PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Loaded Saturday of conference action

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GAME OF THE NIGHTNo. 11 Iowa State at No. 8 Oklahoma, 7:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview.

Oklahoma is currently one of just three teams in college basketball with an unblemished record now that Michigan State and Xavier have both taken a loss in their conference openers. The Sooners, who kick off Big 12 play on Saturday, will be tested in their opener as well, as they host an Iowa State team that is coming off of a win at Cincinnati last week that helped legitimize a team whose record has looked better than their on-court product at times this season.

And that’s where this matchup gets really interesting.

Iowa State is probably the most proven of the two programs, but this year’s iteration of the Cyclones is a team that few fully trust. It’s not for a lack of talent — we had Georges Niang ranked fifth in our Player of the Year Power Rankings, and Monte’ Morris and Jameel McKay are likely all-Big 12 players — but they don’t have any front court depth and have major question marks defensively. It’s not like Oklahoma is a safe-bet for the Final Four, either, as they are still trying to find a way to replace TaShawn Thomas at the four and have ridden the white-hot shooting of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard to a perfect record.

It will be a safe bet, however, that if the Sooners find a way to beat the Cyclones, they’ll end up being the No. 1 team in the country come Monday. If that happens, and if Kansas beats Baylor at home on Saturday, there’s a very real chance that undefeated, No. 1 Oklahoma plays at No. 2 Kansas on Monday night.

I think we all know what we need to root for.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOONo. 9 Butler vs. No. 6 Xavier, 1:00 p.m.

This matchup lost a bit of its luster after Thursday. Butler lost at home to No. 12 Providence and The Kris Dunn Show just hours after the Musketeers went to No. 16 Villanova and gotblown out by 31 points in a game that their star point guard suffered a terrifying — but not all that serious — head injury. The latter of those two results is what makes this game difficult to truly get a feel for. Edmond Sumner, the 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman whose exploded onto the NBA’s radar with a string of impressive performances the last month and a half, likely won’t be available. Xavier has quite a bit of depth and versatility this season … at every position except the point. Sumner was their guy.

But what makes the injury doubly-painful is that where Butler’s defense can be broken down is by a dynamic, play-making lead guard. Sumner isn’t Dunn, but they are similar in the way that they play, and the Bulldogs had no answer for Dunn on Thursday. Losing Sumner takes away their biggest advantage in what has become a critical game for both teams. The loser will fall to 0-2 in the Big East, and given that Villanova has lost all of two regular season league games each of the last two seasons, the loser of this game is going to have a very difficult time winning the Big East regular season title.

For the Bulldogs, the thing to watch is going to be Kellen Dunham. The dude is mired in an absolutely horrific slump. To quote Tin Cup, he’s got the shanks. In his last five games, he’s shooting 10-for-60 from the floor and 2-for-32 from three.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Oklahoma-Iowa State is not the only relevant Big 12 game this weekend, as No. 23 Baylor pays a visit to No. 2 Kansas at 4:00 p.m. The league title race implications aren’t quite the same in this one, but there will some pressure on the Jayhawks: they have a shot to be ranked No. 1 in the country with a win.

2. Iowa is coming off of an important over the Denzel Valentine-less Michigan State Spartans, which is the kind of win that is going to have staying power on their résumé. But are they truly the kind of team that can beat the No. 1 team in the country by 13 points, or did they take full advantage of a team that was missing their best player? I think we’ll get a sense for that answer when they play at No. 14 Purdue at 6:00 p.m.

3. Speaking of No. 1 Michigan State, the Spartans play at Minnesota on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. which suddenly becomes a key game in the Big Ten title race. A loss drops the Spartans to 0-2 in league play, and while this team is clearly not the same team without Valentine, Minnesota has not been good this season. This is one Sparty absolutely should not lose.

4. Things get intriguing in the SEC tonight as Ole Miss travels to Rupp Arena to face No. 10 Kentucky. The Wildcats have been up-and-down thanks to some inconsistent play from freshmen, but sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis looks healthy and dialed in. The Rebels have enough offense to make this game interesting and if they’re hot, they could definitely escape with a win.

5. Atlantic 10 action ramps up this weekend with a tripleheader on NBCSN. Saint Joseph’s opens the day at Richmond at 12:30, Dayton travels to Duquesne at 2:30 and Saint Louis ends the tilt by heading to Rhode Island. Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the three is the opener as Saint Joseph’s is off to a very good 10-2 start on the season, but the Spiders are tough at home and slightly favored in this one.

CLICK HERE to watch this game on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

OTHER TOP 25 GAMES

  • Montana at No. 2 Kansas, 2:00 p.m.
  • Creighton at No. 3 Oklahoma, 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 4 Maryland at Northwestern, 7:00 p.m.
  • Notre Dame at No. 5 Virginia, 5:00 p.m.
  • Georgia Tech at No. 7 North Carolina, 12:00 p.m.
  • St. John’s at No. 12 Providence, 2:30 p.m.
  • Syracuse at No. 13 Miami, 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 15 Duke at Boston College, 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 16 Villanova at Creighton, 9:01 p.m.
  • South Florida at No. 17 SMU, 6:30 p.m.
  • No. 19 West Virginia at Kansas State, 12:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at No. 20 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m.
  • Tulsa at No. 22 Cincinnati, 3:00 p.m.
  • Memphis at No. 24 South Carolina, 5:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • DePaul at Seton Hall, 11:00 a.m.
  • Houston at Temple, 12:00 p.m.
  • Penn State at Michigan, 12:00 p.m.
  • Florida State at Clemson, 12:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Auburn, 2:00 p.m.
  • Texas at Texas Tech, 2:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Virginia Tech, 2:00 p.m.
  • Rutgers at Wisconsin, 2:00 p.m.
  • TCU at Oklahoma State, 4:00 p.m.
  • Indiana at Nebraska, 4:00 p.m.
  • Marquette at Georgetown, 6:30 p.m.
  • UConn at Tulane, 7:30 p.m.
  • Georgia at Florida, 8:00 p.m.
  • Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois, 8:00 p.m.
  • LSU at Vanderbilt, 9:00 p.m.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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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

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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.