Conference Catch-ups: The Missouri Valley

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Favorite: Creighton

How can anyone vote against the Bluejays right now? Creighton is 10-1 heading into the start of league play, with the ‘1’ coming on the road against a better-than-you-think St. Joe’s team. The Bluejays have size up front and shooting on the perimeter, but more than anything they have the guy that is one of the current front runners for Player of the Year — National, not Missouri Valley — Doug McDermott. Creighton is going to be able to score this season, the question mark with this group lies on the defensive end of the floor: are they going to be able to get enough stops to win the bare-knuckle brawls that make up MVC conference games?

And-1: I would be remiss if I didn’t have Wichita State listed somewhere near favorite territory for the Valley. The Shockers — and not Creighton — are currently the highest ranked MVC team. Where Creighton does it with the scoring ability of McDermott, Wichita State thrives on their balance. Five players average double figures and a sixth sits at 9.4 ppg. Three more players average double-figures in minutes. Wichita State can hurt you in so many different ways, whether its the 31 points that Joe Ragland had in the win over UNLV or the six players that reached double-figures in a win over Tulsa, defenses aren’t going to be able to focus on slowing down one player on the Shockers. And that’s why they are so dangerous.

Biggest Surprise: Northern Iowa

Let’s forget, for a second, that UNI just lost to Ohio at home by 17 points. A loss to Ohio, as good as they are this season, at home by 17 points is a far cry from being a “good loss”. Because once you get past that game, you see that the Panthers have actually had a very strong non-conference season. they’ve won at Iowa State and Old Dominion. They beat Colorado State, Providence and Iowa. Their only loss on the season came during the 2am tip of Marathon Madness out in Moraga, CA, against St. Mary’s. Even when you factor in the loss to Ohio, its very difficult to ignore the kind of success that UNI has had early on this season. This wasn’t supposed to happen until next year, but with Anthony James and Jake Koch both playing at an all-league level, UNI is going to continue to win games.

Biggest Disappointment: Missouri State

Yeah, I know, its a bit unfair to call the Bears a disappointment this season given what they lost from last year’s team (literally everyone — players and coaches — other than Kyle Weems). And, to be honest, the fact that they are 7-5 in non-conference play is actually probably a good start for them considering. The issue, however, is that Missouri State could be in better shape. They lost a game in OT to West Virginia after leading by five with 45 seconds left in regulation. They lost games to Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts due to poor late-game execution. The biggest issue? That all of this has happened while Kyle Weems has played some of the worst basketball of his career. His shooting is down and his scoring is down, and while much of that can be explained by the fact that defenses are focusing on him, it only makes you wonder where the Bears would be right now if Weems was playing well.

Something left to prove: Indiana State

The Sycamores were a trendy sleeper pick in this league coming into the season, and that pick certainly hasn’t disappointed. Jake Odum has been a terrific leader of a balanced attack that has been good enough to go into Nashville and beat Vanderbilt. ISU is about as stereotypically Valley as you can get: they are undersized, they don’t rebound well on the offensive end of the floor but they pound the defensive glass, they don’t turn the ball over and they shoot the ball well from three. The problem is that they don’t really have a go-to scorer, which is something that could end up coming back to bite them late in the year. ISU will be competitive, but just how competitive is something that remains to be seen.

Who’s dancing?: Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa

Wrong side of the bubble?: Missouri State, Indiana State

Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton

Duh.

All-conference team:

POY: Doug McDermott, Creighton
G: Jake Odum, Indiana State
G: Joe Ragland, Wichita State
G: Colt Ryan, Evansville
G: Rayvonte Rice, Drake
F: Jake Koch, Northern Iowa

Power Rankings

1. Creighton
2. Wichita State
3. Northern Iowa
4. Indiana State
5. Missouri State
6. Illinois State
7. Drake
8. Evansville
9. Bradley
10. Southern Illinois

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.