MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE RESET: Can the league get two bids this year?

(Ryan Dorgan/Casper Star-Tribune viai AP)
0 Comments

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Mountain West.

MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Adams, Wyoming

Perhaps the best player in the country nobody is talking about, the 6-foot-2 senior is having a monster season for a team that really needs him to produce. After a solid junior season (12.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.3 rpg), Adams has doubled his scoring and increased his shooting splits across the board while remaining productive in other facets of the game. Adams is putting up 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the free-throw line. He’s attempted the second most free throws in the country and Adams is carrying a Wyoming team that replaced four starters around him.

ALL-MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM

  • Patrick McCaw, UNLV
  • James Webb III, Boise State
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State
  • Elijah Brown, New Mexico
  • Josh Adams, Wyoming

[2015 REVIEW: Best Dunks | Best Games]

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. The Mountain West was overrated in the preseason: The Mountain West has been a strong basketball conference and regular multi-bid presence in March the last few seasons but this non-conference season has not been kind to the league. Perennial league favorite San Diego State has not been very good and every team in the league has at least three losses. There is nobody knocking on the door of the top 25. The league needs a lot of work when it comes to postseason credentials.
  2. UNLV is as polarizing as ever: Dave Rice has recruited McDonald’s All-Americans and high-level players in every class during his tenure but the Runnin’ Rebels are still a team that is inconsistent. Some nights, they’re good enough to beat Oregon and other nights they’re blowing double-digit leads in the second half to Arizona State.
  3. Boise State is once again among the league’s best: It was going to be interesting to see how the Broncos would replace Derrick Marks from a “First Four” NCAA tournament team but Boise State has looked like one of the league’s best teams. They’ve won five consecutive games and three of their four losses have come against legitimate top-15 teams like Michigan State and Arizona (twice). With a pretty soft schedule to open league play, Boise State could be in the driver’s seat early if they keep up the strong recent play.

[CONFERENCE RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | American | Big East]

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Is the Mountain West a multi-bid league?: Based strictly on non-conference resumes, the Mountain West doesn’t have a lot to go by and the NCAA tournament committee gave the league low seeding for poor non-conference scheduling last year. Now with many teams in the league already struggling this season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Mountain West becomes an autobid-only league if the conference beats each other up over the next few months.
  2. How does San Diego State look in league play after a mediocre start?: San Diego State is in grave danger of missing the NCAA tournament after six consecutive appearances and they’ve been one of the most disappointing teams in the country. That being said, the Aztecs have been a force in the conference and they have the talent to still win the conference title and the autobid.
  3. Can a talented New Mexico team turn it around after a dreadful stretch?: The Lobos have the talent to hang with anyone in the Mountain West but they’re coming off of a brutal four-game stretch in which they lost by a point to Rice and finished in last place after three straight losses at the Diamond Head Classic. If they rally, the Lobos could make the NIT or even win the autobid, but they lost by at least 23 points the last two games in Hawaii.
Patrick McCaw (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Patrick McCaw (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

[NEW PODCAST | NEW TOP 25]

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: San Diego State isn’t the perennial NCAA tournament contender that we’ve grown accustomed to — unless they roll through the league — but they still have quite a bit of talent for a 7-6 team. If they start getting more offensive production from a few of their key players, the Aztecs should still be a contender.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Fresno State is one of the Mountain West’s most balanced teams, and they’re off to a solid 9-4 start, but they are severely lacking in the quality win department. With only one true road win and no signature wins, the Bulldogs need to upgrade the resume.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Dave Rice needs to have a good Mountain West conference season and get the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA tournament to feel safe after this season.  Since Rice took the job in 2011, UNLV has finished no higher than third in the Mountain West. In a down year for the league, that needs to change.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Boise State (8-4): Winners of five straight games, the Broncos have respectable losses to Michigan State, Arizona (twice) and on the road at Montana. James Webb III, Anthony Drmic and Nick Duncan are a talented and experienced trio and senior guard Mikey Thompson has stepped up his play this season.
  • 2. UNLV (9-4): Arguably the most talented roster in the conference, Patrick McCaw has elevated into a conference player of the year candidate and this team has the size and athleticism to be a problem for most teams in the country.

NIT teams

  • 3. San Diego State (7-6): The slow start might doom the Aztecs to the NIT but they’re still more than capable of a strong conference season that gets them into the postseason. And what happened to Malik Pope? He went from potential NBA Draft darling to averaging 5.2 points per game on 28 percent shooting.
  • 4. Fresno State (9-4): One of the more balanced teams in the league, the Bulldogs have shown that they can put up points and they have six players averaging at least 8.9 points per game. If some of their bench improves from a cold-shooting start, this could be a dangerous team.

Autobid or bust

  • 5. Utah State (8-3)
  • 6. Nevada (8-4)
  • 7. New Mexico (7-6)
  • 8. Wyoming (7-6)
  • 9. Colorado State (7-5)
  • 10. Air Force (8-4)
  • 11. San Jose State (5-7)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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.