Conference Catchups: Can Ohio State or Wisconsin hold off Michigan State?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Keith Appling, Michigan State

The Big Ten is the toughest conference to pick a midseason Player of the Year as there are six or seven legitimate candidates for the award as of today. I didn’t even has space to mention Gary Harris or RayVonte Rice (or Aaron Craft or Frank Kaminsky or Roy Devyn Marble) below, and all of those guys can put together a strong enough performance in league play to be deserving of the award.

But for now, I’m going with Keith Appling for a couple of reasons. For starters, I think he’s been the most valuable player on the Michigan State roster this season. He’s finally embracing his role as a point guard, distributing when needed and taking over in crunch time in some of the Spartan’s biggest wins. His numbers (15.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.9 t/o’s, 47.7% 3PT) speak for themselves, but it’s been his presence that has been just as important.

All-Big Ten First Team:

  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • Keith Appling, Michigan State
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

I think we all expected Wisconsin to be good this season because Wisconsin is good every season. But I don’t know how many people had the Badgers entering Big Ten play as a top five team with one of the nation’s strongest non-conference resumes. Before the season started, I said that it was going to be exciting to watch how Wisconsin plays out this season, and it sure has been. Sam Dekker has become the star we all expected him to be, Frank Kaminsky has become the latest in a long line of sharp-shooting Wisconsin big men, and the three-guard lineup Ryan has used has been a nightmare for opponents to match up with. This may be end up being Ryan’s best coaching job of his career.

Favorite: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has not been as dominant as many expected they would be during the non-conference part of the season, but much of that has to do with the fact that they have yet to get fully healthy. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling have dealt with nagging injuries, Gary Harris can’t seem to get his ankle back to full health and Matt Costello is still battling mono. That’s four starters. Once this team gets fully healthy? Does anyone really want to bet against a Tom Izzo-coached team with three guys talented enough to be all-americans and win Big Ten Player of the Year? Because I don’t.

And three more contenders: 

  • Ohio State has the nation’s most efficient defense, and the ever-enigmatic LaQuinton Ross has been playing fantastic the last month. After a slow start, Ross is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 48.5% from three in his last eight games.
  • We’ve already been over Wisconsin. I would not be surprised in the least to see them atop the Big Ten standings come March.
  • I may be in the minority here, but for my money, the fourth-best team in the Big Ten is Iowa. See below.

source:  Most Surprising Team: Iowa Hawkeyes

Surprising may be the wrong word to use here because a lot of people were predicting Iowa to make the jump this season. But I’m not sure how many people saw this team having a shot at finishing in the top four of the conference. The Hawkeyes are talented, they are deep, they have size, they have multiple ball-handlers, they are well-coached, they can score, they’re capable defensively. There is a lot to like about this group. Oh, and it’s worth noting that Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble are two of the best players in the conference.

Most Disappointing Team: Michigan Wolverines

Calling this team disappointing is a little unfair given the fact that the biggest reasons they’ve struggled early on this season are that Mitch McGary’s back has kept him from being healthy at any point this season and that Derrick Walton is a freshman point guard trying to replace Trey Burke. As good as Nik Stauskas has been and as talented as Glenn Robinson III is, having limitations at the point guard and center positions has been killer. That said, this is a four-loss team with multiple NBA draft picks that was in the preseason top ten. There’s no two-ways around that.

Most Important Player (in league play): Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Derrick Walton is not ready to be the guy that facilitates Michigan’s offense. Mitch McGary will probably never be at 100% this season. But the Wolverines could still end up being a top four team in the Big Ten if they allow Stauskas to be the guy that initiates everything. He’s a lights-out shooter, that we know. But he’s much better off the dribble than you realize and a much-improved creator. Putting the ball in his hands will be the best thing that John Beilein can do.

Coming in a close second? Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross.

Who will slide?: Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m not quite yet ready to buy Illinois as a contender in the Big Ten. As of now, they are a borderline top 25 team being kept afloat by a pair of scoring guards in Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice. I like Joseph Bertrand, and I think Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu are tough for opposing bigs to matchup with, but I’m not convinced this team will be able to hang with the best in the Big Ten.

Who is the sleeper?: Indiana Hoosiers

It seems like everyone is ignoring Tom Crean’s club this season, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you have a young roster and lose the only three notable games that you play during the non-conference. But the Hoosiers have one of the better point guards in the Big Ten in Yogi Ferrell and a roster that works with the uptempo, defensive-minded style that Crean wants to play. Noah Vonleh’s development as a low-post scorer and the emergence of perimeter shooters will determine just how good Indiana ends up being this year.

New Power Rankings

1. Michigan State
2. Wisconsin
3. Ohio State
4. Iowa
5. Michigan
6. Indiana
7. Illinois
8. Penn State
9. Minnesota
10. Purdue
11. Nebraska
12. Northwestern

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.