Bubble Banter: Pitt, N.C. State get huge wins while Cincinnati, Georgia, GW take bad losses

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(This post will be updated throughout the day.)

All it took was one absurd offensive performance for Pitt to go from an NCAA tournament pipe dream to one of the most interesting bubble teams heading down the stretch.

The Panthers shot 66.1 percent from the floor and 8-for-15 from three as they smacked around No. 12 North Carolina at home on Saturday, a win that gives Jamie Dixon’s club the kind of marquee victory to anchor a tournament profile.

READ MORE: Friday’s updated tournament bracket

The Tar Heels entered the day as a top ten team in the RPI, and while that will likely drop a bit after this loss, it still means that the Panthers now have a pair of top 50 wins. They’re 17-9 overall and 6-6 in the ACC, and on the surface, that’s plenty to put them into the conversation.

Here’s the problem — that’s pretty much all there is on their resume. Pitt has just one other top 100 RPI win (3-7 overall, although Georgia Tech and Kansas State are Nos. 101 and 102, respectively), which will make it difficult for the committee to overlook a pair of sub-150 losses to Hawaii and Virginia Tech.

The Panthers play four of their last six regular season games on the road, but they only play one of the ACC’s top five teams, a trip to Virginia on Monday night. Beating UNC was as close to a must-win as you can get at this point in the year, and while it only moves them closer to the bubble’s cut line, it gives the Panthers a puncher’s chance at getting into the dance.

Here’s the rest of today’s bubble action:

WINNERS

  • N.C. State: The Wolfpack were one of the next five out in our latest bracket, which was posted on Friday, and that was before they went into the Yum! Center and knocked off the Cardinals on Saturday. This was a win that N.C. State absolutely had to get after they struggled in a four-point loss to Virginia at home. The Wolfpack don’t have the prettiest resume — they’re 15-11 overall and below .500 in the ACC — but they have a top five strength of schedule and wins over Duke and Louisville, the latter of which came on the road. Now 7-10 against the top 100, the only “bad” loss for N.C. State came at Wake Forest, which looks worse on paper than it is in real life. As of today, N.C. State is probably a tournament team, but barely.
  • Michigan State: The Spartans were on the right side of the bubble entering Saturday, but they were not as safe as you might expect a Tom Izzo team to be. Losing at home to Illinois certainly didn’t help matters, but the Spartans bounced back this weekend by knocking off No. 23 Ohio State. It moves Sparty to 8-4 in the Big Ten and gives them a third top 50 win and a 6-7 record against the top 100.
  • St. John’s: The Johnnies landed a massive win on Saturday, going into Cincinnati and knocking off Xavier. As of Friday morning, St. John’s was barely on the right side of the cut-line, according to our latest bracket, and adding a road win against an RPI top 50 opponent surely will help. The rest of their schedule is tough: at Georgetown, Seton Hall, Xavier, Georgetown, at Marquette and at Villanova. If they go 3-3 in that stretch, they should feel good about getting a bid.
  • Davidson: The Wildcats added another top 100 win to their resume as they went into Philly and knocked off a La Salle team that just won at VCU. Bob McKillop’s club still has some work to do, but they also get a chance to play George Washington twice, at Rhode Island and VCU at home. They’ll have chances.
  • UCLA: The Bruins won one of the first true bubble showdowns of the season on Saturday when they knocked off Oregon in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins had a rough start to the season, but they’ve turned things around in Pac-12 play. They’re now 7-9 against the top 100 with no embarrassing losses, a win over Utah and a sweep of Stanford. They’ve got work to do still, but if the season ended today, the Bruins would have a good argument for earning one of the final few at-large bids.
  • Dayton: The Flyers took care of business against St. Bonaventure, winning big at home. Despite playing with a shortened bench, Dayton has some breathing room when it comes to the bubble.
  • LSU: The Tigers bounced back from their near-upset of No. 1 Kentucky by going into Knoxville and pounding the Vols, a win that is probably better than it will look on their resume. LSU is still on the right side of the bubble, but they have a tough finishing kick to their season. Five of their last six games are against top 100 opponents. Currently, LSU is 7-4 against the top 100 with four top 35 wins, but they also have three sub-150 league losses.
  • Texas A&M: The Aggies avoided what would have been a second-straight loss at home when Florida was unable to get a shot off at the end of regulation. The Aggies are in a spot where every loss they take gets magnified due to a lack of quality wins on their resume. Billy Kennedy’s club has not beaten a top 50 team this season. They only have three top 100 wins, which includes a win at LSU (currently No. 52 in the RPI). But they also don’t have any bad losses. Their only loss outside the top 65 is Kansas State, who is currently just on the wrong side of the top 100. The other bubble teams cannot make that claim, which is why the Aggies are in the conversation with a lack of quality victories.
  • Temple: The Owls beat East Carolina at home on Saturday, which is notable in that the Owls didn’t pick up a loss against East Carolina. Temple was on the right side of the cut-line entering the day, and this certainly won’t hurt that position.
  • Rhode Island: The Rams beat Saint Louis at home, which means they didn’t lost to Saint Louis at home. Rhody still has plenty of work to do.
  • UMass: The Minutemen avoided what likely would have been an at-large bid crushing loss to Duquesne. Their next two games — at Rhode Island and at VCU — will likely determine their at-large fate.

