COLLEGE BASKETBALL TALK TOP 25: Oklahoma or North Carolina at No. 1?

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There are a number of fascinating conversations to have about the Top 25 this week, not the least of which is who should be ranked No. 1 in the country.

If you subscribe to the idea that losing should automatically drop you down, than it would make sense to move Oklahoma out of the top spot. But consider that A) The Sooners at Iowa State in a building called Hilton Magic because of how difficult it is for opponents to win, and B) Followed that up by going into Waco and totally dismantling the team that had been in sole possession of first place in the conference.

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to rank North Carolina No. 1. They’re still my pick to win the national title. They’re the only team that was ranked in the top eight last week that didn’t lose. They’re all alone in first place in the ACC with their only two losses this season coming by a combined six points, both of which were on the road.

[MORE: The latest NBC Sports College Basketball Talk Podcast]

But that’s just the beginning.

Where do we rank Iowa? They’re the hottest team in college basketball — I don’t even think that’s arguable — but are we really ready to rank the Hawkeyes as high as the top three? What about Texas A&M? Are they truly a top ten team? What should we make of the top two (Villanova and Xavier) in the Big East losing at home this week? Kansas and SMU got pounded on the road. Maryland lost but played their best basketball in weeks at Michigan State who snapped their own three-game losing streak with the win. West Virginia played their worst game of the season against Texas.

[RELATED: New Bracketology | Team of the Week | Player of the Week]

And then there are the likes of Providence, and Virginia, and Louisville.

Don’t even get me started on the back end of the top 25.

My point is that the various rankings that you’ll see for teams this week are going to be all over the pace.

That’s what happens in a year where no one seems to be all that good. Here’s the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Oklahoma (16-2, LW: No. 1): We’re sticking with Oklahoma as the No. 1 team in the country this week. There’s not shame in losing at Iowa State, even if Iowa State hasn’t been quite as good as we expected this season, and what the Sooners did to Baylor on Saturday afternoon is illegal in 37 states. Here’s the most impressive part: Oklahoma has the inside track to the Big 12 regular season title.

2. North Carolina (18-2, LW: No. 2): The Tar Heels are cruising along in the ACC, although they have yet to play one of the other contenders in the conference. The big question now: Getting Marcus Paige’s shooting stroke figured out. Since he went for 30 points at Florida State two weeks ago, he’s scored 15 points in the last four games while shooting 5-for-35 from the floor. That’s not good.

3. Iowa (16-3, LW: No. 8): Yeah.

I’m doing it.

I’m now all-in on the Hawkeyes, who have started out Big Ten play with a sweep of Michigan State and a sweep of Purdue. Jarrod Uthoff is playing like a first-team all-american, Peter Jok is on a roll right now and Mike Gesell looks like the kid we’ve been waiting to see for three years. They’re tough, they actually defend and they’re not blowing leads this season. Can it last?

4. Kansas (16-3, LW: No. 3): The Jayhawks lost by 19 at Oklahoma State during the week, but they regrouped and came back from an early 12-point deficit in a fairly convincing win over Texas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Something to watch going forward: Bill Self cut his rotation after the loss in Stillwater.

Who got benched?

Cheick Diallo.

5. Villanova (17-3, LW: No. 4): When Kris Dunn is playing well, Providence’s supporting cast is hitting threes and Ben Bentil is playing like he’s Dwight Howard, the Friars can beat anyone in any gym in America. They did all of that to the Wildcats on Sunday. For my money, Villanova is still the best team in the Big East.

6. Xavier (17-2, LW: No. 5): Getting pushed around by Georgetown at home was not exactly a good look, but A) It was just Xavier’s second loss of the season and B) It came on a night where a sophomore point guard with 15 make field goals on the season popped off for 21 points and five threes. I’m not backing off the Musketeers yet.

7. Maryland (17-3, LW: No. 6): The trend of the Terps playing up — or down — to the level of their competition continued as Mark Turgeon’s team was taken to overtime at home by Northwestern and followed that up by giving Michigan State one helluva fight in East Lansing. Consistency out of Diamond Stone and Rasheed Sulaimon will be a key moving forward.

8. Texas A&M (17-2, LW: No. 11): The Aggies are probably the most underrated team in the country right now. Not in the sense that they should be ranked higher than this but in the fact that no one seems to be talking about them. This is a balanced, veteran group that is currently the favorite to win the SEC. Stay woke, fam.

9. West Virginia (16-3, LW: No. 7): The Mountaineers were awful in their loss to Texas at home on Wednesday, but they got eight points in 56 seconds from Tarik Phillip to avoid losing to Texas Tech on the road.

10. SMU (18-1, LW: No. 9): Here’s the question about SMU moving forward: Will they still have something to play for? Their motivation, without an NCAA tournament to look forward to, was a perfect season. That’s over, thanks to Temple.

11. Michigan State (17-4, LW: No. 10)
12. Providence (17-3, LW: No. 16)
13. Miami (15-3, LW: No. 14)
14. Virginia (15-4, LW: No. 15)
15. Baylor (15-4, LW: No. 13)
16. Iowa State (15-4, LW: No. 21)
17. Louisville (16-3, LW: No. 17)
18. Arizona (17-3, LW: No. 19)
19. Purdue (16-4, LW: No. 20)
20. Indiana (17-3, LW: No. 25)
21. Kentucky (15-4, LW: No. 23)
22. Oregon (16-4, LW: UR)
23. Wichita State (14-5, LW: UR)
24. USC (15-5, LW: No. 18)
25. Duke (15-5, LW: No. 25)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Butler, No. 22 South Carolina
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Oregon, No. 23 Wichita State

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.