Horizon League Preview: Can Alec Peters lead Valparaiso back to the NCAA tournament?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Horizon League.

Despite being one of the premier mid-major teams in the country last season, Valparaiso was upset by eventual conference tournament champion Green Bay as they fell short of their ultimate NCAA tournament goal. The Crusaders eventually lost in the NIT title game to George Washington and head coach Bryce Drew departed for Vanderbilt, but Valpo can still lean on Alec Peters for his final season in 2017-18.

Peters and new head coach Matt Lottich will lead Valparaiso this year as the Crusaders are still the favorites to win the regular season title in the Horizon League. Besides Peters, guard Tevonn Walker is a tough player and senior wing Shane Hammink could step up as a scorer. Replacing center Vashil Fernandez and his rim protection will be the key.

Oakland must replace departed point guard Kahlil Felder which is why they’re hoping that JuCo transfer Stevie Clark recaptures the magic that made him a top-100 commit for Oklahoma State. All-league forward Jalen Hayes is also back along with talented wings Martez Walker and Sherron Dorsey-Walker. The Golden Grizzlies will definitely score but will they get stops?

Another uptempo team with talent is Green Bay as the Phoenix return eight of its top 10 players from last season’s NCAA tournament. Senior Charles Cooper should be their primary option and Khalil Small is another returning option to put up points. Finding a point guard and new defensive stopper to replace Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse will be key.

Detroit has a new head coach in Bacari Alexander and brings back some scoring punch with Chris Jenkins, Jaleel Hogan and Josh McFolley. The Titans should have one of the best frontcourts in the league but they have to replace the production of Paris Bass. UIC returns Freshman of the Year Dikembe Dixson and solid defensive center Tai Odiase as they have the league’s top recruiting class to add to a young and talented lineup. The Flames could be a surprise team if everything comes together. Wright State brings in a new coach in Scott Nagy as he inherits a roster that can compete early. Mark Alstork is his go-to guy and junior Grant Benzinger is a talented shooter and Illinois graduate transfer Mike LaTulip could be a wild card.

Junior guard Cameron Morse leads Youngstown State as the conference’s returning leading scorer should put up big numbers. The Penguins have to improve defensively as they gave up over 85 points per game last season. Northern Kentucky could also be a surprise team as three double-figure scorers return (LaVone Holland, Drew McDonald and Cole Murray). A sophomore, McDonald is particularly intriguing and the key to the Norse as their best post option.

Cleveland State brings back promising freshman Rob Edwards and senior Demonte Flannigan but there isn’t much more in returning production. New head coach LaVall Jordan takes over at Milwaukee as the team will look completely different from last season’s 20-win campaign. Cody Wichmann is the team’s most experienced returning player and he averaged 4.8 points per game while not starting a game last season.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


A third-team NBCSports.com preseason All-American, Peters has been a prolific scorer throughout his college career as he put up 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for the Crusaders last season. Peters shoots 44 percent from three-point range and, at 6-foot-9, can rebound and defend a bit inside. He’s a dynamic offensive talent and the best mid-major player in the country.


  • Cameron Morse, Youngstown State: A monster sophomore season saw the guard score 23.3 points per game in league play.
  • Dikembe Dixon, UIC: As a true freshman the wing averaged 19.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game but he has to improve his shooting percentages.
  • Charles Cooper, Green Bay: The junior guard will take on a bigger role this season after averaging 13.6 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
  • Jalen Hayes, Oakland: The junior forward led the league in rebounding at 8.8 per game to go along with 13.1 points on 52 percent shooting.



1. Valparaiso
2. Oakland
3. Green Bay
4. Detroit
5. UIC
6. Wright State
7. Youngstown State
8. Northern Kentucky
9. Cleveland State
10. Milwaukee

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.