LOSERS

  • George Washington: The Colonials’ at-large hopes are done. If losing to Duquesne, a teams with a sub-200 RPI, wasn’t bad enough, GW followed that up by whiffing on their final opportunity to land marquee win in league play by getting smacked at home by VCU.
  • Xavier: The Musketeers are a tough team to figure out, but they likely were a tournament team entering the weekend and that probably doesn’t change with a home loss against St. John’s. That said, Xavier cost themselves a chance at picking up a top 50 win at home.
  • Boise State: The Broncos had their eight-game winning streak snapped at Fresno State, dropping them a game off the pace in the Mountain West. More importantly, the loss puts a devastating mark on their NCAA tournament profile. The Bulldogs are No. 232 in the RPI, a blight that simply isn’t compensated for by Boise State’s weak non-conference resume and pair of other sub-125 losses. The Broncos have two top 50 wins and four top 100 wins, meaning they probably need to win at UNLV and at San Diego State to really have a shot at an at-large.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost on a wild buzzer-beater to Tulane at home, which in itself isn’t a killer loss but it does take away quite a bit of their wiggle room. Cincinnati has four top 35 wins, but they now have two sub-150 losses and three sub-100 losses. Things can get precarious for the Bearcats if they drop another game at Houston, at home against UCF or at Tulane.
  • Georgia: The Bulldogs lost to Auburn (RPI No. 154) at home by one, a loss that, at this point, will probably hurt Georgia’s seeding more than it will hurt their tournament chances. In other words, the Bulldogs are probably still on the right side of the bubble. That said, there are now three sub-100 losses on their resume, including Auburn, which puts Georgia in a tough spot. Their margin for error is much smaller than it was entering the weekend.
  • Colorado State: The Rams lost at San Diego State, which certainly isn’t something that is going to hurt their profile. But it also means that the Rams won’t be able to add anything meaningful to their resume for the rest of the regular season. They don’t play any top 150 teams and only one team in the top 230.
  • Ole Miss: Ole Miss had their six game losing streak snapped at home against Arkansas on Saturday as Jarvis Summers missed a potential game-winning jumper at the buzzer. The missed opportunity to add to their profile will hurt more than the loss itself, meaning the Rebels should still be in pretty good shape. There are a couple of weird losses in their profile — Charleston Southern and TCU — but they have three top 50 wins and six top 100 wins, half of which came on the road.
  • Oregon: Oregon lost at UCLA on Saturday. The Ducks are one of a handful of teams right there on the cut-line, and losing a road game to a team with a top 50 RPI isn’t going to do much to hurt their resume. Missing out on the opportunity to improve their resume is what will hurt the most.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates are a mess and in the midst of a collapse as the locker room fractures. On Saturday, they lost at Providence. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence.

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.