Michigan State’s efficient three-point shooting is key for 2014-15 success

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Travis Trice (AP Photo)

Michigan State lost Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne from last season’s national title contender, but the Spartans have remained in the top 25 in 2014-15 thanks in-part to the nation’s most efficient team three-point shooting percentage.

The injury-depleted Spartans haven’t looked the part of an offensive juggernaut early this season, but they’ve maintained a 7-3 record while shooting 45.6 percent from three-point range. While Michigan State is 68th in three-point attempts at 204 — entering Tuesday night’s action — they’re 11th in makes at 93 on the season.

If there’s any kind of secret to the Spartans’ sweet perimeter shooting this season it’s that they have the right players taking the right shots. Starting point guard Travis Trice is shooting 41 percent from the three-point line, but Denzel Valentine (51 percent), Bryn Forbes (51 percent) and Marvin Clark Jr. (50 percent) are all shooting at or above 50 percent from distance so far this season. Outside of those four players, Michigan State has only attempted 13 three-pointers this season and made one of them.

Having two shooters of that caliber would be enough of a luxury. Having four means Michigan State can space the floor with multiple shooters in any given lineup and it helps that they take smart shots and move the ball around the perimeter with tremendous patience.

That’s what you get with a Tom Izzo-coached team, one that is playing to its strengths and not trying to do too much.

After the Spartans went 10-for-17 from beyond the arc in a Sunday night win over Oakland, Golden Grizzlies head coach Greg Kampe said with Michigan State’s perimeter shooting clicking on all cylinders, they could compete with Kentucky or any team in the country.

“I don’t care who they play, they can play Kentucky, those three kids shoot the ball the way they shot it tonight they can beat anyone in the country,” Kampe said after the game.

But can the Spartans sustain the high level of three-point shooting against elite competition?

In three Michigan State losses to Duke, Kansas and Notre Dame this season — also the only three notable opponents they’ve faced — the Spartans are only shooting 37 percent (20-for-54) from three-point range. During the one-point overtime loss to the Irish, Michigan State finished 9-for-17 from trifecta, but against long and athletic teams like Duke and Kansas, the Spartans struggled to consistently convert from the perimeter.

That would suggest that Michigan State’s nation-leading three-point percentage will go down as they face tougher competition in the Big Ten. It’s also encouraging because the Spartans shot so poorly against Duke and Kansas and stayed within striking distance in both games deep into the second half. A few of those perimeter looks fall and suddenly we have an entirely different ballgame.

How Michigan State incorporates injured guards Alvin Ellis and Javon Bess into the rotation will be something to watch as well, as both will potentially return to the rotation this week. Ellis missed six games after an injury against Navy on opening night and has been back the last few weeks while Bess was just cleared to practice and could make his Spartans debut this week. Ellis isn’t a three-point threat, but his added athleticism and slashing ability could draw defenders in drive situations and leave for more kick-out opportunities for open shooters. And Bess shot a respectable 34.8 percent from three-point range in the EYBL his final spring and summer of grassroots ball and could be an additional three-point option if Michigan State finds that he’s ready to crack the rotation.

It’s looking like Michigan State might be a classic, “live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three” team this season and it’ll be worth watching how the Spartans continue shooting in Big Ten play and how that could translate against elite competition in March. The additions of Bess and Ellis alongside four top-notch perimeter threats means Michigan State’s offense could get rolling in a hurry if shots are falling.

This isn’t a typical Tom Izzo team, but he’s once again found a way to maximize his team’s ability and it looks like the Spartans are another lock for 20 wins this season.

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

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

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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.