Conference Catch-ups: The ACC


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Over the course of this week, we will spend a few minutes catching you up on how some of the best conferences in the country currently look. With conference play starting up, its time to get into the basketball spirit.

Favorite: North Carolina

Is it just me, or does it feel like no one is talking about North Carolina as a title contender anymore? That may be a bit of an overstatement, but since UNC lost to UNLV and Kentucky in the span of a week, it feels like they have become the forgotten juggernaut. Do they have flaws? Of course. Kendall Marshall can’t guard a door frame. Harrison Barnes has a tendency to become nothing but a jump shooter. Neither John Henson nor Tyler Zeller have the kind of physical strength inside to bang with a guy like Jared Sullinger. But that almost feels nitpicky when you are talking about a team that has the amount of talent on their roster that the Tar Heels do.

And-1: Obviously, Duke is the second best team in this conference, and its really not even close. And while the Blue Devils have, essentially, had the last month off, it is worth noting how much development guys like Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee have shown, even just this season. Rivers is starting to get his shot selection and decision making in check, while Plumlee has shown flashes of being the shot blocking and rebounding force that we’ve been waiting for four years to see out of him and his brother. The x-factor for Duke’s season, however, may end up being a different freshman: Quinn Cook. Over the past two games, Cook has scored 22 points on 12 shots and handed out 17 assists without turning the ball over. As good as Seth Curry and Rivers are, neither of them are a true point guard. Cook is. Will he see more minutes as a result?

Biggest Surprise: NC State

Frankly, there hasn’t really been a surprise team in the ACC this season. No one is really out performing expectations given that the league, as a whole, is down once you get past the top two. I’ll give the nod to NC State, however, simply because I think this team has a chance to sneak up on people this year. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are both talented enough to one day make an all-ACC team, Scott Wood can flat out shoot and Mark Gottfried does have some size at his disposal.

And-1: I’m going to put in a disclaimer here saying that I think a surprise is going to come out of College Park now that Maryland has Pe’Shon Howard and Alex Len healthy. I think Terrell Stoglin is absolutely terrific as the lead guard for this group, and I have also been impressed with the play of James Padgett up front. With Sean Mosley providing experience, Howard giving Stoglin some help as a playmaker and Len playing like, well, a guy that is destined for the NBA, the Terps have the pieces to sneak up on folks this year.

Biggest Disappointment: Florida State

I think that I consistently expect more out of the Seminoles than they are capable of giving me. Simply put: this team cannot score. At all. Michael Snaer is not the player I thought he was going to develop into, Florida State is incapable of shooting the ball and downright horrid and protecting it (they are 331st in the country in turnover percentage). I love their front line — particularly Bernard James — and Ian Miller has provided some scoring punch now that he is eligible, but I am almost to the point where writing this group off seems like a better idea that counting on them to be able to create enough open shots to win a meaningful game.

And-1: While Clemson is probably more deserving of being called a disappointment, I am going to talk about Virginia Tech here instead. Its not necessarily because I think Seth Greenberg’s team is underperforming so horrifically — at 11-3 with no bad losses, they aren’t — but because I desperately want to see this team finally break through and get into the NCAA Tournament. To do so, Tech is going to have to win a game against UNC or Duke. Do they have the horses to pull off that kind of upset? I like Erick Green and I love Dorian Finney-Smith, but I think Tech needs to get more consistent scoring out of Dorenzo Hudson.

Something left to prove: Virginia

I am just not sure what to make of this team yet. They are terrific defensively, playing a packed-in man-to-man that almost looks like a zone with the amount of help-side defense they provide. They control the tempo and take an opponent out of their rhythm the same way that Bo Ryan does at Wisconsin. They have a star in Mike Scott at the four. But their only quality win is over Michigan at home and they have a loss to TCU on their resume. The Cavs travel to Duke on January 12th. I think we’ll know more on the 13th.

And-1: I think Miami has the potential to be a sleeping giant in the ACC. We all know about how good their back court is and we all know that Reggie Johnson is a double-double machine at the center spot. But how about the play of Kenny Kadji? Coming off of a 30 point and 12 rebound effort against UNC-Greensboro, Kadji has been terrific playing as an athletic, stretch four. He can run the floor, he can finish above the rim and he is shooting lights-out from beyond the arc, which opens up the paint for Johnson to operate on the block. Now if someone can just convince this group to play some defense.

Player of the Year: Mike Scott, UVA

Here’s my thinking: he’s taken a team that no one has expected too much out of and led them to a top 25 ranking and the third spot in our ACC power ranking while averaging 16.0 ppg and 9.0 rpg on a team that is 338th nationally in pace. That, and the kids on Tobacco Road are going to split their votes.

All-Conference Team:

POY: Mike Scott, UVA
G: Kendall Marshall, UNC
G: Austin Rivers, Duke
F: Harrison Barnes, UNC
F: Travis McKie, Wake Forest
C: John Henson, UNC

Power Rankings:

1. UNC
2. Duke
3. Virginia
4. Miami
5. Virginia Tech
6. Florida State
7. NC State
8. Maryland
9. Clemson
10. Wake Forest
11. Georgia Tech
12. Boston College


Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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

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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.