Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the best college hoops day of the year

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 1 Syracuse at No. 5 Duke, Sat. 7:00 p.m

This game has lot a bit of luster, hasn’t it? Three weeks ago, the Orange and the Blue Devils played the best game of the season. The rematch was supposed to be between a streaking Duke team and an undefeated Syracuse team. Instead, the Orange lost at home to Boston College while the Blue Devils dropped a game at North Carolina.

The key here? What is Duke going to be able to do against the Syracuse zone. They struggled when Maryland went zone last Saturday. They lost on Thursday because North Carolina switched to a zone, and while the 2-3 that Syracuse runs is very different from the junk defenses that the Terps and the Heels threw at them, it still doesn’t change the fact that Duke’s offense has struggled getting the ball into the middle of the defense.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Louisville at No. 7 Cincinnati, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

This is the start of Louisville’s brutal last-season slate. In their last five games, they play at Cincinnati, at SMU, at Memphis and at home against UConn. The Cardinals have been much improved from the team that we saw earlier this season, but they’ve done it beating up on lesser competition that, quite frankly, they should be beating up on. Cincinnati, for lack of a better word, big-boyed the Cardinals the first time these two got together. Russ Smith vs. Sean Kilpatrick will be fun.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 13 Michigan State at No. 20 Michigan, Sun. 12:00 p.m.

The two team in first place in the Big Ten square off on Sunday afternoon. Both the Spartans and the Wolverines and struggled a bit of late, however. Michigan State is finally starting to get healthy again, as Keith Appling is now back in the lineup. The Wolverines, who won the first matchup, have got to find a way to get Nik Stauskas more involved in ball-screen action as we head into the season’s final weeks.

FIVE MORE TO WATCH:

  • No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: The Badgers seem to have righted their ship in recent weeks, which makes this win all the more important for an Iowa team that has yet to really prove themselves.
  • St. John’s at No. 9 Villanova, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: The Johnnies are probably on the wrong side of the bubble as of today, but that would certainly change if they can continue their hot streak and pick off the Wildcats.
  • LSU at No. 18 Kentucky, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The last time these two got together, LSU smacked Kentucky around in Baton Rouge. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky responds in their own building.
  • No. 19 Texas at No. 8 Kansas, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: Texas might be the team best-equipped to beat Kansas given the size that they have along their front line. They can match up with the Kansas big men, and as long as Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix are making good decisions, they’ll have a shot to win at Phog Allen.
  • No. 6 San Diego State at New Mexico, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: New Mexico is probably on the right side of the bubble right now, but they’re closer than they want to be. The Aztecs are easily the best available win for the Lobos, and they actually matchup with them fairly well. A shot at the MWC regular season title would probably go out the window with a loss.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 2 Florida at Ole Miss, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This will be the last chance for Ole Miss to do something that gets them in position to be an at-large team. They have to win this. If Florida plays the way they did against Auburn, it just might happen.
  • No. 23 UCLA at Stanford, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: UCLA is playing the best ball of anyone in the Pac-12 right now, but Stanford is a pesky team that could use the win to solidify their tournament resume. Who guards Kyle Anderson though?
  • George Washington at No. 10 Saint Louis, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Colonials picked up a big win at Richmond this week, which means that they won’t be at risk of a three-game losing streak should they drop this game. The Billikens struggled with George Mason on Wednesday, however.
  • No. 4 Arizona at Colorado, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: In November, this looked like it was going to be the best game of the Pac-12 season. That was before ACL injuries to Spencer Dinwiddie and Brandon Ashley.
  • SMU at No. 21 UConn, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: SMU has struggled on the road, but they have the pieces to give UConn a run.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) A key Ivy League battle will be played on Sunday afternoon on the NBC Sports Network. Yale will be visiting Columbia. Yale is in first place in the Ivy League. On Saturday night, Cornell taking on Brown will be on the NBC Sports Network as well.

2) Drake will visit No. 3 Wichita State on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., one of three teams that will have a shot to end Wichita State’s undefeated regular season.

3) Texas Tech will make their return trip to Oklahoma State on Saturday, marking Marcus Smart’s first game back from a three-game suspension for shoving a fan in the Cowboys’ loss … at Texas Tech.

4) Two more excellent games that are a bit off the radar: VCU at UMass, Fri. 7:00 p.m.; and Kansas State at Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

5) The weekend’s biggest bubble games:

  • Xavier at Georgetown, Sat. 11:30 a.m.
  • Baylor at West Virginia, Sat. 1:47 p.m.
  • Marquette at DePaul, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Virginia Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Texas A&M, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • Fordham at Saint Joseph’s, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • La Salle at Richmond, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Saint Mary’s at Santa Clara, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Minnesota at No. 24 Ohio State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Missouri at Alabama, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • Purdue at Nebraska, Sun. 4:15 p.m.
  • Florida State at Pittsburgh, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
  • Providence at Butler, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at Utah, Sun. 8:00 p.m.
  • USC at Cal, Sun. 8:00 p.m.
  • Washington State at Oregon, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

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.

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.