For Maryland, being lucky is better than being good if it’s only for one night

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Alex Len finished with 10 points and six boards, tipping in an errant Pe’Shon Howard shot with just 0.9 seconds left on the clock as the Terps knocked off No. 14 NC State at the Comcast Center, 51-50.

Maryland had twice taken a ten point lead — the second of which came midway through the second half at 42-32. But the Wolfpack came storming back, using a 16-3 run to take a 48-45 lead on a Scott Wood three. After a pair of free throws and a bucket from Len, Lorenzo Brown, who finished with a game-high 17 points, hit a pull-up jumper to give the Wolfpack a 50-49 lead, setting up Maryland’s final possession.

That possession worked out swimmingly. With 5.2 seconds left on the clock, Howard took the inbounds and drove left, throwing up a runner — “He said it wasn’t a miss, it was a pass,” Led said with a chuckle after the game — that happened to fall right into the hands of the future lottery pick.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyApAk2ByzM]

Said Turgeon, “We were pretty lucky at the end.”

The play looked eerily reminiscent of the play that won NC State and Jim Valvano the 1983 national title against Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team, and Seth Allen drew a chuckle from reporters after the game when asked if he had every seen Lorenzo Charles’ title-winning, buzzer-beating putback. “I’m too young,” he said, “I just turned 18.”

The irony would be too much — NC State losing on the same kind of play that won them their only national title! — if it wasn’t a sign of a bigger issue for Maryland. The play that Howard ran wasn’t at all what Mark Turgeon drew up in the huddle. According to Len, Turgeon wanted the ball going to Logan Aronhalt. According to Turgeon, however, the play was “supposed to be an up-screen for Alex. We down-screened.” According to the tape, the play was for Howard to drive baseline, throw up a pair that happens to fall into Len’s hands and for Terp fans to storm the floor.

I’m not sure anyone knows what was supposed to happen.

Lucky, indeed.

The reason this is a concern is that Maryland has struggled in close games this season, and a big reason for that is shoddy late-game execution. They had a chance to knock off Kentucky in their season-opener but couldn’t get a shot off on the game’s final possession when they were down by three. In a three-point loss to Florida State, Allen had a three blocked on the final possession of the game. On Sunday, in a 54-47 loss at Miami, the Terps couldn’t execute offensively for 40 minutes, let alone down the stretch.

“Kentucky, we needed a three but we didn’t pass it,” Turgeon said. “Florida State, we didn’t drive it. We settled for a jump shot.”

Which brings us back to Wednesday night, where the Terps escaped despite the fact that, once again, they couldn’t run the play that Turgeon drew up in the huddle.

“We were 0-for-timeouts,” Turgeon said. “There wasn’t one timeout where they did what I wanted them to. Not one. It’s frustrating. We practiced timeouts two days ago. Lined up, practiced it. It’s where we are right now. It’s not a lot of fun. You’re sitting there and Pe’Shon’s looking at me, dribbling the ball at half court like, ‘What?’ after we drew up the play in the timeout. It’s frustrating.”

Timeouts aren’t the only time where the Terps struggle to execute offensively.

“Eventually, when I have a program long enough, we’re going to execute a lot better than we did,” Turgeon continued. “I can’t add enough stuff because they cant’t consume it all right now. We’re really limited with some of the stuff we can do.”

“They can do it in practice, but as soon as the lights are on, they don’t know.”

That’s a problem, and one that goes well beyond their struggles getting to get Len the ball in a position to score on Wednesday or Howard’s inability to make a shot since the calendar turned.

Len is going to make a lot of money in the NBA, and it’s likely going to be sooner rather than later; he’s a lottery pick. But outside of the Big Ukranian, the Terps don’t really have all that much scoring punch. They do, however, have a bunch of grinders — guys like Dez Wells, and Shaquille Cleare, and Charles Mitchell. It’s quite reminiscent of the teams that Turgeon put together at Texas A&M, where he built a program known for defense and offensive execution. They didn’t put up huge numbers or ride a wave of one-and-doners to NCAA tournament glory.

It was workmanlike. It was blue-collar. It worked.

And until the Terps reach a point where they can thrive on their offensive execution instead of headlong, 1-on-1 drives at the rim and hoisting up first-pass threes, they are going to continue to underperform. And rest assured, right now, this group is underperforming.

Having said that, at the end of the day, Maryland got a win. They knocked off the No. 14 team in the country. The beat the Wolfpack four days after the Wolfpack beat Duke. They got a win that is going to look good on their tournament resume and give them hope and confidence heading into one of the most difficult stretches on their schedule. Three of their next four games are on the road: at North Carolina, at Duke and at Florida State.

They can be excited about this win, but there is still a lot of season to be played and even more work to be done to get better.

“It’s just one game,” Turgeon said. We’re going to celebrate,  I was happy for the guys and the sutdents, storming the court and all.”

“[But] we just talked about how we haven’t won a big game since Grieivis Vasquez was here. I didn’t come here to be mediocre. The players didn’t come here to be mediocre. I asked them why they came here. I told them I came here to be a part of something much bigger than myself.”

“I came here to do great things. This is one great thing. Hopefully, this will lead us to other great things.”

You just can’t rely on luck to make that happen.

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.