Big 12 Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The Big 12’s annual tournament in Kansas City has one of the best atmospheres in the country, and this year’s edition figures to be no different with the league ranked as the nation’s best by just about every metric that attempts to measure such things. The league is almost a lock to send seven teams (70 percent of its membership) into the Big Dance. There may be a clear favorite at the top, but there’s not much else certain about this league, other than its quality.

The Bracket

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When: March 9-12

Where: Sprint Center; Kansas City, Mo.

Final: Saturday, March 12, 5 p.m. (ESPN)

[   MORE: All of’s conference tournament previews   ]

Favorite: Kansas

Who else could it possibly be? The top-ranked Jayhawks just wrapped up their 12th-straight regular season Big 12 title and have won 11-straight. They may very well have already guaranteed themselves the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament no matter what transpires at the Sprint, which, by the way, is just a short drive from Lawrence and in the heart of Jayhawk country. They are, once again, prohibitive favorites.

And if they lose?: Oklahoma

The Sooners, not so long ago the nation’s top-ranked team, has faltered down the stretch, but their offense can be sublime and their defense may be even better. Oh, and they’ve got national player of the year favorite Buddy Hield, who is capable of going supernova and winning this thing all by himself. They’ve got a difficult draw, but so does nearly everyone in this conference.

Other Contenders:

  • West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ pressure won’t be new ornovelty to anyone in the league, but West Virginia has the grit to grind out three-straight.
  • Iowa State: The Cyclones don’t have the depth that would suggesta three-day run is possible, but they’re the two-time defending champions who have somethingto prove after a lackluster regular season

Sleeper: Texas Tech

With six teams ranked in the top-25 entering Monday, you’ve got to go to the Big 12’s seventh-seed to truly find a sleeper. The Red Raiders have to open the tournament a day earlier than most of the rest of the league by virtue of being seventh, but No. 36 ranking in KenPom suggests they’re not as far behind the rest of the conference’s best as many would think as would wins against Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • None: The league’s top seven appears to be more than safe, with all inside the top 30 of the RPI

Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Not a lot of debate on this one for the two-time award-winner. Hield, who will likely capture more than a few national player of the year awards, averaged 25.1 points per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor, 47.3 percent from 3 and 89.3 percent from the free-throw line. Returning to school for his senior season has put Hield in line to be among Sooner royalty.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas

Tubby Smith has led Texas Tech to a likely NCAA tournament bid after the Red Raiders were picked to finish last in the Big 12, but Self and Kansas finished the regular season winning 11 straight games to take their 12th-straight Big 12 crown by two games, an incredible feat given their start and the strength of the league.

First-Team All-Big 12:

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas: Ellis was the anchor for the Jayhawks, whounderwent struggle early only to finish in spectacular fashion
  • Taurean Prince, Baylor: Prince is one of the conference’s bestathletes and among its most skilled as well
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang is one of the best scorers incollege basketball and a likely All-American
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State: Morris played in 97.7 percent of ISU’sBig 12 minutes and put up better numbers than any other point guard in the league

Second Team All-Big 12:

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas
  • Jaysean Paige, West Virginia
  • Devin Williams, West Virginia
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas
  • Frank Mason, Kansas

Defining moment of the season:

CBT Prediction: Kansas beats Oklahoma in the rematch we’re all waiting to see.

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.

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.