Bubble Banter: Pitt, St. John’s, Texas A&M win, Texas trending towards the NIT?

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Texas lost at home to Iowa State today (AP Photo)

It’s incredible when you think about it, but Texas has reached the point this season where a trip to the NIT seems almost as likely as a trip to the NCAA tournament.

On Saturday afternoon, the Longhorns lost at home to No. 14 Iowa State in a game the Cyclones seemed to have control of for most of the second half. That’s the second straight loss for Texas and the sixth in their last nine games. They’re 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12. All 10 of those losses came against top 50 competition, but they’re just 1-10 overall against the top 50 with 12 of their 17 wins coming against sub-100 competition — and it’s worth noting here that they beat Kansas State, who is No. 100 in the RPI as of today.

That’s bad.

But it gets worse.

Five of those six Big 12 wins came against TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State, the only three teams in the league that are not in the NCAA tournament picture. Next week, the Longhorns play at West Virginia — who is streaking and will be looking for revenge for the 27-point loss they took at Texas in January — and at Kansas, which means that it’s very possible that we could enter the last week of the regular season with the Longhorns sitting at 17-12.

The good news for Texas is that three of their four remaining games — next week’s roadies and a home game against Baylor — would all go on their resume as elite wins, but at this point, what have the Longhorns done to make us believe they can win a game like that? They haven’t beaten a tournament team since January 17th.

The next question: If Barnes does miss out on the NCAA tournament, at what point do the hot seat rumors kick up again?

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WINNERS

  • Pitt: The Panthers were in a must-win situation on Saturday in Syracuse, and they pulled out the win, meaning the Panthers inch just that much closer to truly being a contender for an at-large bid. Pitt still has a lot of work left to do, however, to the point that they may not be able to afford another loss in the regular season. The Panthers own a pair of top 25ish wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina, but they have just three other top 100 wins: a sweep of Syracuse and a win over No. 100 Kansas State, who may or may not be in the top 100 come Selection Sunday. Combined that with a pair of sub-150 losses and a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks in the 150s, and the Panthers didn’t even crack the next five teams out in our latest bracket. With just one top 100 opponent left on their resume, the Panthers A) cannot afford another bad loss, and B) still need to add to their profile.
  • St. John’s: If the Johnnies are going to end up being an at-large team, it’s going to be earned this week. On Saturday, they added a much-needed win over Seton Hall at home, and in the next seven day, they’ll get both Xavier (No. 33) and Georgetown (No. 20) in NYC. With a 3-6 record against the top 50, just six top 100 wins and a pair of sub-100 losses, St. John’s probably needs all three to get themselves out of the muck that makes up the cut-line. Entering the weekend, they were still in the play-in game in our latest bracket.
  • LSU: The Tigers picked up a win at home over Florida on Saturday, giving them an even ten top 100 wins. Their three sub-140 losses are a blight on an otherwise very solid profile, which is why they will be in a good spot if they can get past a road trip to Auburn, their last non-top 100 opponent, next week.
  • Texas A&M: There are three pieces of good news to report on the Aggies. LSU, who they’ve swept, is still ranked in the top 50 (No. 48) and Kansas State, who they lost to, climbed back up to No. 100, which means that the Aggies still have two top 50 wins and now don’t have a sub-100 loss. They also added a top 100 road win on Saturday (at South Carolina), keeping them on the right side of the bubble for now. Wednesday’s game at Arkansas can be something of a clincher for the Aggies.
  • Xavier: The Musketeers add another quality win to their resume, knocking off Butler at home in impressive fashion. They’re now 17-10 overall with the kind of schizophrenic profile that makes the bubble so much fun. They have four top 25 wins and are 9-6 against the top 100 … and they’ve lost to four different sub-100 teams. As long as they beat Creighton in the season finale, Xavier should be in.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal had lost four out of five entering Saturday’s rivalry battle with Cal, and while Johnny Dawkins’ club snapped their skid, those losses put them in a bad spot. Thanks to the recent struggles of UConn and Texas, the Cardinal now have just three top 80 wins, which is the same number of sub-100 losses they have. With four games left against top 100 opponents — a visit from the Oregon schools and a trip to the Arizona schools — Stanford has work left to do to get off of the cut-line.
  • Boise State: The Rams avoided a slip-up at Nevada, but they’re still in a bad spot. They have as many top 100 wins (three) as sub-100 losses. They really need to win at SDSU next weekend to have a shot at being on the right side of the bubble heading into March.
  • Ole Miss: The Rebels did what they had to do on a quick turnaround, landing a win over Tennessee at home to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble for now. I’m not sure they’re quite as comfortable as some think, however. They have just two top 50 wins against three sub-100 losses, although their 8-5 record against the top 100 is solid enough. Their final four games: Georgia, at LSU, at Alabama, Vanderbilt.
  • Georgia: The Bulldogs certainly didn’t need losses to Auburn and South Carolina considering the strength of their profile was their computer numbers and a lack bad losses. The Bulldogs bounced back with a win at Alabama on Saturday, but there is still some work to be done. They still have to go to Ole Miss and get a visit from Kentucky, so there are opportunities to improve their resume.
  • Rhode Island: URI avoided a loss at George Mason, giving them a chance to play their way into the tournament. Their next three games: Davidson, at La Salle, at Dayton. Win two of those, and don’t lose to St. Joe’s at home, and the Rams will have a shot at climbing the ladder and getting on the right side of the cut-line.
  • Davidson: All the Wildcats did in beating Fordham was avoid a devastating loss. They’re on the outside looking in right now, meaning that their next three games — at Rhode Island and home for George Washington and VCU — will end up being what makes the difference for them.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats snapped a three-game losing streak by winning at Houston, which is the kind of win that is only good in that it’s not a loss. Cincy was a No. 10 seed entering the weekend.
  • N.C. State: The Wolfpack avoided a crushing loss to Virginia Tech, meaning that next week’s trip to the Dean Dome could end up being what gets them off of the cut-line.
  • Colorado State: The Rams are probably in the tournament right now, but with a schedule that has nothing but potentially awful losses remaining, they’re not safe yet. Beating Air Force gets them a step closer.
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AP

