Tournament’s first weekend shows you cannot script March

0 Comments

As fun as an unpredictable NCAA Tournament can be for fans watching from home, it can make media people sweat – or at least draw criticism via social media – when a string of upsets make them look bad.

In the first weekend of the tournament there were a number of shocking results. Results that, when you  look back at the trends of both the winning and losing teams, you just shake your head and wonder why a career performance or off shooting night had to occur when money, maybe even a sliver of your reputation, were on the line.

Norfolk State and Lehigh? I’m not even going to try and quantify why those games played out the way they did, chalk both of those up to a bit of a bad-matchup for Missouri, a slightly soft Duke team, and an incredible effort from both.

There were, however, some interesting statistical anomalies that are worth noting from the weekend. Stuff that, frankly, you wouldn’t even write into a dramatic screenplay.

Basically, the following information can be used as excuses for that busted bracket you just threw into the trash.

UNC Asheville

What if I told you that before the Bulldogs tipped off against Syracuse, that their leading scorer Matt Dickey would shoot a not-so-robust 1-13 from the floor?

Blow-out, right?

Well, even though UNC – Asheville did have five players average in double figures this season, Dickey was essentially a no-show even though his team nearly pulled off the most improbable upset in NCAA Tournament history.

The fifth highest scoring team in the country this season, UNC – Asheville scored well below their 80.5 a game average against the Orange, but stuck around to give Jim Boeheim a real scare.

This might have been one of the greatest moral victories in the history of the tournament.

Cincinnati 

One of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, Mick Cronin’s club shot an impressive 19-23 from the charity stripe in their third-round game against Florida State, upsetting third-seeded Seminoles and providing the only shake-up in the East Region.

It was by far their best performance from the line all season; a slap in the face to anyone bracketologist who refused to advance this team to the second weekend of the tournament based on their foul shooting all season.

Had UC not shot well from the line? There would probably instead be only three teams from Ohio headed to the Sweet 16. Instead there are four, and we’re going to hear all about that this week.

Colorado

The Buffaloes best non-conference victory this season was against Georgia…by two points. They were the worst ranked BCS-conference team on KenPom.com, and were a program that had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997.

So how they heck did they beat UNLV?

Well, to be fair, the Rebels were just ice cold for most of that game. As a team that attempted nearly 800 three-pointers this season – and made 36 percent of them – going 9-36 will hurt you.

“Our shooters felt comfortable. Everybody felt comfortable. We just didn’t make shots and they did,” guard Anthony Marshall told the media after the game.

Conversely, the Buffs turned the ball over  a season-high 23 times, but had their own season high 7-12 from beyond the arc.

Sometimes that’s not a result of great defense, just good luck.

North Carolina State

They were the last at-large team unveiled during Selection Sunday, and many people (including me) didn’t believe they belonged.

Now, here they are  in the Sweet 16 in year one of the Mark Gottfried regime.

Let’s be honest: the Wolfpack didn’t really beat anybody in the regular season. The only reason they’re here isn’t because they didn’t really lose to anybody, but now they’ve beaten two teams seeded ahead of them.

Against the Aztecs, NC State had their best shooting performance against anyone of significance this season, going 31-53 from the floor against a team that regularly held opponents under 40 percent.

Yesterday against the Hoyas, the Wolfpack, well, they shut down Henry Sims, among other thing. The senior fouled out in just 21 minutes of play, with a season low four points and three rebounds.

Who would have thought that could happen from an average defensive team?

VCU 

Wichita State gave us their worst offensive game of the season. OK so that stinks for them, but was it due to stifling defense from the Rams?

Probably, but the Rams weren’t very efficient on offense themselves.

Coming into the tournament, the Shockers were 14-1 when holding their opponents under one-point-per-possession, and the Rams were an average offensive team. In Thursday’s game, both teams score under one PPP.

A minor detail, sure, but for a higher seed to do what they needed to do defensively and not get it done is rare.

Hats off to the Rams, who came up just short against Indiana in their next game.

Wisconsin

Although I thought the Badgers were ripe for an upset against Montana, Bo Ryan continued this program’s tournament success, grabbing a win (they’re also in the Sweet 16) for the 10th time in 11 years.

The win shouldn’t surprise you too much, but how Bucky advanced past the Grizzlies may. A nine-point favorite, Wisconsin’s 24-point victory was the largest margin against the spread in the second round of this tournament, due primarily because it was their best all-around shooting performance in about a month (that Ron Wilson flurry in the Big Ten Tournament notwithstanding).

With the Big Sky’s Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry in foul trouble early, the court was wide open for Jordan Taylor, as he led the Badgers to their best first half offensive performance since Christmas.

For Cherry, it was arguably his worst game of the season, as he was limited defensively and finished with just nine points on 3-14 shooting.

Had he given us at least an average game, it could have made a big difference here.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.