The Top 68 players in the NCAA tournament

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With the NCAA tournament hitting full throttle Thursday afternoon (60 first-round byes = nonsense), we at College Basketball Talk thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of the top 68 players in this season’s event. Creighton’s Doug McDermott leads the way on this list, and there are a number of talented players who didn’t land on this list. So without further ado, here are the 68 best players in the 2014 NCAA tournament. 

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
The man given the nickname “Dougie McBuckets” by former CBT contributor Troy Machir will clean up on the postseason awards circuit and with good reason. McDermott averages 26.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and he’s been efficient in doing so with shooting percentages of 52.5% from the field, 45.4% from three and 86.6% from the foul line.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker (19.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) hit a bit of a lull back in January, with his relying too much on perimeter shots being a key reason why. When the freshman is committed to attacking the opposition, which has been the case over the last month, he’s one of the toughest covers in the country.

3. Russ Smith, Louisville
The four-year transformation of Smith has been incredible to watch, as his decision-making has improved a great deal during his time playing for Rick Pitino. Those maddening moments that led the Pitino nicknaming his guard “Russdiculous” don’t happen very often these days, and in addition to scoring 18.3 points and 4.7 assists per game the senior is shooting 47.5% from the field and 40.5% from three.

4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins has been under the microscope for much of this season, and while some have been underwhelmed with his play at times the fact of the matter is that he’s put together a very good season. Averaging 17.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, Wiggins enters the tournament averaging 31.0 points in Kansas’ last three games.

5. Shabazz Napier, UConn
In a season loaded with high-level lead guards Napier takes a back seat to no one, leading the way for a UConn team back in the NCAA tournament after having to miss out on all the fun a season ago. He’s unafraid of big moments and has the ability to both score (17.4 ppg) and distribute (4.9 apg) while also leading the Huskies in rebounding (5.9 rpg).

6. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Remember when most referred to Stauskas as a shooter and nothing else? After working hard during the offseason Stauskas won Big Ten Player of the Year honors, averaging 17.5 points per game in helping lead Michigan to the Big Ten regular season title. And after attempting just 87 free throws as a freshman, the more aggressive Stauskas has attempted 183 this season.

7. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Amongst transfers in college basketball this season Kane’s been one of the most successful, teaming up with Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to lead the Cyclones to their first Big 12 tournament title since 2000. Kane’s averaging 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season, and his percentages from the field (49.1%) and from three (39.8%) are the best of his career.

8. Gary Harris, Michigan State
On a team that has dealt with injuries throughout the season Harris has been the most consistent option, scoring 17.2 points per game for the Big Ten tournament champions. Harris has failed to reach double figures just once this season, and his ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes the sophomore someone opponents have to account for when preparing for the Spartans.

9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson won Pac-12 Player of the Year because of his skill level on both ends of the floor and his impact on the Wildcats’ success. Johnson’s improved his offensive repertoire in each of his three seasons in Tucson, and in addition to being Arizona’s best offensive option he also get the assignment of defending the opposition’s best perimeter player on most nights.

10. Joel Embiid, Kansas*
Embiid is the “wild card” in all of this, hence the asterisk. The freshman isn’t expected to play this week, but there’s no denying the impact Embiid has on the Jayhawks defensively. He’s one of the best rim protectors in the country, thus allowing Kansas’ perimeter players to be a bit more aggressive defensively. Embiid averages 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, and in three of the five games he’s missed the opposition has shot at least 47% from the field.

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11. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
12. T.J. Warren, N.C. State
13. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
14. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
15. Adreian Payne, Michigna State
16. Julius Randle, Kentucky
17. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
18. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
19. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
20. Bryce Cotton, Providence
21. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
22. Xavier Thames, San Diego State
23. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
24. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
25. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
26. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
27. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
28. Jordan Adams, UCLA
29. Caris LeVert, Michigan
30. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
31. Perry Ellis, Kansas
32. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
33. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
34. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
35. Rodney Hood, Duke
36. Kendall Williams, New Mexico
37. Keith Appling, Michigan State
38. Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
39. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
40. Jordan McRae, Tennessee
41. Georges Niang, Iowa State
42. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
43. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
44. James Bell, Villanova
45. Lamar Patterson, Pitt
46. Chasson Randle, Stanford
47. Joseph Young, Oregon
48. Ron Baker, Wichita State
49. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
50. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
51. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
52. Sam Dower, Gonzaga
53. Semaj Christon, Xavier
54. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
55. Cory Jefferson, Baylor
56. Chaz Williams, UMass
57. Terran Pettaway, Nebraska
58. Luke Hancock, Louisville
59. Alex Kirk, New Mexico
60. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
61. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
62. Casey Prather (Florida)
63. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
64. Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
65. Langston Hall, Mercer
66. Kenny Chery, Baylor
67. Joe Harris, Virginia
68. LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

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.