Sweet 16 Previews: Why Yancy Gates needs to play like Josh Harrellson

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Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com contributed to this post.

I don’t know if I’m the first to say this, but I believe it with all of my heart: No. 6 Cincinnati is going to have a very, very good chance of beating No. 2 Ohio State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night in Boston for the same reason that Kentucky beat Ohio State last season in the Sweet 16. (I had that upset in my bracket, no big deal.)

The Wildcats had a big-bodied center to deal with Jared Sullinger in Josh Harrellson. Cincinnati does as well in Yancy Gates.

What makes Sullinger so effective in the post is his ability to use his ample back side to gain position. He has nice footwork and a soft touch around the basket, which, when combined with his solid array of post moves, makes him arguably the most dangerous low-post threat in the country. That said, it is all set up by the fact he is almost immovable once he gets to where he wants to be on the court.

The problem against Kentucky last season was that the Wildcats had their own immovable object in the paint in Harrellson. Sullinger still got his — he finished with 21 points and 16 boards (eight offensive) — but he had to work as hard as he had all season long to get those numbers. And Harrellson certainly didn’t get dominated, finishing with 17 points, 10 boards and three blocks.

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Jared Sullinger could have been a top five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but he opted to return to Columbus to try and win a national title. Back in November, the Buckeyes were a popular pick to do just that. But everyone overlooked just how much Ohio State lost in Jon Diebler and David Lighty.

A major reason that Sullinger was as dominant as he was as a freshman was that it was nearly impossible to double-team him. The majority of the time, Thad Matta played four guards around Sullinger in the post — Diebler, Lighty, Aaron Craft and William Buford, with Diebler being the guy that fed Sullinger the ball in the post the majority of the time. So pick your poison — either allow the big fella to go one-on-one in the post or try and double-team him and hope your defensive rotations were quick enough to avoid giving one of those four sharp-shooter an open look.

This season, however, the shooters that Sullinger has surrounding him are no where near as dangerous. You want stats to back it up? I got stats to back it up. In 2010-2011, Ohio State shot 42.3% from three (which led the country) and took threes on 32.7% of their possessions. This season? The Buckeyes are shooting 32.8% from three and taking threes on just 26.5% of their possessions. It’s not difficult to figure out why: instead of Diebler (1.405 points-per-possession, or PPP, in spot-up situations) and Lighty (1.000 PPP) on the perimeter, defenses have to deal with Lenzelle Smith (1.038 PPP) and Deshaun Thomas (0.956 PPP). At the same time, both Buford (1.045 PPP to 0.962 PPP) and Craft (1.165 PPP to 1.034 PPP) have seen a decrease in their effectiveness as spot-up shooters.

Simply put: Ohio State is easier to defend this season because defenses don’t have to worry as much about getting burned from the perimeter. It can be summed up in one, easy-to-read stat — in the loss the Kentucky last season, Diebler and Lighty were a combined 10-22 from the floor while Buford and Craft shot 2-21.

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It is easy to criticize Jared Sullinger for not being the same player he was last season. But in my mind, he’s had a more impressive year. His numbers haven’t dropped off — 0.933 PPP in post-up situations last season as compared to 0.950 PPP this season — despite facing more defensive attention this year while dealing with plantar fasciitis and a bad back.

But that also means that Sullinger is that much more important to his team’s success this season. Case-in-point: Ohio State went 6-4 in the last seven games of the regular season and three games in the Big Ten tournament. In the six wins, Sullinger averaged 20.7 ppg and 10.0 rpg while shooting 54.3% from the floor. In the four losses, he averaged 14.3 ppg and 9.8 rpg while shooting 37.9% from the floor. The best game he had in a loss — 17 points and 16 boards against Michigan State — he also committed 10 turnovers.

Cincinnati has their own Josh Harrellson in the gargantuan Yancy Gates. Sullinger is not going to be able to move Gates off the block, which means that his points and his post touches are going to be that much more difficult to come by. In other words, Buckeye fans better hope that their perimeter attack comes to play, because they may not be able to rely on Sullinger to carry them.

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

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.

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.