2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 1 Michigan State Spartans

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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. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 27-9, 13-5 Big Ten (t-2nd); Lost to Duke in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Tom Izzo (19th season at Michigan State: 437-176 overall, 209-95 Big Ten)

Key Losses: Derrick Nix, Brandon Kearney

Newcomers: Gavin Schilling, Alvin Ellis

Projected Lineup

G: Keith Appling, Sr.
G: Gary Harris, So.
F: Denzel Valentine, So.
F: Branden Dawson, Jr.
C: Adreian Payne, Sr.
Bench: Travis Trice, Jr.; Gavin Schilling, Fr.; Alex Gauna, Jr.; Russell Byrd, Jr.; Kenny Kaminiski, Fr.; Matt Costello, So.

They’ll be good because …: Beyond the fact they have Tom Izzo as their head coach, this group is finally going to be healthy this season. Most importantly, Gary Harris is going to look like Gary Harris. Last season, Izzo’s star recruit missed the first two games of the year before deciding to grit his way through a painful injury to his left shoulder that made it tough for him to drive to his right and forced him to settle for being a jump-shooter. He’s good in that role; he’s an all-american at full strength, and he’ll be at full strength when the season kicks off in exactly one week.

Harris isn’t the only guy that used his time off to heal up. Branden Dawson rushed his way back from a torn ACL that he suffered at the end of his freshman season. He was, technically, healthy, but a summer spent rehabbing meant that he didn’t get a chance to develop his game. This offseason he did. The same can be said for Travis Trice, who has dealt with a myriad of issues — a brain infection, a couple of concussions, a broken nose — in the last 15 months. With those three at full strength, the Spartans get that much scarier.

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AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: The Spartans have some question marks with two of their most important players this season. Let’s start with Keith Appling, a former McDonald’s all-american that has spent most of the past two seasons trying to make the transition into being a full-time point guard. He’s had some success, averaging 13.3 points and 3.3 assists last year, but the consistency just hasn’t been there. He’s not a natural playmaker; his first inclination is, and always has been, to score, and his struggles led to some of Michigan State’s worst performances a season ago. Will he finally embrace the role that Izzo is asking him to play this season?

The other issue is Adreian Payne. Payne shot up NBA Draft boards this past season thanks to some terrific performances in a couple of Michigan State’s biggest games, and with his ridiculous athleticism and ability to step out and hit threes, the potential is there to warrant a first round pick come June. But Payne has made a career out of being inconsistent. He’s coming off of a junior season where he averaged all of 10.5 points and 7.6 boards, and it was the first time in his tenure in East Lansing where he came anywhere near living up to his ability. This is the guy that the Spartans are relying on to be an all-american? Maybe it finally clicked for Payne this summer. Maybe he’ll come out and average 15 points, 10 boards, 3 blocks and shoot 44% from three. But he wasn’t a freshman last year. He was a junior. Old habits die hard, you know?

Outlook: Tom Izzo does what he can to downplay the expectations that have been placed on his team this season, but there’s no denying the fact that the Spartans are going to enter the year as the favorite to win the Big Ten and one of a handful of teams expected to be competing for a national title come March. They have a potential first-team all-american on the roster in Harris. They have another potential first round pick in Payne. Dawson and Denzel Valentine make up a versatile set of forwards, and Appling has plenty of raw ability. Throw in a healthy Trice and a handful of back up big men that, at the very least, will provide Izzo with 10-15 fouls in the paint, and Michigan State is loaded on paper.

But in order for the Spartans to live up to those expectations, they are relying on a number of guys to make an improvement. Appling needs to be a better point guard. Harris and Dawson need to improve now that they’re healthy. Payne needs to be more consistent. That’s a lot of moving parts, meaning that 80% of Izzo’s starting lineup head into the season as an ‘if’.

Having said all of that, keep in mind that Michigan State returns all but one contributor from a team that finished tied for second in the loaded Big Ten and spent most of the year ranked in the top ten. ‘If’ all of those ‘ifs’ work out, ‘if’ Michigan State really is that much better than they were a season ago, that’s a scary thought.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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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.