20 Bold Predictions for the 2016-17 College Basketball Season

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Here are our 20 bold predictions for the 2016-17 college basketball season.

Wisconsin won’t make the NCAA tournament’s second weekend: The Badgers return all five starters from a team that made the Sweet 16 last season, but the Big Ten is weaker this season and the rest of college basketball is stronger. Wisconsin won’t be as battle-tested heading into the postseason. (Scott Phillips)

Villanova becomes the first repeat national champion since the Florida Gators from a decade ago: Sure Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are huge loses, not just from a production standpoint but a leadership one. However, Jay Wright has Josh Hart, a national player of the year candidate, and a versatile lineup that can bring home a second straight title. (Terrence Payne)

Creighton wins the Big East: Villanova has to deal with the pressure of wearing the crown and Xavier drops a game or two they shouldn’t, clearing the path for Creighton and their huge home court advantage to leapfrog both. (Travis Hines)

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Maryland wins at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title: I’m not enamored with any of the four teams most have pegged at the top of the Big Ten: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin. I’m not necessarily enamored with Maryland, either, but I do think that Melo Trimble is going to be a problem this year. He averages 20 points and six dimes and the Terps shine. (Rob Dauster)

Texas Tech will finish second in the Big 12: The Red Raiders were a surprising NCAA tournament team last season and they return most of last season’s core. With the rest of the Big 12 outside of Kansas having a significant amount of question marks, Texas Tech has a chance to make a major move. (SP)

AMES, IA - JANUARY 18: Monte Morris #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates after scoring a three point basket in the second half of play against the Oklahoma Sooners at Hilton Coliseum on January 18, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 82-77 over the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Monte Morris (David Purdy/Getty Images)

Monte’ Morris becomes the national player of the year: Not much of a bold prediction considering that he’s the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and an All-American candidate, but I think he could be the best player in college hoops this year. He doesn’t turn the ball over, we know that. But like Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne, two former Steve Prohm point guards, I think we’ll see a big increase in his points per game. (TP)

The Big Ten will be contested by three or more teams heading into the final week: Wisconsin and Michigan State are the prohibitive favorites but Purdue and Ohio State will be right there going into the league tournament. (TH)

N.C. State reaches the Elite 8: When it comes to the talent on the roster, I’m not sure that are ten teams better on paper than the Wolfpack. Dennis Smith Jr. will be a star and Omer Yurtseven will be a first round pick. The shooters on the perimeter makes shots and Abdul-Malik Abu plays his role, this team matches up with anyone. Can Mark Gottfried get them that far? (RD)

Mustapha Heron will be one of the five most productive freshmen in college basketball: The Auburn freshman wasn’t selected to any of the major spring high school all-star games, but with a starting role in a weaker power conference, Heron could put up big numbers. (SP)

Both Chattanooga and UT Arlington, not only make the tournament, but pull off upsets: We’re bound for upsets this March. We know that. But I think the Mocs and the Mavericks will be two of this year’s Cinderellas. Kevin Hervey and UT Arlington was 13-2 and had defeated Ohio State and Memphis. Then he tore his ACL. Little Rock went onto win the Sun Belt and upset Purdue. UT Arlington brings back everyone from a 24-win team. Chattanooga, a tournament team from a season ago, will have its hands full with EasteTennessee State, but I still give the Mocs the edge. They bring back four starters and Casey Jones, the 2015 SoCon Player of the Year, who missed all of last year. (TP)

Austin Nichols will be ACC Player of the Year: There are more talented players in the conference, but Nichols is positioned perfectly to put up big numbers for a good team. (TH)

Virginia Athletics
Austin Nichols, courtesy Virginia Athletics

By March, we’ll be talking about Duke as the best team in the one-and-done era: Harry Giles III comes back healthy to contribute 20 minutes a night, Grayson Allen adjusts to more of a lead guard role and Jayson Tatum ends up being a better version than Brandon Ingram was last season. (RD)

Florida will become a consistent top 25 team: Things were up-and-down in Mike White’s first year but Kasey Hill was great at the end of the last season and Devin Robinson, KeVaughn Allen and John Egbunu give the Gators enough talent to once again be a major threat. (SP)

Whoever loses the February 11th game between Georgia Tech and Boston College will go winless in the ACC: Boston College went 0-18 in league. ACC is absolutely brutal this year. Twelve teams have a realistic shot to make the NCAA Tournament, which only limits the amount of wins for the Yellow Jackets and Eagles. (TP)

Kansas will go 18-0 in Big 12 play: The Jayhawks have a near-impenetrable homecourt advantage and the rest of the league will be down significantly, making their 13th-straight title their most definitive. (TH)

Malik Monk will be a top five pick: Come March, it will be evident that Monk is the best player on Kentucky. His shot selection will improve on a more talented team, he’ll consistently make jumpers and his athleticism will have teams salivating over finding the “Next Russell Westbrook”. (RD)

Conference USA will have more NCAA tourney contenders than the Mountain West: After sending only one team to the NCAA tournament in 2016, things don’t look much better for the Mountain West in 2017. Conference USA has UAB and Middle Tennessee returning a lot while Western Kentucky could be intriguing. (SP)

Virginia Tech wins at least a share of the ACC regular season title: I’m high on the Hokies, and you should be too. They bring back essentially everyone (Kerry Blackshear may be out for the year with an injury) and could really surprise people in the ACC standings. Duke has some injury concerns, Virginia lost Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 points per game is a lot in that offense) and while Louisville has a high ceiling, it’s dependent on sophomores making big jumps. (TP)

St. Mary’s makes it to February undefeated: The Gaels will have to get by Dayton on the road in November and Gonzaga in January, but they’ve got the personnel and experience to get it done. (TH)

All four No. 1 seeds get to the Final Four: Just like in 2015, there is a clear delineation between the best teams and the rest of the country, and one of those top teams – Oregon – will be dealing with an all-american that has a foot issue. (RD)

Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)
Malik Monk (Kentucky Athletics)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

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.