Horizon League Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The Horizon League race was an entertaining one, as it wasn’t decided until the final week of the season with Valparaiso winning the crown. The Crusaders won’t have to leave home as a result, but they won’t lack for challengers in the race for the automatic bid. Green Bay is looking to erase bad memories of a loss in last year’s tournament, and both Oakland and Cleveland State are formidable as well. Of the four other teams in the tournament (Milwaukee’s ineligible for APR reasons), Detroit may be best equipped to go on a run thanks to the presence of Juwan Howard Jr.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Bracket

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When: March 3, 6-7, 10

Where: Campus sites (first round), Valparaiso (second round and semifinals), highest remaining seed (final)

Final: March 10, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Valparaiso

Thanks to their regular season title the Crusaders are the top seed, meaning that they host the second round and semifinals and also receive a bye into the semis. While home court certainly helps (they’re 8-0 in league home games this season), Valparaiso’s defense is another reason why they should be seen as the favorites. Opponents are averaging just 59.9 points per game and shooting 38.2% from the field, with both numbers being tops in the Horizon League. Alec Peters, one of the best forwards at the mid-major level, can score both inside and out for a team that led the Horizon in offensive rebounding percentage (36.6%) in league games.

And if they lose?: Green Bay

Like Valparaiso, Brian Wardle’s team gets a bye to the semifinals. Seniors Keifer Sykes and Greg Mays lead the way for the Phoenix, who lead the Horizon in field goal percentage (46.6%) and also have the league’s lowest turnover rate. Green Bay has also been solid defensively, but if there’s a concern it’s what could happen if an opponent forces them to resort to three-point shots (they’re shooting a league-worst 30.2% from three). Green Bay also received some good fortune in the seeding, as a Cleveland State team that swept the season series between the two is on the other side of the bracket.

Sleepers:

  • Cleveland State: Gary Waters’ Vikings lost two games to Valparaiso by a combined five points, and they have the tools needed to win three straight games in this tournament. And in guards Trey Lewis and Charlie Lee and forward Anton Grady, Cleveland State has three players capable of leading them on a run.
  • Oakland: The Golden Grizzlies are just 16-15 overall, but they won 11 of their 16 Horizon League games. In guard Kahlil Felder, head coach Greg Kampe has one of the league’s best and forward Corey Petros is no slouch either.

Player of the Year: G Keifer Sykes, Green Bay

Sykes is averaging a league-best 18.5 points per game, shooting 46 percent from the field while also accounting for 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. The senior point guard is ranked in the top five in the Horizon League in points, assists (4th) and steals (3rd).

Coach of the Year: Bryce Drew, Valparaiso

Picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll, Drew’s Crusaders managed to win the Horizon League regular season title outright. Valparaiso’s defense has been stellar, and with three players averaging double figures led by sophomore forward Alec Peters the Crusaders have options offensively as well.

All-Horizon League Team:

  • Sykes
  • G Kahlil Felder, Oakland: In addition to ranking third in the Horizon in scoring (17.4 ppg), Felder leads the nation in assists per game (7.7).
  • G Trey Lewis, Cleveland State: Averaging 16.9 points per game, Lewis is also shooting 43.1% from beyond the arc for the Vikings.
  • F Corey Petros, Oakland: Petros is averaging 14.5 points per game, and he also led the Horizon in both rebounding (8.4 rpg) and field goal percentage (60.1%).
  • F Alec Peters, Valparaiso: Peters is ranked in the top ten in the Horizon in scoring (fifth), rebounding (sixth), field goal percentage (sixth), three-point percentage (second) and free throw percentage (fifth).

CBT PREDICTION: Valparaiso beats Green Bay in the title game.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.