College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Virginia moves up, three teams drop out

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I wanted to use this space to say a few words about Virginia, who set a records when they held Harvard to just a single field goal in the first half of their 76-27 win over the Crimson on Sunday.

Seriously.

Take a look at this halftime box score:

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I’ve said in the past that I have a hard time seeing this Virginia team being a real ACC title contender, and to be frank, that still may be true; Duke is just that good this year. But I’m also still not convinced that Virginia is going to be able to consistently beat good teams without Joe Harris. As I wrote earlier this month, The ‘Hoos don’t have that one guy that commands the attention of a defense everywhere they move on the court.

But does that matter?

Kentucky’s size and athleticism will overwhelm anyone, and Louisville’s pressure and complicated defensive looks are a nightmare for anyone to game-plan against. But when it comes to simply playing tough, fundamental, aggravating defense, there is no one in the country better than Virginia.

They may not need that elite offensive weapon to win, especially if they are going to field a team that is this balanced on that end. Maybe I was wrong about Virginia.

Anyway, here’s the NBCSports.com Top 25:

1. Kentucky (12-0, LW: No. 1): Virginia’s first half against Harvard was impressive, but Kentucky’s first half against UCLA was even more dominant. They led 41-7 at the break, and were up 24-0 at one point.

2. Duke (10-0, LW: No. 2): Everyone is going to point to the 25-point, 20-rebound performance that Jahlil Okafor had against Elon as his most dominant performance of the season, but I was just as impressed as his ability to be the guy that offense ran through in Duke’s win over UConn on Thursday.

3. Arizona (12-0, LW: No. 3): Arizona was pushed on the road against UTEP on Friday night, and while that win doesn’t look all that impressive right now, it will by the end of the year. Late night road games on typical off-nights are not easy to win, especially when classes are out.

4. Wisconsin (10-1, LW: No. 4): Wisconsin didn’t have anything going on the last week. But they do play at Cal on Monday night. That will be a good test for the Badgers, and also a chance to see if Sam Dekker’s ankle got healthier.

5. Virginia (11-0, LW: No. 7): Virginia’s domination of a good Harvard team gets them a bump up to No. 5 this week.

6. Texas (10-1, LW: No. 6): We still cannot judge Texas fully since they’ve been playing without their star point guard Isaiah Taylor for a month. He’ll be back by the time Big 12 play starts.

7. Gonzaga (11-1, LW: No. 5): Gonzaga has had a couple of relatively unimpressive performances in recent weeks, culminating in an uninspiring, 13-point win over Cal Poly on Saturday night. Slowly but surely, this team’s ability on the defensive end is getting exposed.

8. Louisville (10-0, LW: No. 8): Montrezl Harrell will be suspended for the Flagrant 2 he was given on Saturday afternoon, but luckily for the Cardinals, they’ll play on Tuesday, meaning that Harrell will be in the lineup with Louisville takes on Kentucky on Saturday.

9. Villanova (11-0, LW: No. 9): Villanova was tested on Saturday, getting taken to overtime by Syracuse. But the Wildcats responded, erasing a 14-point second half deficit and coming up with a huge steal in the final 10 seconds to erase a late, five-point deficit.

10. Kansas (9-1, LW: No. 10): It didn’t get much play this weekend, but Kelly Oubre started on Saturday and finished with 23 points and 10 boards. The Jayhawks are going to be just fine this season.

11. Wichita State (8-1, LW: No. 11)
12. Iowa State (9-1, LW: No. 12)
13. Utah (8-2, LW: No. 12)
14. Washington (10-0, LW: No. 17)
15. Oklahoma (7-3, LW: No. 13)
16. Notre Dame (11-1, LW: No. 16)
17. Georgetown (7-3, LW: No. 18)
18. Maryland (11-1, LW: No. 19)
19. Colorado State (11-0, LW: No. 21)
20. Ohio State (9-2, LW: No. 14)
21. North Carolina (8-3, LW: No. 23)
22. St. John’s (9-1, LW: No. 24)
23. Northern Iowa (10-1, LW: UR)
24. Cal (10-1, LW: UR)
25. VCU (8-3, LW: UR)

Dropped Out: No. 20 Miami, No. 22 Butler, No. 25 Michigan State

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.