BUBBLE BANTER: George Washington’s critical win, Cincinnati’s bad loss

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You’ll be hard-pressed to find a team that picks up a bigger bubble win today than No. 25 South Carolina (KenPom: 53, RPI: 30), who finally landed a marquee win in the first game they played against a quality opponent this season, beating No. 8 Texas A&M on Saturday.

That’s not meant as a shot. It’s meant purely in RPI terms. The Gamecocks have played just one RPI top 50 team this season — Alabama twice, and they split — and the Crimson Tide are 3-6 in the SEC and barely in the top 50. Throw in that horrid non-conference schedule (318th) and what you had was a team with a great record (19-3) and RPI but without any real proof as to how good they are in on-court results.

That’s a problem, which is why this win is so big. Because not only did they beat a top ten team and the SEC favorite, but they did so in College Station, and road wins matter more than home wins in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Frank Martin’s club still has some work to do, but winning on Saturday earned them some margin for error.

The only team that comes close to South Carolina is George Washington (KenPom: 82, RPI: 49). Entering the day, the Colonials’ profile hinged almost totally on a win over Virginia on the fourth day of the season. As the Cavaliers have steadily improved, the win has looked better and better.

The problem is that GW hasn’t done much to add to in. The win over Seton Hall was nice as were wins over Davidson, Tennessee and Duquesne, but they’re not enough to overcome losses to ugly losses to Saint Louis and DePaul. Losing to Richmond at home — who is probably better than their RPI indicates — certainly didn’t do them any favors, either.

On Saturday, George Washington went down to Richmond and knocked off VCU, who, entering the day, was on a 12-game winning streak, undefeated in the Atlantic 10 and sitting in the top 30 of the RPI. That’s not quite what you would call a marquee and it certainly won’t lock the Colonials into an NCAA tournament bid, but if they intend of getting an at-large bid this season, it’s a win they really needed.

WINNERS

  • Oregon State (KenPom: 84, RPI: 41): The Beavers landed another huge win for their profile, knocking off Colorado at home, a win that game them their second RPI top 50 win in three days and their fifth of the season. They’re 7-8 against the top 100 with no bad losses. The problem? Wayne Tinkle’s club has done almost all of their damage at home and five of their last seven games are on the road. It’s not going to be easy, but at this point, I’d argue they have the inside track towards an at-large bid. Who had that in October?
  • Florida State (KenPom: 40, RPI: 38): The Seminoles are one of a handful of teams that seem to be trending for the NCAA tournament’s cut-line, and while winning at Wake Forest isn’t much of a game-changer, it is an RPI top 100 win on the road. That’s a nice addition to a résumé for a team headed to the cutline, where the difference in profiles is minimal.
  • LSU (KenPom: 55, RPI: 72): The Tigers are going to be a fascinating case on Selection Sunday. They beat Mississippi State on the road on Saturday to (get this) move into first place in the SEC! The problem? They played a bad non-conference schedule, they have two sub-100 losses and their second-best win (Kentucky is the best) came at Alabama, who is a fluke of the RPI formula. But their worst losses all came when they were at less than 100 percent. They’re at South Carolina and get Texas A&M at home next week. We’ll get answers then.
  • Seton Hall (KenPom: 32, RPI: 44): The Pirates landed a nice win over Georgetown at home, giving them another top 100 victory for their profile. Two good wins — and the win over Wichita State is only going to look better and better — and no bad losses with a top 50 RPI is a good combo. That No. 274 non-conference schedule? That means they still had lots of work to do to feel safe.
  • Butler (KenPom: 42, RPI: 61): The Bulldogs landed a must-win at St. John’s on Saturday, setting them up for their most important week of the season. The Bulldogs are right on the cut-line right now. Win at Seton Hall and beat Xavier at home, and they can feel pretty good about getting an at-large bid as long as they win the games they’re supposed to win after that.
  • Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 57, RPI: 37): Like Temple, the Hawks did well on Saturday to avoid losing to an opponent that could tank their profile. St. Joe’s is in a better spot that Temple right now — they have better computer numbers and now bad losses — but a total lack of quality wins will be an issue on Selection Sunday. They badly need to beat Dayton at home this month.
  • Cal (KenPom: 43, RPI: 39): The Golden Bears added their eighth RPI top 100 win on Saturday, beating Stanford in Berkeley by 15. With three top 35 wins and just one truly bad loss, Cuonzo Martin’s club should feel pretty good about getting a bid as long as they win the games they’re supposed to win down the stretch.
  • San Diego State (KenPom: 68, RPI: 57): The Aztecs needed overtime to beat New Mexico at home, which was huge because SDSU isn’t exactly in a position to lose many games and still be on the right side of the bubble. They’re 10-0 in the Mountain West and may not be an at-large team. That’s where the league is at right now. SDSU has played one RPI top 100 since Dec. 22nd.
  • Temple (KenPom: 92, RPI: 74): The Owls beat Central Florida. It doesn’t do much for their profile, but a loss could have killed their already slim chances of an at-large bid. They get Villanova at home later this month. That’s a must-win.
  • Valparaiso (KenPom: 23, RPI: 36): The Crusaders beat one of the four-worst teams in college basketball on Saturday. Just playing that game is going to hurt their profile. I think the Crusaders are a top 40 teams in college basketball, but they want to make sure they win the automatic bid.
  • Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 30, RPI: 54): The Gaels avoided losing to San Diego, but the damage may have been done by the mid-week loss to BYU. They have no top 50 wins, no chances to land a top 50 win and some ugly scheduling numbers. I’m not sure they could survive a loss in the WCC tournament.
  • Gonzaga (KenPom: 35, RPI: 71): Like Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga is in a position where they cannot afford many (any?) losses in WCC play. They beat Pepperdine on the road last night, a tougher road trip than people may realize. The Zags have the added bonus of a roadie against SMU this month. That could be the decisive game for their bubble status.