LOSERS

  • Dayton: The one thing that was keeping the Flyers sitting comfortably in the 8-9 game on most brackets was that they did not have any ugly losses on their profile. That changed Saturday, dropping a game at Duquesne, who checks in at No. 254 in the RPI. They’re still probably OK as of today, but losing to George Mason (No. 222) next week would put a lot of pressure on them in their final three games: at VCU, Rhode Island, at La Salle.
  • Miami: The Hurricanes whiffed on a great shot to land a marquee win at Louisville on Saturday, blowing a double-digit halftime lead and missing a would-be game-winner at the buzzer. Miami is still in the mix, meaning they’ll still end up being one of the last four or first four out of just about every bracket you see today, and that should tell you why missing on this opportunity hurts so much.
  • UCLA: You have to think that UCLA is in some trouble after failing to secure a win at Arizona on Saturday night. They’re 16-11 on the season with a win over Utah and a top 25 strength of schedule — and, arguably, a sweep of Stanford — really being the only two noteworthy pieces of their profile. They’re 6-10 against the top 100, and they only have one top 100 opponent left on the schedule. A loss in their final three games would be disastrous, and even then, they’re going to want to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament to feel at all comfortable.
  • Oklahoma State: Even after losing to West Virginia at home, the Pokes are not in trouble just yet. But they’re 17-10 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12 right now, which means that losing to either TCU or Texas Tech — their next two opponents — could put them in a tough spot.
  • St. Mary’s: The Gaels had a chance if they had beaten Gonzaga. They lost, and now they need to win the automatic bid.
  • UMass: The Minutemen had two chances this week to land the kind of quality road win that they needed to make themselves a real candidate to sneak onto the right side of the bubble. They lost both, including Saturday’s visit to No. 25 VCU.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates lost their sixth straight on Saturday, falling at St. John’s. This is the last time that you will see Seton Hall mentioned on the bubble unless something drastic happens.

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.