NCAA hopefuls, beware of those pesky ‘Bid Thieves’

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The bid thief doesn’t linger very long. It gets in, gets out, and handles it’s business. The bid thief is one of the last things a desperate bubble team wants to see in early March. The longer a bubble team or potential at-large team can stay alive in a conference tournament, the better their chances get at being safe from to bid thievery. Bubble teams that make a quick exit in their conference tournament leave their March Madness fate in the hands of the committee, and that’s exactly when a team becomes the most vulnerable.

But not all bid thieves are the same.  The 2008 Georgia Bulldogs were not the same as the 2010 New Mexico Aggies, who were not the same as the 2010 Houston Cougars who were not the same as the 2006 Syracuse Orange. Bid thieves thrive in unexpected circumstances. They come in all shapes and sizes, and usually, they play like there’s no tomorrow or there’s nothing to lose.

So, for fans of St. Joe’s, South Florida, Xavier, Miami, Southern Mississippi, and Colorado State: take heed and pay close attention to the following teams over the next nine days. Their performances could directly impact your team’s tournament status.

Cal-State Fullerton – Big West

Long Beach State has been the best team in the Big West for the past two years, but they have faltered in the tournament both seasons. If there is going to be a team to beat them, it’s the Titans. They feature a high-scoring offense that is necessary in order to beat Long Beach State. It’s not probably, but it’s certainly possible. Long Beach State’s strength of schedule will give them some help if they have yet another tournament slip-up. Fans of bubble teams should be vehemently rooting against the Titans next week.

Colorado – Pac-12 Conference

Does anybody actually know how many teams the Pac-12 is going to get in the NCAA Tournament? Even top teams like Arizona, Cal and Washington could be considered potential bid thieves. But of the teams that nobody is really talking about, Colorado could do the most damage. They hold wins over the four teams in front of them in the standings and a successful postseason push could put the Buffs on the right side of the bubble. This is the Pac-12 we are talking about. Anything could happen.

Denver – Sun Belt

The last thing bubble teams want is dominant mid-major squad thrown into the mix at the last-minute. Since December, Middle Tennessee State has been projected to win the Sun Belt tournament, but the Raiders also have a decent non-conference schedule in the event that they get ousted in the conference tournament. Denver was the only team to put a real hurting on Middle Tennessee this season, and having won four of the last five games, could be in a position to bounce Middle Tennessee onto and potentially off of the bubble.

Evansville – Missouri Valley Conference

Considering the MVC is one of the most competitive conferences in the country, there is a very good possibility that a bid thief emerges from the tournament. Wichita State and Creighton are NCAA Tournament locks. If neither of them hoist the MVC Tournament title, bubble teams could be in big trouble. Evansville poses the biggest threat in “Arch Madness”. They have already beaten Creighton, and if they can get past Missouri State in the first round, whom they beat in the last game of season, could face Creighton again in the semifinals. Plus, Evansville guard Colt Ryan is a dynamic scoring threat who can heat up in a hurry. He scored a career-high 43 points during the Aces previous meeting with Creighton.

George Mason – CAA

The CAA might not have as much talent is years past, but the top teams are just as tough, and capable of going on a hot streak.  George Mason lacks the non-conference resumes need to grab an at-large bid, but both teams have the leadership, toughness and experience to run the tables in Richmond. The Drexel Dragons are the top seed and could potentially grab an at-large bid if George Mason can win the tournament or make a deep run. Because of their recent postseason success, it would be foolish of us to count out the Patriots.

Illinois – Big Ten

Yup, that’s right, Illinois. It’s not a conventional pick, but neither was Georgia in 2008 or Syracuse in 2006. Sure, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games, but the Illini have beaten some of the best teams in the Big-10. What if Brandon Paul gets hot again? What if Myers Leonard finally decides to assert himself as a force? Crazier things have happened before. Think about what happens if Illinois some how makes the NCAA Tournament. Will that save Bruce Weber’s job status?

Iowa – Big Ten

All told, Iowa hasn’t had a great season. Yes, they’re much better than they were a year ago, but this does not look like an NCAA Tournament team. Well, unless the put together a feverish run in the Big-Ten Tournament. They are finishing up the regular season strong, with two wins against top-25 teams (albeit at home). With a gun-slingin’ mercenary like Matt Gatens leading the way, the Hawkeyes do have a shooters chance. But anything short of an overtime buzzer-beating loss in the tournament finals (and that’s still probably not enough) will leave them out of the postseason.

Loyola (Md.) – MAAC

The Iona Gaels have an outside shot at receiving an at-large bid, and the Loyola Greyhounds could be the team to force their hand in the MAAC Tournament. Loyola has had a banner year this season, going 21-8 and finishing 13-5 in the conference. They split the season series with the Gaels, and swept the season series against No.3-seed Manhattan.

