No. 2 Villanova, Jay Wright return to the Final Four with win over No. 1 Kansas

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The concern with Villanova was that, eventually, the Wildcats were going to regress back to the mean.

There’s no way that they would be able to hit 11 threes a game throughout the tournament, right? It wasn’t possible for them to shoot 53.2 percent from beyond the arc for three more games, was it?

As it turns out, our suspicions were correct.

No. 2 seed Villanova shot just 40.4 percent from the floor and 4-for-18 from three, and it didn’t matter. The Wildcats beat No. 1 seed Kansas — the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament — 64-59 to advance to their first Final Four since 2009.

The Wildcats advanced on the strength of their defensive effort, forcing 16 turnovers and holding Perry Ellis, who was averaging 23.0 points in the tournament, to just 1-for-5 shooting on Saturday night. Much of the credit for that defensive effort falls on the shoulders of Kris Jenkins. Jenkins is a guy that is known for his ability on the offensive end of the floor. Entering Saturday night, he had hit at least two threes in his last 11 games, scored at least 15 points in 10 of those 11 and went for 20+ in six of those 10. He wasn’t, however, a noted defender.

But he was the guy tasked with slowing down Ellis, and he did just that. Ellis had no points, two fouls and four turnovers at halftime while Jenkins led the Wildcats with nine points and three assists. Jenkins finished with 13 points, as did Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, but none of them played all that well. Arcidiacono was more or less taken away by Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham while Hart missed four straight shots in the final four minutes.

What may be more fascinating is that part of me feels like Kansas gave this one away. Wayne Selden wasn’t ready to play. He airballed two threes in the first half and had another hit the opposite side of the back board early in the second half. He scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, but he was 0-for-6 from three and missed a pair of threes in the final minute that could have changed the outcome of the game.

And that’s before you factor in Devonte’ Graham’s critical turnover (foul?) with less than a minute left.

It begs the question: At what point are we allowed to criticize Bill Self for his lack of tournament success?

The man has won 12 straight Big 12 titles. There’s no question that he’s one of the best coaches in the college game today. If he retired this second, he’d be in the Hall of Fame and no one would even question it.

But he’s only been to the Final Four twice in his career — winning the 2008 national title — the same number of times that he’s failed to get to the Final Four as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, as his Jayhawks were this season.

(For comparison’s sake, in seven of the 12 years since the No. 1 seeds were ranked the No. 1 overall seed has reached the Final Four. Three times — 2007 Florida, 2012 Kentucky and 2013 Louisville — the No. 1 overall seed won the national title. Kansas is the only program to twice fail to get to the Final Four as the No. 1 overall seed.)

And then there’s the five NCAA tournaments in his time at Kansas where Self has failed to get out of the first weekend or the six Elite 8 games that he’s lost.

So while it’s impossible to argue with his credentials, there is some wiggle room here, and this year’s team may be the perfect example. Look, there are no future first round picks that play for the Jayhawks this season. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden will probably be second round picks. Maybe Frank Mason, too. But overall, there’s a real lack of NBA talent on this roster, which is part of what made Self a trendy pick for National Coach of the Year.

He won the toughest conference in college basketball, one that plays a true Round Robin schedule, by two full games with these guys? That’s damned impressive.

But he got picked off in the dance by a lower-seeded team on a night where his guys either A) had an off-night or B) choked.

It’s fascinating, really.

That said, it’s really not about Bill Self tonight.

The story is about Jay Wright, who is headed back to the Final Four after a seven-year hiatus, one where a lot of people began to question whether or not he really had what it takes to be an elite coach at this level.

Three times in six years between this Final Four and his last Final Four, Jay Wright lost in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament as a top two seed.

I’d say that monkey is officially of his back.

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.