LOSERS

  • Vanderbilt (KenPom: 52, RPI: 31): We got a glimpse of what Vanderbilt could be on Thursday, when they beat Texas A&M by 17. We got a glimpse of what they are on Saturday, when they followed that up with a loss at Ole Miss. The ‘Dores are looking like they’re going to end up right there on the cut-line on Selection Sunday.
  • Cincinnati (KenPom: 33, RPI: 65): The Bearcats took a bad loss on Saturday, as they went into Memphis and lost to a team that was blown on by 20 on that very same floor by UConn on Thursday. That’s the first sub-100 loss Cincinnati has, but they still have three more road games against sub-100 teams and just one win over a team ranked higher than 49th in the RPI. That game against SMU at home in the regular season finale may be the difference between the NCAA tournament and a trip to the NIT.
  • Clemson (KenPom: 49, RPI: 73): The Tigers took a loss that will look worse on their profile that it was in real life at Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Tigers have a fascinating résumé: six top 50 wins, three sub-100 losses (two of which are sub-180) and one of the nation’s 15-worst non-conference schedules. For my money, they’re on the outside looking in by a fair margin, as the selection committee has proven they factor in non-conference scheduling heavily.
  • Georgetown (KenPom: 60, RPI: 70): The Hoyas lost the Seton Hall tonight. On the road, to a top 50 opponent, which isn’t a huge deal … except for the fact that it’s their third straight loss and the fourth in five games since winning at Xavier. The one win in that stretch? At home against Creighton in a game where they came back from 12 down in the last two minutes. Given what’s left on their schedule, the Hoyas can still make the tournament. In theory. But it’s becoming less and less likely they’re a team that can actually get those wins.
  • Washington (KenPom: 74, RPI: 51): The Huskies lost to Arizona at home on Saturday, which, in a vacuum, isn’t a terrible loss. It was at home, yes, but it was also to Arizona, an RPI top 35 team. Where it hurts is that Washington is on the bubble, five of their next six games come against top 50 teams and four of those five are on the road. They needed that win because they’re entering the toughest part of their schedule.
  • Stanford (KenPom: 102, RPI: 63): The Cardinal have three top 50 wins, no bad losses and solid strength of schedule numbers. The problem? They’re now 3-9 against the top 50 and 5-10 against the top 100 after losing to Cal. At some point, they have to start collecting wins against the good teams that they’re playing.
  • Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 23): The Buffs lost at Oregon State, but they’re pretty comfortably on the right side of the bubble and this was a road loss to a top 50 opponent. Not a major blow by any stretch.
  • BYU (KenPom: 58, RPI: 54): For some reason, BYU was still in the bubble conversation. They aren’t after losing to Pacific.

 

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.