Final Four Preview: They won’t win the title because …


We’re now just two days away from the Final Four kicking off, and as such, we’ve already taken a look at some of the key storylines this week and the x-factors at play as well as breaking down what happened when the teams that square off in the national semifinals played during the regular season.

Earlier, we took a look at what it is going to take for each team to win two games in Houston this weekend. This is why the Final Four team will not win the National Title:

North Carolina: The major question mark with North Carolina earlier this season was their toughness, which is something that I think we can safely say has been answered. If the run through the ACC tournament wasn’t answer enough, getting to the Final Four should be.

But the Tar Heels still do have two flaws that could eventually cost them a game this weekend. The most obvious is their inconsistency shooting the ball from the perimeter. Marcus Paige, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson have been better, but every coach in the country will tell you that they’ll live with those guys taking threes as opposed to North Carolina’s big men getting post touches.

The other issue is defending ball-screen actions. Kennedy Meeks is not exactly fleet of foot. Brice Johnson is vertically explosive but he’s not great when he’s asked to move laterally. And the Orange? They like to put Michael Gbinije in ball-screen actions — they’re in the 90th-percentile nationally with 28.9 percent of their possessions ending in a ball-screen action — which can be a problem for the Tar Heels if Gbinije is allowed to turn a corner and get going downhill. With shooters all over the floor and a play maker like Gbinije, that’s an exploitable matchup for the Orange.

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Oklahoma: The Sooners score 38.9 percent of their points from three-pointers, which was the 14th-highest total in college basketball this season. Michigan was the only high-major program that was more reliant on the three-ball for points than the Sooners. Two out of every five shots they take from the floor are from beyond the arc. Why does this matter? Because shooting NRG née Reliant Stadium has never been an easy thing to do. In 15 games played in this building since 2002, teams have shot 32.2 percent from distance. Is that just a fluky number? Or is it really that difficult to shoot here?

The Sooners better hope that it is the former, because the achilles’ heel for this team is that if they are not hitting their threes, they don’t really have another way to beat you.

Villanova: There are a couple things that I could see costing Villanova a win, but none is bigger than the fact that they just don’t have the same kind of athleticism as the rest of the teams left in the tournament. Josh Hart is a physical freak that plays like a physical freak, but beyond that, the Wildcats have a pair of guards in Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson that are slow and crafty and a power forward in Kris Jenkins that is a land warrior with a jumper. Some of that is mitigated when Mikal Bridges sees the floor — he does give them so much lineup versatility — but his presence defensively takes away from what is their best offensive lineup.

I’m not sure that will be a huge issue against Oklahoma. I don’t think Ryan Spangler is really a guy that’s built for dominating smaller defenders. But if the Wildcats do end up locking horns with North Carolina in the title game, that’s the matchup that the Tar Heels will be able to take advantage of.

Syracuse: They just don’t have the size inside to deal with North Carolina’s big men. It’s really that simple. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are big enough and physical enough to overpower the Orange front line. It doesn’t help matters that the best lineup that the Orange can put on the floor features a five-man in Tyler Lydon that is generously listed at 200 pounds. Now to be fair, the Orange lost by just five points in the Dean Dome earlier this season, and that happened because they just packed their zone in as much as possible. That could end up working this weekend as well, but the one thing to remember: Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige are hitting threes at a better clip than they were during the middle of the year.

I think the Orange actually match up fairly well with Oklahoma and with Villanova, but the issue is getting past the first game this weekend, which is not going to be an easy task.

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.