Could the Big Ten place nine teams in the Big Dance?

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source: AP

Kentucky and Syracuse remain No. 1 and No. 2 on the s-curve in this week’s bracket.  That scenario may not change when the actual Field of 68 is announced on Selection Sunday.  Wildcat fans can start making plans to watch their team in nearby Louisville during Rounds 2 and 3 of March Madness.

It would take a mighty February fall for UK to leave the Commonwealth.  Syracuse is most likely headed to Pittsburgh as the top seed in the East Region. Ohio State remains entrenched as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest.

Which leads us West, where the race includes five teams: Baylor, Kansas, Duke, Missouri, and North Carolina.  Those are the teams ranked 4 to 8 on the s-curve today.  Baylor gains the edge with its seven (7) Top 50 RPI wins and 8-1 record away from home (road + neutral).  By comparison, Kansas has six (6) Top 50 wins and Missouri four (4).  Kansas is 6-3 away from home and Missouri is 7-2.  Duke has five (5) Top 50 wins and is 8-2 away from home.  Baylor has lost only to Kansas (road) and Missouri (home).  If you prefer a different order, that’s fine.

Could we have a surprise No. 1 seed?  It would take a team like Vanderbilt, Florida, or Michigan State winning a regular-season and/or conference tournament title.  The Mountain West and Missouri Valley are strong leagues, but neither UNLV or Creighton is in position to reach the top line.  There simply aren’t enough power victories on their schedules.

How many bids for the Big 10?  With the No. 1. RPI rating and no teams ranked below 150, the Big Ten could easily garner bids from teams that finish 9-9 in conference play.  Even an 8-10 finish wouldn’t eliminate a team – depending on the eight wins.

If in doubt, look at the resumes of the current bubble teams.  Because of the Big Ten’s overall strength, quality wins are more available.  Think back to the 11 bids captured by Big East teams in 2011.  The scenario is similar.  That doesn’t mean Big Ten teams will dominate the tournament, but the odds of seven to nine teams making the final bracket is pretty good.

Cincinnati is this week’s ultimate test case (again).  Riding a three-game losing streak, the Bearcats have fallen to No. 101 in the RPI (at collegerpi.com). That would be a very dangerous place to be on Selection Sunday.  Looking past the RPI number, we find UC with a 2-3 record against Top 50 teams (good wins at Georgetown and Connecticut).  They are 6-4 vs. the Top 100 and have a 5-3 mark in true road games.  UC has losses to teams ranked 135, 148, and 229 in the current RPI.  Then there’s the albatross of a non-conference SOS ranked No. 330.  Now, let’s look at Colorado’s numbers from 2011 … four Top 25 RPI wins (beat K-State three times), five Top 50 wins and losses to RPI teams ranked 120, 126, and 138.  The Buffaloes also had a non-conference SOS over 300.  The Selection Committee chose not to invite Colorado with those numbers – despite its quality wins.  The Bearcats are one of the final teams IN today.  But the odds won’t be in UC’s favor if the current trend continues.

Enjoy another week of hoops.  After Super Bowl Sunday, we being updating the bracket twice a week.  Bubble Banter returns soon.

