Bubble Banter: UCLA, Indiana make the field while Colorado State, Temple, Murray State get left out

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INSTANT ANALYSISEast | West | South | Midwest

When the NCAA Tournament bracket is unveiled the debate about bubble teams finally concludes. We get to see what the committee valued and why certain teams made it in while others will continue their season in the NIT.

Last season’s major bubble discussion centered around the committee excluding SMU from the 2014 NCAA Tournament. This season’s major debate revolves around the committee’s inclusion of UCLA.

The Bruins earned a No. 11 seed as they finished the season at 20-13. Their season isn’t exactly filled with noteworthy wins. After being dismantled by Kentucky in December — in a game in which UCLA trailed, 41-7, at the half — the Bruins finished the season 12-9 from there and went 11-7 in a Pac-12 that only had three other teams in the 68-team field.

Many bracketlogists dismissed Steve Alford’s team from the field altogether, and UCLA comfortably made the field of 68 while also avoiding a First Four game in Dayton.

The inclusion of UCLA is undoubtedly the biggest story of the bubble in 2015, but Indiana was the most talked-about bubble team entering Selection Sunday. The Hoosiers made it in as a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region and they get matched up with No. 7 seed Wichita State in the Round of 64.

Many Indiana fans have been upset with the team’s performance this season, and some have called for head coach Tom Crean to lose his job, but Indiana did enough to make the field in the Big Ten tournament with a win over Northwestern and a solid showing against Maryland.

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UCLA and Indiana making the field means the bubble burst for a few others.

Colorado State can stake a claim as this season’s SMU. While the Rams had a great RPI of 30 and a 27-6 record this season, 16 of those wins came against teams with an RPI of 150 or higher.

Larry Eustachy’s team only had three wins against teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament field and they’re all an eight-seed or lower. While you can sympathize with the Rams losing in the Mountain West tournament without leading scorer and rebounder J.J. Avila, Colorado State’s overall body of work just isn’t very impressive.

Temple also missed the cut for the NCAA Tournament despite some people including them in the field. The Owls had an impressive blowout win over No. 2 seed Kansas in the non-conference portion of the season, but Fran Dunphy’s team struggled against the American’s elite. SMU beat Temple all three times, Tulsa also swept the Owls and Cincinnati split the season-series with them. No. 1 seeds Duke and Villanova also beat Temple by 20-plus points early in the season — although the Owls were not a complete team when either of those games were played.

The committee didn’t show a lot of love to the American last season with SMU missing the cut, and Temple missing out shows that the league needs to improve from top-to-bottom to get more teams in the field.

As for mid-major darlings like Old Dominion and Murray State, they’re also NIT-bound. The Monarchs were probably closer than the Racers to making the field, but their mediocre 13-5 record in one-bid Conference USA did them in. Old Dominion had wins over tournament teams like LSU, VCU and Georgia State but losing to Middle Tennessee twice — including in the conference tournament — will keep them out.

Murray State has seen a groundswell of social media support in the #RacersDeserveABid movement, but the fact remains that the Racers didn’t play anyone of note this season. Steve Prohm’s ballclub played only two NCAA Tournament teams outside of Ohio Valley Conference auto bid winner Belmont and got smoked in both games. Xavier beat Murray State, 89-62, and the Racers lost a neutral-site game against Valparaiso, 93-58.

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The best win Murray State can claim is probably Illinois State and Western Kentucky, and the Redbirds were missing two starters in that game. The Racers also lost on the road to Houston, which finished the season 13-19, and the Cougars won that game without starting point guard L.J. Rose.

It’s admirable that Murray State won 25 consecutive games and went unbeaten in the regular season in the OVC, but if Prohm knew he had a tough team and an elite player in Cameron Payne, why didn’t he schedule tougher non-conference opponents? I understand the difficulty of scheduling at the low-major level but why couldn’t Murray State schedule more games against quality mid-major opponents? It’s something they’ll probably have to address to avoid this type of situation next season.

 

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.