Sweet 16 Power Rankings: Reseeding the NCAA tournament field

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1. Kentucky (No. 1 Midwest): Duh.

2. Arizona (No. 2 West): Arizona is streaking. I think it’s safe to say that now. Gabe York is playing some of the best basketball of his career, providing the kind of long range threat the Wildcats need to stretch defenses. T.J. McConnell was at his all-american best in the win over No. 10 Ohio State. And that big, athletic front line is still just as big and athletic as always.

3. Wisconsin (No. 1 West): I still think that Wisconsin, when they’re playing their best basketball, has the best chance to take down Kentucky. That hasn’t changed. But in order to do that, they need to first beat North Carolina and then, if seeds hold, take out Arizona. The Badgers did not play well — by their standards — in the first weekend. Can they even get to the Final Four?

4. Duke (No. 1 South): I still have major doubts about their ability to defend, but with the way Justise Winslow is playing at the four and how overwhelming Duke’s dominance of San Diego State was on Sunday, it’s hard to overlook the Blue Devils at this point. With the way the bracket has broken down, Duke may be the favorite to take on Kentucky in the title game. Unless …

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5. Gonzaga (No. 2 South): … you are like me and think that the Zags truly do have a chance to upset the Blue Devils. Gonzaga was terrific in their first two games in the tournament, largely due to the play of Kevin Pangos at the point and Kyle Wiltjer at the stretch four spot. My concern? What happens if (when?) Wiltjer is forced to matchup with Justise Winslow?

6. North Carolina (No. 4 West): The Tar Heels got a tough draw when it comes to winning a title, as they would have to go through the three best teams in the country to get there if seeds hold. That said, they have a big front line (pending Kennedy Meeks’ knee injury), they have Marcus Paige, and they have Justin Jackson and J.P. Tokoto, who are playing well right now.

7. Oklahoma (No. 3 East): I have the Sooners ahead of Michigan State because I think they are more balanced and better defensively. They’re also streakier from beyond the arc. When Buddy Hield is knocking down shots, they have the horses to compete with anyone.

8. Michigan State (No. 7 East): The Spartans were somewhat underseeded because of a silly loss to Texas Southern, but they are playing their best basketball of the season right now. The trio of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson makes them incredibly dangerous on the nights all three are playing well.

9. Utah (No. 5 South): This might actually be a bit low for the Utes. They’re very good defensively, they have shooters that can spread the floor and they have Delon Wright, who still hasn’t played his best basketball yet in this tournament. The concern? What happens to Jakob Poeltl against an elite big man like, oh, I don’t know, Jahlil Okafor?

10. Notre Dame (No. 3 Midwest): Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson, when surrounded by the shooters that the Irish have in their lineup, combine to be the most dangerous back court left in the tournament. But their size worries me. Can Zach Auguste and Pat Connaughton hold up against the front lines from Kentucky, Wisconsin and Arizona?

11. N.C. State (No. 8 East): The Wolfpack might actually be the most talented team left in the East Region. When they come to play, they can quite literally beat anyone in the country. They also needed LSU to completely collapse just to get to the Round of 32. Good N.C. State can get to the Final Four. Bad N.C. State can lose to Louisville by 25.

12. Louisville (No. 4 East): Louisville looked good beating Missouri Valley runner-up in the Round of 32 after they struggled to knock off UC Irvine in the opener. This is essentially a two-man team at this point, with Wayne Blackshear showing up once in a while and Quentin Snider playing out of his mind the last two games. The mitigating factor? Rick Pitino.

13. Wichita State (No. 7 Midwest): The Shockers have looked great through two games in this tournament. I think they have the horses to beat Notre Dame and get to the Elite 8, but there is not enough size along their front line to deal with the best teams in the tournament.

14. Xavier (No. 6 West): The Musketeers are going to have a tough task to get past Arizona, although the combo of Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds has been terrific this tournament.

15. West Virginia (No. 5 Midwest): The Mountaineers are going to have their work cut out for them getting to the Elite 8, but I think they actually have a shot to beat Kentucky. The Harrisons aren’t great ball-handlers and Tyler Ulis is all of 5-foot-10. That Mountaineer press will give them some trouble.

16. UCLA (No. 11 South): Credit to Steve Alford for getting the Bruins this far, but they’ve gotten here by getting a lucky — but correct, nonetheless — goaltending call and beating a No. 14 seed. Get past Gonzaga, and I’ll be a believer.

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

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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.