BUBBLE BANTER: Florida’s big win, Butler in some real trouble following loss

(Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)
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WINNERS

Florida (Kenpom: 26, RPI: 25) wasn’t in a bad position to earn themselves an at-large bid entering this weekend. In fact, most bracket projections have them slotted somewhere around the 8-9 games. The issue with Florida’s profile was that the Gators didn’t have any marquee wins. They beat Saint Joseph’s, a team with great computer numbers that may not actually be a top three team in the Atlantic 10. They also picked wins over LSU, Georgia, Auburn and at Ole Miss, all of which are, as of Saturday, top 100 wins.

On Saturday, the Gators not only beat No. 9 West Virginia, they blew the Mountaineers out in the O-Dome. Scoring difference is irrelevant when it comes to the RPI, but it matters in KenPom’s formula — which the committee is slowly but surely paying more attention to — and it matters for perception. We didn’t know what to think of the post-Billy Donovan Gators. Great computer metrics only mean so much when you lose to the five best teams you play. A dominating win over a top ten team is a good way to make a statement.

  • South Carolina (KenPom: 46, RPI: 28): The Gamecocks improved to 18-2 overall with a win over Alabama on Saturday, but here’s the crazy thing about their profile: that win over Alabama is their best win of the season, at least in terms of the RPI. South Carolina now has one top 50 win. One. They play at Texas A&M and get Kentucky and Florida at home. That’s it. Frank Martin is going to have to land two of those wins to feel safe, assuming South Carolina doesn’t get upset.
  • Syracuse (KenPom: 33, RPI: 41) picked up a home win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, a win that moved the Orange to 7-7 against the RPI top 100. The Orange have some quality wins this season — Texas A&M, at Duke, Notre Dame — and if it wasn’t for that horrid loss to St. John’s, this group probably wouldn’t need to be mentioned here.
  • Florida State (KenPom: 44, RPI: 43): The Seminoles have a stronger profile than I realized: Three RPI top 50 wins, including Virginia and at Florida, and no RPI sub-100 losses. A weak non-conference schedule means that games like Clemson at home, which Florida State won on Saturday, are critical; their margin for error is minimal.
  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 42, RPI: 54): The Pirates picked up a win against Creighton on Saturday meaning that they are still looking like they’re land right on the cut-line. Barring a loss to Marquette, St. John’s or DePaull, Seton Hall’s NCAA tournament status is going to get decided by the last week of February, when they get Providence and Xavier at home.
  • Kansas State (KenPom: 39, RPI: 42): The Wildcats knocked off Ole Miss, which is critical because it’s exactly the kind of game that they cannot afford to lose at this point. K-State’s profile is interesting: They’re 0-8 against the RPI top 25 but those are their only eight losses this year. They have one top 50 win (over Texas Tech, who is 29th in the RPI) and they beat Georgia and Ole Miss. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row. They have six more games against the top teams in the Big 12, so they’ll have chances. They need to start capitalizing on them.
  • UCLA (KenPom: 67, RPI: 58): The Bruins are only winners in the sense that they didn’t lose to Washington State … again. It’s tough to know what to make of UCLA’s profile at this point, but with nine games left and all of them against teams ranked in the top 60 of the RPI, what their profile looks like now is irrelevant. They need to start piling up the wins.
  • San Diego State (KenPom: 74, RPI: 59): The Aztecs kept their bubble hopes alive by beating UNLV, but with just one top 50 win, one sub-300 loss and no teams in the MWC ranked in the RPI top 50, it’s going to be tough to put together a profile worthy of that at-large bid.
  • Gonzaga (KenPom: 40, RPI: 79): Like SDSU, Gonzaga avoided a loss that could have been a killer. Their status as an at-large team still hinges on whether or not they can beat SMU at SMU next month.
  • Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 20, RPI: 38): The Gaels avoided a bad loss, meaning that they’re still in the same boat. They’re going to have better computer numbers than the Zags come Selection Sunday, but they only have two RPI top 100 opponents left, and neither of them are in the top 75.

