NBCSports.com’s 2013-2014 Mid-Major Power Rankings

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Prior to delving into the power rankings, it is important to identify who we are considering “mid-majors” this season, especially after realignment saw many teams jump from one conference to another during the offseason. The following conferences are not included in any mid-major discussion: AAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West and Pac-12. The WCC is still considered a mid-major league with the exclusion of Brigham Young, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s.

Oh, and Conference USA? You’ve been relegated.

(MORE: Click here to see NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major All-Americans)

1) Wichita State: With Creighton departing for the Big East, the class of the Missouri Valley now resides in Wichita. Cleanthony Early returns for his senior season, and Gregg Marshall welcomes two more junior college transfers to the roster in Darius Carter and Nick Wiggins. Keep an eye on Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Kadeem Coleby as well. In the backcourt, sophomores Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet return. Wichita State is a “high-major” program in the quintessential “mid-major” league.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

2) Harvard: Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament win in school history, Harvard enters the season a fringe Top 25 team. Graduation only claimed Christian Webster, and the Crimson more than replace the void he left by welcoming Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry back to the team and adding highly touted recruit Zena Edosomwan. Many BCS teams are jealous with the talent Tommy Amaker has to work with in the frontcourt.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

3) Southern Mississippi: If not for a double overtime loss to Memphis in last year’s Conference USA tournament, Southern Miss. would have been dancing for the second straight season. With Memphis off to the AAC, however, it is now the Golden Eagle’s time to shine. They’ll be led by dynamite point guard Neil Watson along with his running mate in the backcourt Jerrold Brooks. Southern Miss. should own the new-look Conference USA.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2012

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4) Indiana State: For parts of last season, it looked like Indiana State would have a shot to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With early season wins against Mississippi and Miami (FL) and conference wins against Creighton and Wichita State, the Sycamores had a good looking resume. Losing five of their final six regular season games dashed those hopes. Jake Odum, who led Indiana State to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, is back for his senior season, along with three other starters from last year’s team.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2011

5) Denver: Remember the name Chris Udofia. The senior guard has been a fixture in Denver’s lineup since his freshman season, and may very well be the top player in the Summit League, the Pioneers’ first season in their new digs. Joe Scott, with a slow and methodical offense that gives opponents fits, has built Denver into one of the top mid-major programs. Denver has never reached the NCAA Tournament, but that may change this year.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: N/A

6) Towson: Two seasons ago, Towson posted a 1-31 record. This season, they are the team to beat in the CAA. Pat Skerry is building Towson up through the transfer route, landing Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown), one of the best big men in the country and Four McGlynn (Vermont), a sharpshooter who’s now eligible. With the APR issues now in the rear view mirror, Towson has their sights set on the NCAA Tournament.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 1991

7) North Dakota State: Denver’s primary challenger in the Summit comes in the form of North Dakota State. With Oakland’s move to the Horizon League, the door is now open at the top. The Bison return all five starters from a team that won 24 games last season. Taylor Braun, TrayVonn Wright and Mike Felt are all back for their senior season, along with junior Lawrence Alexander — not many mid-major units out there shoot from the perimeter as well as these four. North Dakota State is a very deep and experienced team.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2009

8) UTEP: Despite graduating key backcourt players Jacques Streeter and Konner Tucker, the Miners return Julian Washburn and John Bohannon who make for the top frontcourt in Conference USA. Complementing Washburn and Bohannon is Cedrick Lang who came on towards the end of last season. Tim Floyd will have his best team yet in El Paso even without Isaac Hamilton.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2010

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9) Florida Gulf Coast: Ah yes, Dunk City. There’s a new leader at Florida Gulf Coast as long time Kansas assistant Joe Dooley takes over for Andy Enfield, but the high-flying Eagles shouldn’t miss a beat. In just their sixth season as a Division 1 basketball program, Florida Gulf Coast took the NCAA Tournament by storm defeating Georgetown and San Diego State in convincing fashion. While they lose their top player, Sherwood Brown, from last year’s team, many other pieces are back, including point guard Brett Comer. Marquette transfer Jamail Jones is now eligible and will add to this year’s dunk total.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

10) Northern Iowa: Head coach Ben Jacobson has yet to lead Northern Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament following their magical 30 win season and Sweet 16 appearance in 2010, but the Panthers are poised for a big season with Deon Mitchell and Seth Tuttle returning.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013

11) Boston University: In their first year in the Patriot League, the Terriers will be the prohibitive favorite to win the league. The combination of D.J. Irving and Maurice Watson in the backcourt is one of the best among mid-majors.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2011

12) Wright State: All five starters return from a team that was minutes away from defeating Valparaiso and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007

13) Manhattan: The Jaspers were a popular pick to win the MAAC last season, but then star point guard George Beamon went down with a season-ending injury after playing just four games. With Beamon back, Steve Masiello will have success not seen since the Bobby Gonzalez years.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2004

14) Eastern Kentucky: Belmont coasted through the Ohio Valley in their first season, but after graduating three of their top players they figure to regress. Eastern Kentucky returns six of their top seven scorers from a team that won 25 games last season.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2007

15) Georgia State: Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow is immediately eligible and joins an already potent backcourt consisting of R.J. Hunter, and Devonta White, along with swingman Manny Atkins who transferred from Virginia Tech after the 2010-11 season. The Panthers will be immediate contenders in the Sun Belt.

Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2001

Ten more to watch: New Mexico State, College of Charleston, Wagner, Weber State, Akron, Belmont, South Alabama, San Francisco, Toledo, Tulsa

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.