Ranking the Sweet 16 matchups


No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 North Carolina, Thu. 7:47 p.m.: The luster on this matchup will dull a bit if Kennedy Meeks is actually unable to play, but the Badgers should still get a test from a North Carolina team that still seems to be flying a bit under the radar. I’m high on UNC. We all know how good Marcus Paige is and how is is capable of taking a game over, but UNC is so much more than that this year. It starts with their front line, who can physically overwhelm opponents even if Meeks is unable to go. But with J.P. Tokoto, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry playing better of late, the Heels have gotten enough help on their perimeter to take quite a bit of pressure off of Paige.

The Badgers have not played their best basketball yet in this tournament, and if that continues on Thursday, the Heels will have a real chance to send them back to Madison.

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 5 West Virginia, Thu. 9:45 p.m.: Let me preface this by saying that I think Kentucky ends up winning this game. That said, I have a feeling that West Virginia is going to give the Wildcats a fight and will be within striking distance down the stretch. There’s three reasons why:

  • 1. The press. West Virginia’s pressure is different and more aggressive than anything Kentucky has faced this season. The Harrisons aren’t great ball-handlers, and Tyler Ulis is small enough that those traps may overwhelm him.
  • 2. No team coached by Bobby Huggins is ever going to be intimidated. By anyone. And when playing this Kentucky team, that’s half the battle.
  • 3. Huggins has a reputation, and very little of it has to do with his coaching acumen. But Huggs is one of the best at finding a way to put his players in a position to win. Remember the 2010 Elite 8, when a West Virginia team led by Da’Sean Butler beat Kentucky, who had John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson. Can he do it again?

The Mountaineers have the size, depth and athleticism to give Kentucky some trouble, and I think that they will.

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wichita State, Thu. 7:15 p.m.: The perimeter battle in this game will be unbelievable. Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson vs. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Yes, please. Let’s make some predictions on how they match up, shall we? I think it will be fairly straight forward for the Irish — Jackson on VanVleet, Grant on Baker, etc. — when they’re not in zone. But I think the Shockers mix it up, sliding Tekele Cotton onto Grant and using either Baker or VanVleet on Jackson. In my mind that makes Jackson the x-factor for the Shockers, as he may be the quickest player left in the NCAA tournament and should be able to beat either of the two Wichita State defenders off the bounce.

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Michigan State, Fri. 10:07 p.m.: The way that Michigan State beat Virginia was to open things up in transition, beating the Cavaliers down the floor and scoring before they could set their vaunted Pack-Line defense. Oklahoma, like Virginia, is elite defensively, meaning that the Spartans will be looking to do the same thing again. That said, Oklahoma likes to get up and down the floor as well, so that could play right into their hands. This game has the most “thrill potential” of any in the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Utah, Fri. 9:45 p.m.: I really like this Utah team, but I’m having trouble trying to figure out how they are going to deal with Jahlil Okafor inside. I’m not sure Jakob Poeltl is nearly strong enough to play any real defense against him in the post, and while Dallin Bachynski is probably a better option on that end, Poeltl’s effectiveness in the pick-and-roll will draw Okafor out defensively, where he struggles. If Utah is going to have a shot, Delon Wright is going to have to play like an all-american, which he hasn’t done yet this tournament.

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 6 Xavier, Thu. 10:17 p.m.: I feel bad for Sean Miller. He had to knock out Ohio State and, Thad Matta, one of his best friends in the business, in the Round of 32. Now he has to play Chris Mack, who was on his staff at Xavier and, obviously, succeeded him as Musketeer head coach.

No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 UCLA, Fri. 7:15 p.m.: On paper, this seems like it should be close, as the Bruins are one of the most talented 11 seeds that you’ll see in the tournament. But this is the best team that Mark Few has ever had at Gonzaga. The biggest, too, so Tony Parker won’t be making light work of Gonzaga’s front line like he did to UAB. Bryce Alford vs. Kevin Pangos will be fun, but the key here is going to be Kyle Wiltjer vs. Kevon Looney. Whoever gets the best of that matchup wins.

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 N.C. State, Fri 7:37 p.m.: You know it’s a good Sweet 16 when a game like this is the “worst” matchup. Here’s what makes it intriguing to me: N.C. State is clearly the more talented team, and they might have been the more talented team even if the Cardinals still had Chris Jones on the roster. But the Wolfpack have been anything but consistent this season — hell, this tournament — and they’ll be going up against Rick Pitino, who will have five days to prepare for the game.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

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

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


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.