Loyola-Marymount – West Coast Conference

The Lions have won seven of their last nine, beat Valparaiso in BracketBusters and own road victories against BYU and St. Mary’s. The West Coast Conference is still anybody’s to win. If LMU can avoid Gonzaga in the conference tournament, their chances at snagging a bid from a bubble team increase dramatically.

Northern Iowa – Missouri Valley Conference

In the Missouri Valley Conference, nothing is set in stone. This team is known for their post-season magic, and Anthony James looks to be the guy that might keep it alive in the postseason. The Panthers have been woefully inconsistent, but you have to remember that this is the MVC we are talking about. You never can count a team out until they are cutting down the nets.

Northwestern – Big Ten

Northwestern is becoming the reincarnation of Virginia Tech. The only major conference team to have never reach a NCAA Tournament has been on the wrong side of the bubble each of the past three seasons. A heart-breaking loss to Ohio State this week firmly entrenched them on the bubble’s weaker side. But the Wildcats fared well on a neutral court earlier in the season, winning the Charleston Classic, and the only ugly losses they suffered were on the road. John Shurna is a desperate man. Sometimes desperation is all it talk to create some magic.

Penn – Ivy League

Sure, there’s no Ivy League Tournament for them to win, but if they win their final three games, all against the league’s weaker teams, they will be tied with Harvard for the Ivy League title. Since the teams split the season series, a one-game playoff would decide the league’s auto-bid, and we all remember what happened in last season’s one game playoff. The difference this season is that Harvard could grab an at-large bid if they are to lose to Penn in dramatic fashion, which would certainly shake things up for the bubble.

St. Bonaventure’s – Atlantic-10

Can anyone figure out the Atlantic-10 hierarchy this year? Every team has some questionable losses, and no team has been able to assert themselves as the top dog. That should make for an interesting conference tournament.  The Bonnies have played much better down the stretch, and with Andrew Nicholson, the conference’s top big-man, they could be a team to give at-large hopefuls a few nightmares.

South Dakota State – Summit League

There is only one possible scenario in which the Summit League receives two bids this season. South Dakota State would have to beat Oral Roberts for the championship in a game undecided with less than sixty seconds left. Oral Roberts would need a razor-close loss coupled together with poor performances from other bubble teams and very little bid thievery in order to snag an at-large bid. If SDSU beats them convincingly, bubble teams can probably breathe a bit easier. But SDSU has Nate Wolters, a guy who could very well become the next “Wally Szczerbiak”.

Tennessee – SEC

Cuonzo Martin thinks his team deserves a bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Volunteers have put together a very good season in year one of the post-Pearl era, but their at-large hopes are very slim. The Vols have the size, toughness and talent to make an unexpected run at the SEC Tournament title. The only problem is that Kentucky is standing in their way, and Kentucky is like really, really good. But if there was a “bid thief” to emerge from the SEC, Tennessee would have to be considered a likely candidate.

Tennessee State – Ohio Valley Conference

The Tigers have the distinct honor of being the only team in the nation to defeat the Murray State Racers this season. They also benefit from receiving a double-bye in the OVC tournament and will only have to win two games in order to earn an at-large bid. In all likelihood, they will have to face the Racers in a championship rubber-match in order to do so.

Tulsa – Conference-USA

The Golden Hurricanes are tied for third in the conference, but have no shot at an at-large bid. They do boast a sturdy C-USA record, and have only lost one conference game in regulation by more than three points. Their regular season finale against Memphis should determine if this team has what it takes to steal an auto-bid. Just two seasons ago, Houston emerged from the eighth seed to steal a bid for bubble teams. Tulsa might be able to do the same in 2012.

UConn – Big East

If the Huskies play like they did against Louisville, they will spend no more than 24 hours in New York City. But if this team decides to play with energy, cohesiveness and passion, they could do some special things. UConn has fallen so hard that they have to put together a noteworthy performance at the Big East Tournament just to get them back in bubble contention. But as we’ve seen in the past (Kemba in 2011 and Jerry-Mac in 2006) anything is possible at Madison Square Garden.

Virginia Commonwealth – CAA

Remember what you just read about George Mason? Well, all the same applies to VCU. As it stands, Drexel looks like the only team that will receive a bid to the Big Dance. But the crowd in Richmond is bound to be pro-VCU, and senior forward Bradford Burgess isn’t likely to go down without a fight. If this team is making a high percentage of their shots, they are a tough team to beat. Anything short of an appearance in the finals will send the Rams packing for one of the “Little Dances”.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

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.