share of games and they’ll be in the mix all year long, but I think that lack of star power will cost them eventually.

And-1: This could be Northwestern’s year. The Big Ten is very strong and very deep. And Northwestern has enough on their roster that they should be able to finish around .500 in league play. If they can get to 9-9 or 10-8 in league play, a tournament berth should be in their future. But I’m not yet convinced they are good enough to make that happen.

Who’s dancing?: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State

Wrong side of the bubble?: Minnesota, Northwestern

Player of the Year: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

Sullinger, as I said earlier, is the most dominant force in all of college basketball, not just in the Big Ten. He’s a double-double machine with a textbook back to the basket game. His effectiveness goes beyond the numbers that he puts up, however. Defenses have to adjust when he is on the floor. Coaches have to game-plan how they will double in the post and rotate out of it. They have to decide who they are going to leave open. If I were starting a basketball team, it would take a good amount of convincing not to make Sully be the first player that I picked.

All-conference team:

POY: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
G: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
F: Robbie Hummel, Purdue
F: John Shurna, Northwestern
F: Draymond Green, Michigan State
C: Cody Zeller, Indiana

Power Rankings:

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
3. Wisconsin
4. Indiana
5. Michigan
6. Illinois
7. Purdue
8. Northwestern
9. Minnesota
10. Nebraska
11. Iowa
12. Penn State

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

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.