College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: A new No. 1, but how far does UNC fall?

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Before I get into these rankings, a quick disclaimer: I don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to rank a team based strictly on their accomplishments on the court — that’s the NCAA tournament seeding — but, once the season gets rolling, I also don’t strictly base it on my opinion of a team, either.

I may think someone is great, but if they continue to lose games, it’s difficult to justify putting them in these rankings. The perfect example is Georgetown. I truly believe they are one of the top 25 basketball teams in the country and that, by the end of the season, we will see that. They’re also 1-3 on the season with a home loss to Radford, so ranking them at this point is simply not an option.

I also try to avoid hammering teams for things that happen early in the year, especially in road games. Take North Carolina, for example: They lost a road game to a good, well-coached team on the eighth day of the season while playing without their all-american guard, Marcus Paige. Is that really what’s going to make you drastically change your opinion of them?

The same goes for Virginia. They lost on the road against a George Washington team that looks like the best team in the Atlantic 10 on the fourth day of the season. They need to drop, but are we really going to drop them all that far for what could very well end up being a “good” loss when we start breaking down NCAA tournament profiles?

That’s silly to me.

[MORE: There’s a reason college hoops has so much parity this year]

And it’s also negative reinforcement for the best programs in the country, teams that only need to play road games against the likes of GW and UNI when they’re feeling particularly generous.

It’s tough to play in an opponent’s gym early in the season, especially when that opponent is an NCAA tournament-caliber team. Everyone in the media acknowledges it, just like they acknowledge their love of raucous, on-campus games in mid-November.

You want more of them to happen? Don’t hammer a team in the polls when they lose a tough road game early in the year.

Anyway, here is the top 25 …

1. Kentucky (4-0, LW: No. 2): The Wildcats are the clear-cut pick for No. 1 in the country at this point, although I will say that I think their demolition of Duke was as much a result of a beneficial matchup for Kentucky as it was a product of how good the Wildcats are. Their performances against the cupcakes on their schedule have been underwhelming.

2. Maryland (3-0, LW: No. 3): The Terps would have had a stronger argument to be No. 1 is they hadn’t dug themselves a 14-point hole against Rider. The win over Georgetown looks less impressive on paper than it was in real life.

3. North Carolina (3-1, LW: No. 1): They lost on the road to a good Northern Iowa team while playing without Marcus Paige. Paige’s loss was the most evident when UNI’s notoriously stingy defense geared-up down the stretch and a reeling Tar Heels team was left without a leader or a go-to guy. That loss shouldn’t drastically change your opinion of them.

4. Michigan State (3-0, LW: No. 9): I’m torn on the Spartans. They were outplayed for 32 minutes by Kansas and won thanks to an otherworldy performance from Denzel Valentine. Are they this good or was that a choke-job from Kansas?

5. Villanova (4-0, LW: No. 8): The Wildcats have looked terrific through four games. Josh Hart is emerging as a star, Jalen Brunson has been quite effective while Ryan Arcidiacono is averaging 13.3 points and 5.5 assists with a 22:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

6. Kansas (1-1, LW: No. 4): We’re going to learn a lot about Kansas in the Maui Invitational. Will Wayne Selden take that step forward? Is Carlton Bragg the answer? Will we see Cheick Diallo? I still think they’re a national title threat, but they have as many unanswered questions as anyone in the top ten.

7. Iowa State (2-0, LW: No. 6): The performance against Colorado was worrisome. The lack of depth in the front court is more so.

8. Oklahoma (2-0, LW: No. 10): The Sooners picked up a decent win over an improved Memphis team on the road during the Tip-Off Marathon, but Dedric Lawson exposed their lack of a four-man.

9. Miami (5-0, LW: UR): Miami is the real deal. I’m not sure they’re going to contend with North Carolina for an ACC title — mostly because I’m not sure anyone contends with North Carolina for an ACC title — but I do think they have as good of a chance as anyone to make a run at it. They looked really, really good in Puerto Rico.

10. Duke (4-1, LW: No. 7): Apparently Grayson Allen can only be stopped if he’s being guarded by Isaiah Briscoe. Duke looked the part of a top ten team now that they’ve moved Derryck Thornton into the starting lineup.

11. Virginia (4-1, LW: No. 5)
12. Cal (3-0, LW: No. 11)
13. Arizona (4-0, LW: No. 12)
14. Indiana (3-0, LW: No. 14)
15. Purdue (5-0, LW: No. 18)
16. Vanderbilt (3-0, LW: No. 13)
17. Gonzaga (2-0, LW: No. 19)
18. UConn (3-0, LW: No. 22)
19. Notre Dame (3-0, LW: No. 23)
20. Cincinnati (4-0, LW: No. 24)
21. Xavier (3-0, LW: UR)
22. Baylor (2-1, LW: No. 16)
23. Butler (3-1, LW: No. 22)
24. Wichita State (2-1, LW: No. 15)
25. Oregon (4-0, LW: UR)

TEAMS I WISH I HAD SPACE FOR: No. 26 Utah, No. 27 George Washington, No. 28 SMU

DROPPED OUT: No. 17 Michigan, No. 20 Utah, No. 25 Louisville

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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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.