The 10 first-round NCAA tournament games you can’t miss

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There are 32 games on Thursday and Friday. It’s been impossible to watch them all in the past, but the new staggered TV times makes it possible.

Still, not everyone can watch everything. So here are the 10 games you can’t miss.

10. (2) Kansas vs. (15) Detroit: With Ray McCallum Jr. at the point the Titans have the floor general needed to author an upset, but they’ve also got multiple options inside to help deal with Thomas Robinson. Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe are both experienced big men who will offer up challenges to the Jayhawks, especially if Jeff Withey struggles. The Titans are experienced and they’re talented as well, and unlike most high-major teams in a position like Kansas’ the Jayhawks don’t enjoy a huge edge in the depth department.

9. (7) Gonzaga vs. (10) West Virginia: Gonzaga makes the trek east for their NCAA tournament games, taking on the Mountaineers in Pittsburgh. The Steel City may be 90 miles away from Morgantown but given the “Backyard Brawl” it’s tough to figure out how much of an advantage Bob Huggins’ team will enjoy with regards to the crowd. A bigger concern for the Bulldogs is defending Kevin Jones, who led the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. Elias Harris and Robert Sacre’ counter Jones and Deniz Kilicli, and in Kevin Pangos the Bulldogs have one of the best freshman guards in the country. WVU will need smart decisions from Truck Bryant if they’re to advance.

8. (3) Georgetown vs. (14) Belmont: This Midwest Region battle in Columbus has the potential to result in an upset due to the caliber of the underdog. Rick Byrd’s Bruins go eight deep and are led by guard Kerron Johnson, one of the top players in the Atlantic Sun. Belmont also has two big men in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders capable of defending Henry Sims, and from a style standpoint this match-up could be a better fit for them than last year’s game against Wisconsin. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have played well for the Hoyas and freshman Otto Porter has improved as the season’s progressed, but this has the look of a game that could go down to the wire.

7. (4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Montana: This East Region battle will feature some very good guards, and while most of the country will know of the Badgers’ Jordan Taylor the Grizzlies have a pair of very good guards as well. Junior Will Cherry and sophomore Kareem Jamar are integral parts of the Montana attack, with Cherry the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Jamar the conference tournament MVP. Wisconsin relies heavily on the three-point shot but the Grizzlies were the best in the Big Sky when it came to defending the three. Bo Ryan’s system is tough to attack if unfamiliar with it, but Montana does have the ability to pull off the upset.

6. (4) Louisville vs. (13) Davidson: With this West Regional match-up taking place in Portland, from a crowd standpoint things could turn on the Big East tournament champions from the start. But there’s also the question of which Louisville team shows up at the Rose Garden: the one that won four games in New York or the one that struggled with consistency for much of the season. Davidson, who beat Kansas in Kansas City earlier this season, has three players who can compete with anyone in De’Mon Brooks, Jake Cohen and J.P. Kuhlman. If Peyton Siva, who played well last week, struggles with decision-making a Davidson win is more than possible.

5. (8) Memphis vs. (9) Saint Louis: On one side there’s an immensely talented team that’s playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time in Memphis. On the other side is a Saint Louis team that’s played better than expected back in October coached by one of the game’s best in Rick Majerus. That will offer up a contrast that shouldn’t fail to entertain viewers, with Memphis looking to pressure defensively while SLU will do more in the half court. Will Barton’s played at an All-America level this season for the Tigers, and while undersized Brian Conklin has been one of the leaders inside for Saint Louis.

4. (5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach State: Two of the top teams in the western United State face off in Portland, and the tenor of the game will likely be determined by the health of Long Beach State wing Larry Anderson. He sat out the Big West tournament with a sprained knee, and while he’s expected back it remains to be seen if there’s any rust. The Beach will need to find an answer to the question of defending Drew Gordon, but they do have the conference’s all-time leading rebounder in T.J. Robinson. UNM is talented on the perimeter and was one of the best defensive teams in the Mountain West. Casper Ware (LBSU) and Kendall Williams (UNM) are two other players to watch in this one.

3. (7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Xavier: Xavier isn’t a “run and gun” team by any stretch of the imagination but they will be tested from a discipline standpoint as they attempt to deal with Notre Dame’s “burn” offense. Mike Brey’s Irish will look to limit the number of possessions within a game, and young guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have done a good job of that this season. Of course the Musketeers can counter with Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, but neither may be their most important player in this battle. That would be Kenny Frease, who has to hold his own with Jack Cooley if Xavier is to win.

2. (8) Iowa State vs. (9) Connecticut: The winner gets Kentucky, and while many have assumed that it will be the Huskies who advance, don’t eliminate the possibility of Fred Hoiberg’s team winning. The Cyclones use 6’9″ Royce White as their point guard, and his ability to work on the perimeter makes him a tough match-up. Can Roscoe Smith guard him on the perimeter? Yes, but he’ll also need to be strong enough to deal with White inside as well. ISU also has capable perimeter shooters, which could pose a problem for Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb. The Huskies haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations while the Cyclones have surpassed theirs, and both are capable of advancing.

1. (5) Wichita State vs. (12) VCU: The team that made the run to the Final Four last season matches up with one of the trendy picks to do so this season. Shaka Smart’s Rams believe in “havoc”, a style of play that brings about a frenzied level of play within each possession. In Wichita State they’ll have to deal with a team that’s got good guards (led by Joe Ragland) and takes care of the basketball. Gregg Marshall also has a seven-footer in Garrett Stutz, who was a First Team All-MVC selection. D.J. Haley and Juvonte Reddic will need to play well inside if the Rams are to win, and the battle to control the tempo will be a game within the game.

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.