LOSERS

Butler (KenPom: 38, RPI: 60) is suddenly in a very worrisome position in terms of their bubble standing. Prior to last weekend, the reason to be bullish on the Bulldogs was that they didn’t have a bad loss on their résumé, with all five of their losses at the time coming against RPI top 25 teams. Throw in the neutral court win over Purdue and a win at Cincinnati, and there was enough in their profile to slot them in favorable at-large position.

Fast forward two weeks, and Butler has dropped roadies to Creighton and Marquette. Granted, winning on the road is a difficult thing to do in league play, but for a team that has just one top 50 win, losing to teams with sub-90 RPIs is risky business. Here’s the other concern: Butler only has two games left against the top three teams in the conference: they play Xavier at home on Feb. 13th and visit Villanova a week after that. They do get Seton Hall and Georgetown twice apiece, so it’s not like Butler’s schedule is devoid of good wins, but if they can’t land a win against Providence or Xavier, they are likely going to be heading into the Big East tournament with quite a bit of work left to do to get an at-large bid..

  • Vanderbilt (KenPom: 31, RPI: 56): The ‘Dores lost at Texas, which isn’t exactly the kind of loss that will hurt a résumé. Hell, a road game against an RPI top 25 opponent might actually bump their RPI up a bit. The missed opportunity hurts — Vandy is 2-7 against the top 50, albeit without a sub-100 loss — but the way this group played is perhaps more concerning. For a team with a potential first round pick at the point and at center, a slew of shooters and a coach with the reputation of Kevin Stallings on the offensive end of the floor, Vandy managed just 16 first half points and will likely slide out of the KenPom top 100 in offensive efficiency. This group is trending towards the cut-line. Are they actually going to be good enough to pick up the wins they need? They get Texas A&M twice, Kentucky at home and Florida on the road. My guess is they need at least two of those.
  • Georgetown (KenPom: 53, RPI: 70): The Hoyas missed another opportunity to land a quality win on Saturday, falling to Providence by four at home. Georgetown has one of the best wins any team will land this season — at Xavier — but with just four top 100 wins and loss to UNC Asheville and Radford, this group needs to start landing some of the marquee wins. The good news? They’ll have plenty of chances.
  • St. Joseph’s (KenPom: 49, RPI: 32): Like South Carolina, the Hawks have a terrific record (18-3) but no real substance in their profile. They’ve lost to the three best teams they’ve played and can count Princeton and Temple as their best wins. A visit from Dayton next month is looking like a must-win.
  • LSU (KenPom: 63, RPI: 74): Losing to Oklahoma is a killer for LSU. not because a loss to the No. 1 team in the country hurts their profile, but because a win over the nation’s No. 1 team — a win that LSU would’ve had until Buddy Hield went crazy — would have put the Tigers on the right side of the bubble.
  • Creighton (KenPom: 35, RPI: 93): The Bluejays are a better team than their at-large profile says, but moral victories don’t get factored into the NCAA tournament selection process. Creighton lost to Seton Hall on Saturday, and having lost four games by one possession this season, the Bluejays cannot afford to lose winnable games.
  • Clemson (KenPom: 52, RPI: 81): The Tigers lost at Florida State, which isn’t exactly a killer considering that FSU is a top 50 RPI team right now. Clemson has an interesting profile: Six RPI top 50 wins but two RPI sub-150 losses. The biggest issue? A non-conference strength of schedule of 335.
  • Stanford (KenPom: 96, RPI: 50): The Cardinal are another one of these teams with just enough good wins to keep them in the picture because they don’t have a bad loss on their résumé. Losing at Utah certainly doesn’t qualify as a bad loss, but if Johnny Dawkins’ club is going to go dancing, they need to start landing some of these quality wins. Right now, they’re 2-9 against the top 50.
  • Oregon State (KenPom: 84, RPI: 52): The Beavers lost at Arizona, meaning that they are without a bad loss this season. Barring a loss to Washington State next month, they’ll end the season without a sub-100 loss. The problem? They’re just 4-8 against the RPI top 100.

 

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.