College Hoops Week in Review: Villanova, Xavier Thames shine in holiday tourneys

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Xavier Thames, San Diego State

This was supposed to be a down year for San Diego State. This was supposed to be their rebuilding season, the in-between season where Winston Shepard and Dakarai Allen mature into stars while the Aztecs try to learn how to survive the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. And while that is still very much the case with this group, this week proved that it’s anything-but a rebuilding year for the Aztecs, as they knocked off Charleston, Creighton and Marquette to take home the title in the Wooden Legacy.

The best player on the floor for Steve Fisher’s club was senior guard Xavier Thames, who looks like he’s ready to slide into that starring role. Thames averaged 22.0 points in the three wins, shooting 18-for-32 from the floor and 11-for-15 from three. In the wins over the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles, Thames had 26 and 29 points, respectively.

They were good, too

  • Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker has been sensational through the first months of the season, and that was no different this past week as he averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 boards and 2.3 steals in wins over DePaul, BYU and at Saint Louis.
  • Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will get the attention, but Ennis was awesome in Maui. He averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals while turning the ball over just twice in 109 minutes.
  • Chad Frazier, UAB: The Blazers have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, and Frazier has been their best player. He averaged 21.0 points and 4.5 assists in wins over Florida A&M and UNC.
  • Lamar Patterson, Pitt: We got to see Patterson’s full arsenal this week: 21.7 points, 4.7 boards, 5.3 assists, 4.0 steals, 8-for-17 threes.
  • Sidney Sanders Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights shocked both Rutgers and Seton Hall on the road this week, and it was Sanders that did the majority of the work. He averaged 22.5 points, 9.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.0 steals in the two wins.

source:  TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova Wildcats

Villanova was expected to be an improved team this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected the kind of start that the Wildcats have gotten off to. After rolling through Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova is now 7-0 on the season and ranked in the top 15.

The most impressive part about this start is that their best player, Ryan Arcidiacono has yet to really hit his rhythm. He hit the game-winner against Kansas, but he did not play well in that game. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots with this team: deep, talented back courts surrounded by physical, blue-collar front court guys. This is a tough group with enough talent that they just might be the best team in the wide-open Big East.

They were good, too

  • Arizona: The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT, knocking off Duke in the title game on Friday.
  • Dayton: The Flyers beat Gonzaga and Cal out in Maui this week, with their only loss coming by a single point to Baylor in a game that Dayton led for much of the second half.
  • Memphis: The Tigers earned themselves a massive victory by knocking off Oklahoma State in the finals of the Old Spice Classic.
  • San Diego State: The Aztecs won the Wooden Legacy by picking up wins over both Marquette and Creighton.
  • Syracuse: The Orange have looked like the best team in the ACC through the first month of the season, and taking home a title in Maui isn’t going to change that perspective.
  • Wichita State: The Shockers notched three nice wins this week, including beating BYU in the finals of the Legends Classic and knocking off Saint Louis on the road.

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Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.