Big West Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Similar to last season UC Irvine was the preseason pick to win the Big West. But unlike last season, it wasn’t the Anteaters who managed to win the title. Instead UC Davis, led by senior guard Corey Hawkins, won the title outright on the strength of the conference’s most efficient offense in league games. Jim Les’ Aggies won’t lack for challengers either, as UC Irvine and UCSB both have the pieces needed to win the tournament. Last season Cal Poly won the tournament as a seven-seed, which should serve as evidence that anything can happen in Anaheim.

READ MORENBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

The Bracket

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MORENBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 12-14

Where: Honda Center, Anaheim

Final: March 14, 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: UC Davis

The Aggies have Corey Hawkins, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals, and fellow senior Josh Ritchart is averaging 11.9 points per game. The keys for UC Davis this week are simple: other step up alongside Hawkins, as they’ve done at various points in conference play, and they do a better job when it comes to rebounding and taking care of the basketball. UC Davis allowed opponents to rebound 33.1 percent of their misses, and they also turn the ball over on 21.1 percent of their possessions.

And if they lose?: UCSB

Bob Williams’ Gauchos were without senior center Alan Williams for a significant portion of conference play, and when he returned the team hit its stride. They’ve won five straight and eight of their last nine games, and in the five-game win streak are triumphs over both UC Davis and UC Irvine (the same week, in fact). In addition to Williams the Gauchos have junior guard Michael Bryson, who’s averaging 14.1 points per game, and in total there are four players averaging at least ten points per game.

Sleepers:

  • UC Irvine: Hard to call the Anteaters a sleeper given their recent success in the conference, as they’re a team capable of making up for last season’s disappointing finish. Will Davis II and 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye are their lone double-digit scorers, but guards Alex Young and Luke Nelson aren’t far off. Russell Turner’s team is solid defensively, and that should help their chances this week.
  • Long Beach State: The 49ers have an interesting quarterfinal matchup with Hawaii, as the teams split the regular season series with neither game being all that close. The good news for the 49ers: they tested themselves with a tough non-conference schedule, and they have a four-time All-Big West point guard in Mike Caffey.

Player of the Year: Corey Hawkins, UC Davis

As noted above Hawkins led the Aggies in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, and he was incredibly effective despite being the player all opponents aim to neutralize. Averaging 20.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Hawkins is shooting 49.8 percent from the field and 49.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Coach of the Year: Jim Les, UC Davis

Picked to finish fifth, UC Davis won the league by three games and was by a considerable margin the Big West’s most efficient offensive team. Les is the clear choice for Big West Coach of the Year.

First Team All-Big West:

  • Hawkins
  • Mike Caffey, Long Beach State: Caffey’s been named All-Big West in each of his four seasons at The Beach, and as a senior he’s averaging 15.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
  • Will Davis II, UC Irvine: With Mamadou Ndiaye playing just 11 games for health reasons, Davis (12.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) kept the Anteaters afloat in the front court for most of the season.
  • Taylor Johns, UC Riverside: Averaging 16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, Johns is third in the conference in scoring and second in rebounding.
  • Alan Williams, UCSB: Williams is the only player in the conference averaging a double-double, with 16.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

CBT Prediction: Now at full strength, look for UCSB to win the Big West tournament crown.

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.