Bracket Breakdown: Everything you need to know to fill out the Midwest Region

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There’s not going to be a less competitive region than the Midwest this season, which seems like a lock to send Kentucky to the Final Four.

But the irony is that there may not be a more intriguing bracket than the Midwest. The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds could both end up being upset in the opening round of the tournament. Butler vs. Texas and Wichita State vs. Indiana are as juicy as opening round matchups can get. Kansas isn’t a lock to get past their No. 15 seed, and if they do, a matchup with in-state “rival” Wichita State could be waiting.

Things could get wild in this region … until people play Kentucky.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. The Chase for Perfection: Kentucky is six wins away from going 40-0 this season. I don’t think there’s a real threat to beat them in the Midwest.
  • 2. Is Rick Barnes coaching for his job?: Depending on who you ask, the end of the Rick Barnes era in Austin may be coming to a close. Let’s assume, for a second, that he needs to make a long run in the NCAA tournament in order to keep from being forced into retirement. If he doesn’t, and Texas does open up, that will be one of the most highly-sought after jobs in the country because Texas is, at the very worst a top ten job nationally. Between the salary, the money the athletic department has and the relative lack of pressure at a football school, there’s an argument to be made that Texas is one of the four or five best jobs in the country. Just wait until you see the names that would get in the mix, which would really throw this coaching carousel for a loop.
  • 3. Indiana owns this bracket: Not the team, the state. There are five programs from the state of Indiana in the Midwest: No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 6 Butler, No. 9 Purdue, No. 10 Indiana, No. 13 Valparaiso.

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

Kentucky is obvious here, but I think this is the season that Notre Dame actually puts together a run in the NCAA tournament. That’s how much I like this team. They’re lethal from beyond the arc, Jerian Grant is as good as anyone at creating open looks for those shooters and Demetrius Jackson has been playing great of late. The Irish are coming off of an impressive win in the ACC tournament.

MORE: Did the committee pick the right No. 1 seeds? | What about the bubble teams?

Final Four sleeper: No. 11 Texas

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Texas. Whatever.

But keep this in mind: The Longhorns have the kind of talent on their roster to be a top ten team, and they seemed to finally find their footing late in the season, regardless of whether or not they blew that lead to Iowa State. They have the size to overwhelm Butler and Notre Dame, and anything can happen if they square off with Kansas in the Sweet 16.

Upsets that CAN happen

  • No. 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia: The Bulls are dangerous. They have a pair of good guards, a requirement against West Virginia’s pressure, and the athletes up front to handle the Mountaineer bigs. Oh, and Bobby Hurley is their coach.
  • No. 13 Valparaiso over No. 4 Maryland: Maryland doesn’t blow teams out, and in March, anything can happen in close games. If Valpo can slow down Dez Wells and Melo Trimble, they’ll have a real shot.
  • No. 7 Wichita State over No. 2 Kansas: The Jayhawks could very well be without Cliff Alexander in this tournament, and there’s no telling if Perry Ellis or Wayne Selden will be back to 100 percent by the time the games kick off this week. And the Shockers were underseeded as a No. 7. More on KU in a minute…

Upsets that WON’T happen

  • Anyone over No. 1 Kentucky: There are six teams that have a real shot of beating Kentucky this season. None of them are in the Midwest.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 15 New Mexico State over No. 2 Kansas: This New Mexico State team is a very, very dangerous No. 15 seed. They’ve been to a number of NCAA tournaments in Marvin Menzies’ tenure, and part of the reason they struggled at times this season was that they played with their two best players for a long stretch early in the season. They’re healthy now, and they get that banged up Kansas team.

MORE: All-AmericansPlayer of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs you know about

  • “The Lexington Skyline”, Kentucky: Karl Towns might be the No. 1 pick and Willie Cauley-Stein is the nation’s best defender. CBS announcer Ian Eagle coined the nickname on a broadcast earlier this month.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: I’d argue that Grant is the MVP of college basketball this season. No one, and I mean NO ONE, is as important to his team as Grant is to the Fighting Irish. He’s not only a lethal scorer, but he creates so many open looks for teammates.
  • Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State: A year after entering the NCAA tournament undefeated, the Shockers were once again led by Van Vleet and Baker this season, finishing 28-4 on the year.
  • Frank Mason, Kansas: Who had the best player on this Kansas team being the kid that originally committed to Towson? Mason is as tough as they come, and he’s got a habit of hitting big shots for Bill Self.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: People call the Terps lucky because they’re 11-0 in games decided by six points or less. I call them lucky they were able to get Trimble, because he’s as good of a closer as there is in college basketball.
  • Justin Moss, Buffalo: Moss is a double-double machine for Bobby Hurley’s Bulls, a tough, athletic and undersized power forward that can wear a team down with his energy.
  • Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State: The Aggies got stuck with a No. 15 seed in large part because Mullings was injured for a long stretch this season. Don’t be fooled; he can ball.
  • Alex Peters, Valpo: Peters is a 6-foot-9 stretch four that was the best player on the Horizon League champions.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Texas: Texas has top ten talent but was one of the most disappointing teams in the country, while Chris Holtmann surprised everyone with just how good and scrappy the Bulldogs were. The Longhorns will likely be favored, and they may need to win to save Rick Barnes’ job.
  • No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 Indiana: Two teams built around terrific guard play that couldn’t possibly play different styles of basketball. Indiana relies on Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. to get them up and down the floor, while Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker lead the Shockers in a slower, more deliberate attack.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 Wichita State: The two best programs in the state, yet they don’t play during the regular season. If you know a Shocker fan, as them how they feel about this. Now imagine if they play with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Yeah, I know, right?
  • No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The Fighting Irish don’t really do any of the things that a team needs to do to beat Kentucky, but they’re just so lights-out from beyond the arc that I can see them pulling off an upset by hitting 17 threes.

CBT Predictions: Kentucky. Come on. Like I’m picking against them.

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.