Missouri Valley conference tournament preview

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The Valley is, and always will be, the ultimate mid-major conference.

Every year, it seems, this league produces at least one team deserving of an at-large bid that is also capable of making the second weekend of the tournament. Why? Because the conference is so unbelievably competitive. Road wins are not easy to come by. Blowouts are fairly unheard of. Generally speaking, the MVC is as balanced of a conference as you are going to find, and I’m sure that whoever is in charge of putting together the bracket for Arch Madness — which is an event I’ve yet to attend but currently sits just below seeing a Duke-North Carolina game live on my college hoops bucket list — is well-versed in the tie-breakers that determine seeding.

This season is a bit unique. What was once thought to be a banner year for the Valley turned into two teams pulling away from the pack. Wichita State won the league by two games over Creighton, who finished five games in front of the mess that was a five-way tie for third place in the conference. Seriously. Five teams finished 9-9 and a sixth slid it at 8-10. I was saying something about balance earlier …

Anyway, the Valley is a two-bid league regardless of who win this tournament. Wichita State and Creighton are dancing. But if I was a betting man, I would bet the field to win the automatic bid.

That’s just the way they do it in the Valley.

The Bracket

Where: St. Louis

When: March 1st-March 4th

Final: March 4th, 1:05 p.m., CBS

Favorite: Wichita State

Back in November, this fact would have been fairly shocking to most. Creighton was playing their best basketball of the season with a legitimate Player of the Year candidate on their roster while the Shockers were competing with, but losing to, some borderline top 25 teams. It was clear the Shockers were good, but that they became this good — WSU is currently eighth in Kenpom’s rankings — is an impressive feat. But the Shockers are also the hottest team in the country. They won their last six games by an average of 20.7 ppg. That includes a trip to Davidson and a trip to Creighton. The worst team they beat in that run finished in the middle of the Valley pack. Watch out.

And if they lose?: Creighton

I have my reservations about the Bluejays. They don’t defend at an elite level and they have looked fairly ordinary over the last three weeks. But this is a veteran group with a number of weapons, headlined by all-american Doug McDermott, that has proven capable of winning close games. Throw in the fact that the Bluejays shoot the ball as well as any team in the country, and they are always going to be a threat. If they get hot for three days in St. Louis, there is no reason that Creighton can’t come away MVC Tournament champs.

Sleepers: There are almost too many to name. Indiana State won the league last year and returned most of their lineup, landing a couple of marquee wins throughout non-conference play. Northern Iowa had an impressive start to the season. Missouri State, Drake and Evansville all have legitimate stars on their roster. Like I said, this tournament is going to be a lot of fun.

Studs:

Kyle Weems, Missouri State: The reigning MVC Player of the Year took a while to get going, but he is as capable of taking over a game as anyone in the conference. He had 31 when the Bears beat Creighton in Omaha.

Rayvonte Rice and Ben Simons, Drake: There is a legitimate argument to make that these two are the MVC’s best one-two scoring punch.

Colt Ryan, Evansville: When this kid gets hot, watch out. He went for 43 points in an overtime loss to Creighton.

Garrett Stutz, Wichita State: The seven-footer is the best big man in the conference and one of the reasons that the Shockers won’t have a much of an issue as other mid-majors matching up with high-major front lines.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: How many all-americans make their way through the Valley?

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

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.