UPDATED: Monday, January 30

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UTEP, BYU, etc). Records are for games against Division I teams only.  Bracket is based on games through Sunday, January 29.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Cincinnati (15-7) vs. Massachusetts (16-5) | Midwest Region
  • St. Louis (15-5) vs. Mississippi (14-7) | South Region
  • MISS VALLEY ST (9-11) vs. STONY BROOK (12-7) | East Region
  • NC-ASHEVILLE (113-7) vs. UT-ARLINGTON (14-5) | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTBoston SOUTHAtlanta                                  
Pittsburgh Louisville
1) SYRACUSE (22-1) 1) KENTUCKY (21-1)
16) STONY BROOK / MS VALLEY ST 16) LONG ISLAND (15-7)
8) Wichita State (17-4) 8) Minnesota (16-6)
9) TEMPLE (15-5) 9) Notre Dame (14-8)
Portland Louisville
5) Mississippi State (17-5) 5) Virginia (17-3)
12) Iowa State (15-6) 12) St. Louis / Mississippi
4) Wisconsin (16-5) 4) Georgetown (15-4)
13) ORAL ROBERTS (20-4) 13) CLEVELAND STATE (17-4)
Columbus Columbus
6) Kansas State (15-5) 6) Florida State (14-6)
11) New Mexico (16-4) 11) CALIFORNIA (17-5)
3) Michigan State (16-4) 3) Marquette (18-4)
14) IONA (17-5) 14) GEORGE MASON (18-5)
Greensboro Omaha
7) West Virginia (15-7) 7) ST. MARY’S (19-2)
10) Memphis (15-6) 10) Purdue (15-7)
2) North Carolina (18-3) 2) Missouri (19-2)
15) AKRON (13-7) 15) BELMONT (14-7)
MIDWEST – St. Louis WEST – Phoenix
Pittsburgh Omaha
1) OHIO STATE (19-3) 1) Baylor (18-2)
16) NC-ASHEVILLE / UT-ARLINGTON 16) NORFOLK STATE (15-5)
8) Gonzaga (17-3) 8) Connecticut (14-6)
9) HARVARD (17-2) 9) SO. MISSISSIPPI (17-3)
Nashville Nashville
5) MURRAY STATE (18-0) 5) Michigan (15-6)
12) Massachusetts / Cincinnati 12) Dayton (14-7)
4) Vanderbilt (16-5) 4) Florida (17-4)
13) DAVIDSON (14-5) 13) MID TENNESSEE ST (19-3)
Portland Albuquerque
6) San Diego State (16-3) 6) Indiana (17-5)
11) Xavier (14-7) 11) Washington (14-7)
3) CREIGHTON (20-2) 3) UNLV (18-3)
14) LONG BEACH (14-6) 14) NEVADA (16-3)
Omaha Greensboro
7) Illinois (15-6) 7) Louisville (17-5)
10) Seton Hall (15-6) 10) Alabama (14-7)
2) KANSAS (17-4) 2) DUKE (18-3)
15) WEBER STATE (14-4) 15) BUCKNELL (16-6)

NOTES on the BRACKET: Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Syracuse, Ohio State, and Baylor. Next in line are Kansas, Duke, Missouri, and North Carolina.

Last Five teams in (at large): Iowa State, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Mississippi

First Five teams out (at large): Colorado State, BYU, Arkansas, NC State, UCF

Next Five teams out (at large): Marshall, La Salle, Oregon, Oklahoma, Wyoming

Bracket adjustments: Several adjustments in seed lines 7-10 to accommodate bracketing principles: Illinois and Wichita State switch; Notre Dame and Purdue switch. Illinois is a true 8 seed. Notre Dame is a true 10 seed. Wichita State is a true 7 seed; Purdue is a true 9 seed.

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big East (9): Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Notre Dame

Big Ten (8): Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota

SEC (6): Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi

Big 12 (5): Baylor, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State

Atlantic 10 (5): Xavier, St. Louis, Dayton, Temple, Massachusetts

ACC (4): North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Florida State

Mountain West (3): UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico

Conference USA (2): Memphis, Southern Mississippi

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, St. Mary’s

Pac 12 (2): California, Washington

Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Wichita State

Sun Belt (1): Middle Tennessee State

Conference leaders/champions … Cleveland State (Horizon), Akron (MAC), George Mason (CAA), Nevada (WAC), Murray State (OVC), Iona (MAAC), Weber State (Big Sky), Davidson (Southern), Oral Roberts (Summit), Long Beach State (Big West), Long Island (NEC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Harvard (Ivy), NC-Asheville (Big South), Norfolk State (MEAC), Bucknell (Patriot), Stony Brook (America East), UT-Arlington(Southland), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC)

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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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.