Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Five Thoughts

Baylor getting upset is a bigger deal that it seems: Heading into this weekend, Baylor had all but had their Final Four aspirations deemed null and void by the media majority after getting smacked around by both Kansas and Missouri twice this season. But what those scribes failed to mention was that the Bears had yet to be upset. they may have gone 0-4 against the elite teams in the Big 12, but they were undefeated against everyone else. Not picking them to make the Final Four is acceptable, but it didn’t necessarily make sense to think the Bears would get knocked off the first weekend.

That was until they lost to Kansas State at home on Saturday. For the first time all season long, Baylor lost to a team they were dramatically better than. Perry Jones III, who has proven time and again this season just how little he enjoys physical contact, finished with four points, four boards and five fouls in 22 minutes. On the final possession, Baylor went away from the guy that has provided them with too many clutch baskets to count this season, Pierre Jackson. I guess its safe to say this team can get upset.

So many good teams fading quickly: The bubble is very, very weak this season, but the blame for that absolutely doesn’t fall on the teams on the bubble. Why? Because if the teams that were supposed to be good were good, the teams currently projecting to be the 37th best at-large would probably fall much lower than that. Think about it like this: the Big East is down this season because Pitt, Villanova and UConn are all having bad seasons. If they don’t struggle this year, that’s three more at-large bids that get eaten up before the likes of Northwestern even at a chance to make an argument. The same could be said for Texas A&M and Texas. There’s two more at-large bids.

Or what about Mississippi State and Alabama? As of now, both of them are probably still in the tournament, but does that continue to last? Alabama is without Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green while Mississippi State has lost three in a row to LSU, Georgia and Auburn and gets Kentucky this week. And don’t worry, I’m not letting the Pac-12 — also known as the third best league on the West Coast — get a free pass here.

The reason the bubble is weak has nothing to do with the bubble teams being bad. Its because there aren’t enough good teams at the top of the at-large pool to knock those bad teams back into irrelevancy.

The year of the mid-majors: A by-product of the struggles of the high-major programs is that it opens the door for some quality mid-majors to make a run in the tournament. And this season, there are some very good ones. Here’s my prediction: that at least one team from outside the Power Six conferences will make a run to the Final Four. Murray State, Wichita State, New Mexico, one of the top three in the CAA, even a UNLV or a St. Mary’s if they can figure their issues out, all have talent on their rosters.

Long Beach State a winner even though they lost: Thanks to a couple of unfortunate turnovers down the stretch and a handful of tough, clutch buckets from the Bluejays, Long Beach State lost to Creighton in Omaha in the nightcap of BracketBusters weekend. While disappointing, and the death knell to LBSU’s NCAA Tournament at-large hopes, what this game did prove (as if it needed to be proven again) is that the 49ers are going to be a very, very dangerous basketball team in March. Simply put, Casper Ware is a stud. He plays out west and out of the national spotlight, which makes it easy to forget about some of his early season exploits, but leaving him off of a list of the top ten point guards nationally is criminal. Between Larry Anderson, James Ennis and TJ Robinson, LBSU has plenty of experience and athleticism. Throw in Mike Caffey, who is going to be a great mid-major guard down the road, and the 49ers are going to be a nightmare for some four seed.

Wichita State will win an NCAA Tournament game: I’m convinced of it. I’ve now seen this group play twice in the last week. Both times, they were on the road against quality, NCAA Tournament level opponents in Creighton and Davidson. In the two games, the Shockers scored a combined 180 points and won by an averaged of 19. And while its an extremely small sample size, Kenpom’s numbers — he has the Shockers 10th in the country — back up what my eyes are telling me: that this team will win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament.

They are a balanced and potent squad offensively, with a trio of talented perimeter players surrounding one of the best front lines at the mid-major level. They defend as well as you would expect a Gregg Marshall team to. They are playing at the fastest pace they’ve played at since Marshall left Winthrop to come to the Valley. If there is a knock on this team, its that their defense — whcih is already 25th in the country in efficiency — doesn’t force enough turnovers. I guess they’ll have to survive forcing teams to miss shots and getting the defensive rebounds.

Mid-majors with size and perimeter scoring that can defend are a scary thing. Be informed. Pick the Shockers to win a game.

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

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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.