Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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source: AP
(AP)

It was another year in which the Big 12 clobbered each other in conference play and we can’t really get a feel for how good this league is going into the postseason. When you also consider that conference champion Kansas ended the regular season without Cliff Alexander (eligibility concerns), Perry Ellis (sprained knee) and Brannen Greene (suspended) and this Tournament looks wide-open.

That notion is aided by the fact that each team in the tournament has to win at least three games to win the championship. The Big 12 Conference Tournament doesn’t feature double and triple byes like some conference tournaments. Only the bottom four teams have play-in games for the right to play in the quarterfinals.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

Coming off of the win over Kansas, Oklahoma is riding high and the Sooners are the No. 3 seed with the conference’s Player of the Year in Buddy Hield. The junior guard is one of the best two-way players in the country and Oklahoma has Final Four ability if they get rolling. No. 2 seed Iowa State will also be a team to track, but they could get a tough game against Texas in the quarterfinals.

And you can’t forget about Baylor and West Virginia, who matched up in the quarterfinals and are both ranked in the top 20. Even teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas State could string together a few games and make a run in this tournament.

Bracket

source:

MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-14

Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City

Final: March 14, 5 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Kansas

The Jayhawks managed to win the Big 12 for the 11th consecutive season and they stayed closed with Oklahoma despite missing Cliff Alexander, Perry Ellis and Brannen Greene. Kansas likely gets Greene back for the Big 12 Tournament and point guard Frank Mason III will be key for the Jayhawks.

And if they lose?: Iowa State

The Cyclones have a high-octane offense, led by Georges Niang and can put up points in a hurry against nearly any team in the country. The question becomes how the Cyclones play away from Hilton Coliseum? Iowa State was mediocre on the road this season and also lost neutral-court games to Maryland (in Kansas City) and South Carolina. Can they stay consistent enough on the defensive end to win three tough games?

Other Contenders

  • Oklahoma: A darkhorse Final Four candidate before the year, the Sooners are led by NBCSports.com All-American Buddy Hield and have plenty of scoring punch in their own right.
  • Baylor: The Bears are one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12 and have so many versatile players that matchups that they can throw on the floor.

Sleeper: Texas

The Longhorns finished 8-10 in the conference but have enough talent to win the tournament if they can continue the mini two-game winning streak they’re riding. While many of the Big 12’s other teams are comfortably in, the Longhorns could really use some more wins for some more breathing room.

Deeper Sleeper: Kansas State

Bruce Weber’s team might be below .500 but they swept Oklahoma and own wins over Kansas and Iowa State and sophomore guard Marcus Foster can still get hot and carry an offense.

Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

One of the best two-way wings in the country, Hield coupled good scoring numbers (17.4 ppg, 42% FG, 38% 3PT) and a solid presence on the defensive end. A second-team NBCSports.com All-American, Hield also averaged 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.4 steals per contest.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Scott Drew, Baylor

You can also make a strong case for Bob Huggins at West Virginia, but he was returning a Player of the Year candidate in Juwan Staten. Baylor’s ascension into the top-25 this season seemed even more surprising than West Virginia’s and the Bears did a great job of finding new go-to players and rebuilding a talented frontcourt.

First-Team All-Big 12:

  • Hield
  • Rico Gathers, Baylor – A second-team NBCSports.com All-American, Gathers averaged 11.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game on 45 percent shooting. The forward also contributed 1.2 steals and 1 block a game.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State – Another tough and efficient season for the junior forward as he averaged 15.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting tremendous splits (47% FG, 41% 3PT, 79% FT).
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas – The junior could miss the Big 12 Tournament with a sprained knee but he averaged 14.2 points and 7 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting during a great season.
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Battling some injury this season, the senior was still great, averaging 14.5 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game.

Second Team All-Big 12:

  • LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State
  • Taurean Prince, Baylor
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State
  • Kenny Chery, Baylor
  • Frank Mason III

CBT Prediction: Oklahoma rides the momentum of the win over Kansas and wins the Big 12 Tournament.

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.