Ten teams who can win it all, five who can’t

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The field for the 2012 NCAA Tournament is so balanced that any of a number of teams could cut down the nets in New Orleans. The committee did a great job making each bracket difficult for the top seeds, and provided a plethora of entertaining match-ups.  But it wouldn’t be wise to stray too far away from what we already know: The higher seeds are there for a reason.

So who will reign supreme when it’s all said and done?

(NOTES: We had a bit of fun with this. We decided that one No.1-seed would not be able to win it all, we also decided that a No.5-seed or higher could win it all. Does it make perfect sense? No. But neither does March Madness.)

(UPDATE: We’ve had to make an adjustment to our list due to the breaking news that Syracuse center Fab Melo won’t be elligible to participate in the NCAA Tournament.)

Ten teams who can win it all:

Kentucky (No. 1 South):
Simply put, they are the best team in the country. There are not more than two or three teams that can match up with Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. They have solid guards in Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, and Darius Miller is a terrific shooter to bring off the bench. Their loss in the SEC Tournament Championship game served as a reality check, and the ‘Cats aren’t likely to let it happen again. Their portion of the bracket has a lot of interesting teams, but not very many that can beat Kentucky without playing a perfect game.

North Carolina (No. 1 Midwest):
The Tar Heels are the top rebounding team in the country and rank second in points per game. They force a bunch of turnovers and want to get out and run. Next to Kentucky, North Carolina has the most talented front line in the country in Tyler Zeller and John Henson with Harrison Barnes able to step out and knock down shots. The south bracket could shake out in a variety of different ways, which could help smooth out the Tar Heels path to New Orleans.

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Kansas (No. 2 Midwest):
The Jayhawks will not face a team with as much tournament experience as them until the Elite-Eight. Thomas Robinson is the most dominant big man in the country, and Jeff Withy is one of the best shot blockers in the country. This team as a whole is one of the most efficient teams in the country on both offense and defense, and their starting line-up has the experience and talent to make up for their lack of depth.

Missouri (No. 2 West):
Size does not matter with this team. Their four guard set is difficult for teams with a lot of size but not a lot of speed. Phil Pressey is one of the best point guards in the country. Marcus Denmon is one of the best scoring threats in the country. Michael Dixon is one of the play-makers in the country. Ricardo Ratliffe has the highest field goal percentage in the country, and Kim English does absolutely everything. Missouri is in a difficult bracket, but they are experienced and mentally tough.

Ohio State (No. 2 East):
The trio of Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Arron Craft will be the key components to a National Championship run. Buford is a difficult assignment for any defender, and Craft’s relentless defense will be difficult for any opposing point guard. Sullinger will go up against a bevy of other quality big men in the East bracket, but his physicality and ability to step out and make shots will be a difference-maker.

Baylor (No. 3 South):
The amount of talent on this team is overwhelming. Their loss to Missouri in the Big-XII Tournament finals was not as bad as it seemed. The Bears showed toughness and resiliency, which had been questioned for much of the year. Pierre Jackson is as dynamic of a point guard as there is in the country, and Perry Jones III is starting to play like the lottery pick he is projected to be.

Georgetown (No.3 Midwest):
The Hoyas have been promoted thanks to the decline of their arch-rivals. Georgetown has had recent issues in the first round, but this year’s squad is wired differently. Their defense is as suffocating as it was in 20o7 when they advanced to the Final Four. The Hoyas lead the nation in defensive 3-point efficiency. Their length at the guard and forward positions make it nearly impossible for opponents to get good looks from behind the arc. With Henry Sims as a threat to score as well as distribute, this is a team that might not win style points, but could win a handful of tournament games.

Louisville (No. 4 West):
The Big East Tournament Champions struggled through injuries this season after cracking the top-5 in December. But they are fully healthy and playing at a very high level. Their ability to play both up-tempo and grind-it-out styles will benefit the Cardinals when they have to prepare on short notice. Peyton Siva’s leadership cannot be questioned and the depth of this team is starting to show again.

Vanderbilt (No. 5 East):
Despite recent early exits in the NCAA Tournament, the Commodores are clicking at the right time, and their victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship showed that they are capable of beating elite teams. John Jenkins has the ability to be a game-changer, Jeff Taylor can hit almost any open shot and Festus Ezeli will be a difficult assignment down low. The East bracket could end up producing a handful of upsets, which would provide Vanderbilt with an easier path back to New Orleans, where they won the SEC Tournament.

Memphis (No. 8 West):
Having won seven in a row, the Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country right now. They looked nearly unstoppable in the Conference-USA Tournament and Will Barton is putting together an All-American caliber season. People forget that this team is loaded with talent, and having flown under the radar for the past two months could provide the Tigers with the self-confidence needed to make a run at the title.

Five who can’t win it all:

Syracuse (No. 1 East):
With the recent news that Fab Melo won’t play in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse has been pulled from our list up top. Why you ask? Because Fab Melo is a game-changer. Even if he’s not producing statistics, he forces teams to alter their offensive decisions. In Syracuse’s only regular season loss, a road blowout to Notre Dame, Melo did not play because of eligibillity issues. Sure the Orange have depth, even at the center position, but Fab Melo was one of a kind. This is deflating news that is sure to affect how the team fuctions.

Michigan State (No. 1 West):
The season-ending injury to Branden Dawson is more costly than you may think. He was the Spartan’s best swing player, and without him there is a big gap between the backcourt and forward Draymond Green. Plus, their bracket is just difficult. Any of the top six or seven seeds could advance from the West regional. Even if Tom Izzo is their coach, a National Championship in 2012 just seems a bit out of reach.

Duke (No. 2 South):
Duke lives by the three and dies by the three. As of late, it’s been more of the later than the former. Plus, their defense is just not that good. The talent is there but the execution is not.

Florida State (No. 3 East):
Despite defeating both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season, including in the ACC Tournament, the Seminoles don’t have the makings of a National Championship team> Bernard James is a good frontcourt player, but he has very little help. The East bracket is filled with teams with dominant big men, and Florida State just doesn’t have the talent up front.

Marquette (No. 3 West):
The Golden Eagles have a propensity for digging holes they cannot get out of. They are notoriously slow starters, and in every one of their losses, they have either squandered a big lead or were unable to claw back from a huge deficit. Injuries to big men Chris Otule and DaVante Gardner took away a lot of Marquette’s depth, something that they could use during March.

Indiana (No. 4 South):
When the Hoosiers beat Kentucky earlier in the season, it was the perfect storm, everything was going right and everything was in place. But in order to win a National Championship, they would have to beat Kentucky in the Sweet-16, after beating a scary-good New Mexico State team and either Wichita State or VCU, two of the best mid-major teams in the country. The brackets just don’t line up in the Hoosiers favor.

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

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.