BUBBLE BANTER: Creighton’s huge win gets them back in the bubble discussion

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The enormity of Tuesday night’s win for Creighton (KenPom: 39, RPI: 98) probably cannot be overstated.

Simply put, Creighton’s résumé entering the day was not close to strong enough for an at-large bid. They had just one top 50 win (at Seton Hall), a 3-8 record against the top 100, a non-conference strength of schedule in the 300s and a loss to Loyola (IL), who currently sits at 235th in the RPI. That’s not pretty. At all.

But the Bluejays are a perfect example of why the RPI is flawed. You see, the RPI doesn’t factor in margin of victory, and margin of victory matters. You lose to a team by 30, that team is probably way better than you. You lose to them on a shot at the buzzer, and that’s a totally different story everyone except for the RPI. That’s why KenPom’s rankings are a valuable tool, and KenPom has Creighton slotted in at 39th. That different is the result of four one-possession losses that the Jays have suffered, three of which came against RPI top 75 opponents … and one of which was against Loyola (IL).

In other words, Creighton is roughly four shots away from being on the right side of the bubble.

And after Tuesday, they’re far closer to the right side of the bubble than they were before. Xavier is a top ten RPI win, one that they can pin at the top of their profile. It certainly doesn’t mean their work is done, not by any stretch. I’d wager that Creighton needs, at the very least, five wins in their last six games and the Big East tournament to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. That’s what happen when you play a bad schedule and lose too many close games.

It won’t be easy — they still have to play at Marquette, at Butler, at Providence and at Xavier — but the chances are there.

WINNERS

  • No. 25 Wichita State (KenPom: 12, RPI 41): The Shockers did what they needed to do on Tuesday, blowing out a bad Drake team on the road. Wichita State is good, but given the lack of quality wins on their profile, I’m not sure they can afford two more losses.
  • Florida (KenPom: 28, RPI: 23): The Gators finished off their sweep of Ole Miss on Tuesday, picking up their seventh top 100 win of the season in the process. With just one sub-100 loss (at Tennessee, who may not be outside the top 100 by Selection Sunday) and terrific schedule numbers, the Gators likely just need to win the games their supposed to win to get a bid. In other words, they’re playing seeding more than they are for a bid.
  • Cincinnati (KenPom: 63, RPI: 31): The Bearcats beat UCF on Tuesday, a win that does nothing for them beyond guaranteeing they won’t lose to UCF. Cincinnati does have three top 50 wins, two of which came on the road, but a 4-6 record against the top 100 is not great. Like Creighton, Cincinnati’s KenPom numbers are far more impressive than their RPI numbers.

LOSERS

  • Georgia (KenPom: 80, RPI: 64): The Bulldogs better hope that no selection committee members were watching on Tuesday as they were absolutely manhandled by Kentucky. Embarrassed. Georgia has just one top 75 win (South Carolina) and a 4-9 record against the top 100. The good news? A top ten non-conference strength of schedule gives Georgia some margin for error.
  • Pittsburgh (KenPom: 53, RPI: 41): The Panthers blew a chance to land a key road win on Tuesday night, losing by two at Miami. A win would have been huge for a team that still is trying to fill out the top of their profile. They do have four top 50 wins, three away from home, but they’re 5-6 against the top 100 and they’ve lost five of their last eight games. More than anything, this group needs to simply turn that trend around.

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.