BUBBLE BANTER: Thursday’s Winners and Losers

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WINNERS

Syracuse (14-8, KenPom: 33, RPI: 42) was the bigger winner on Thursday, picking up their third top 50 win when they knocked off Notre Dame in Syracuse. The Orange now own wins over Texas A&M and at Duke, as well as knocking off UConn, St. Bonaventure and Wake Forest, the latter on the road.

In fact, when you look at the entirety of the Syracuse profile, they’re not in a bad spot. They’re 6-7 against the top 100 and they still have five games left against the RPI to 50, including visits to North Carolina and Louisville. Those are tough games, but a loss there wouldn’t hurt them and a win could be the difference between the NIT and avoiding the play-in games. The problem? That pesky loss to St. John’s, which is currently a sub-200 loss. That’s a black mark on their profile that isn’t going to be going away.

  • Cincinnati (16-6, KenPom: 30, RPI: 57) picked up a win that could scoot them onto the right side of the bubble on Thursday, winning at UConn. The Bearcats now have two top 50 wins, two more top 100 wins and no bad losses. But they don’t have much depth in their profile, which means every game like this is that much more important for them.
  • Washington (14-6, KenPom: 84, RPI: 53) is a fascinating team. They’ve beaten Texas, USC and Colorado but they’ve lost to Oakland and UC-Santa Barbara. They’re leading the Pac-12 despite having one of the youngest rosters in the country, and they make just be the most entertaining team in the sport. Here’s the crazy part: the Huskies have been outscored by 10 points in league play. I’m not convinced they can keep this up, but I will surely be watching.

LOSERS

Last night, UCLA (12-9, KenPom: 67, RPI: 59) fell at home to Washington, pitting them at 12-9 overall and 3-5 in the Pac-12. Now, conference standing means less than nothing in regards to the NCAA tournament, particularly in leagues that don’t plat a double round-robin, but it is a good reference point for how wild the Pac-12 has been. UCLA in ninth in the league and still in a pretty good spot for a tournament bid.

They have the two wins over Wildcats, Arizona and Kentucky, and their worst loss in name — Monmouth — has actually proven to be less of a black eye on their profile than Washington, Washington State or Wake Forest. There are plenty of good wins available in this conference, the key for the Bruins is simple: get them. A 7-3 finish in the league pit UCLA at 13 losses on Selection Sunday, assuming they don’t win the automatic bid. Will that be enough to get in?

  • UConn (14-6, KenPom: 32, RPI: 73) has been a pretty disappointing team this season, but they still seem to be destined for the NCAA tournament. They have no bad losses, even after losing to Cincinnati last night, and a pair of quality wins against Michigan and at Texas.
  • Oregon State (12-7, KenPom: 83, RPI: 54) took a pretty bad loss on the road on Thursday at Arizona State, meaning they’ve now lost five of their last seven games. The Beavers are in a bit of a tough spot at the moment in regards to their tournament profile, but they have three really good wins (Oregon, Cal, USC), no bad losses and nine of their last ten games come against RPI top 60 teams.
  • Gonzaga (16-5, KenPom: 40, RPI: 80) beat Santa Clara on Thursday night, a win that mattered because it wasn’t a loss. The Zags don’t have much at the top of their résumé — wins over UConn, Washington and Tennessee are all in the 50-100 range — but they also don’t have any RPI sub-75 losses. Gonzaga had a chance to get a marquee win at SMU next month. They need that win.
  • George Washington (15-5, KenPom: 79, RPI: 46) absorbed a double-overtime loss at home to Richmond, the third sub-100 loss for the Colonials this season compared to just one top 50 RPI win. Beating Virginia is a nice anchor for their résumé, but this group badly needs some depth there. After a game at George Mason on Sunday, the Colonials have a three-game stretch where they get Davidson at home, VCU on the road and St. Joseph’s at home. They need to win at least two of those.

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.