THE UNDEFEATEDS: Which of those seven teams will last the longest?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
0 Comments

There are now just seven undefeated teams left in college basketball after TCU, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame and Butler lost last week.

Today, we’ll take you through each of those seven teams, letting you know whether or not they are truly contenders or simply a product of their schedule while letting you know precisely when they are going to take their first loss.

TOP 25 TEAMS

No. 16 South Carolina (8-0): The Gamecocks are the easiest team on this list to pick. They’ve been steadily climbing in the polls because they’re undefeated and own wins over the likes of Michigan and Syracuse, and their defense is legit. As of today, they’re ranked fifth in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric, and that’s not a fluke. Frank Martin’s club has veteran, tough and athletic guys at every spot on the floor that thrive in his overplaying, half-court man-to-man defense. The Gamecocks are real in the sense that they’re probably the second-best team in the SEC this season, but A) that isn’t saying all that much and B) those wins over Syracuse and Michigan looked much more impressive at the time than they do right now.

  • First loss will be 12/12 vs. Seton Hall, 8-0: The Gamecocks will be playing a game in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against a good team from New Jersey without their best player in Sindarius Thornwell. Seton Hall isn’t going to be intimidated by over-aggressive defenses.

No. 24 USC Trojans (9-0): Once again, the Trojans are playing above their heads. For a team that entered the season with just four players that had played a second of basketball for USC prior to the season, it’s impressive that Enfield has managed to steer them to a 9-0 with wins at Texas A&M, at home against SMU and over BYU on a neutral court. It’s worth noting they’ve won four of those games without Bennie Boatwright, their starting four-man who has dealt with knee an back injuries.

  • First loss will be 12/30 at Oregon, 13-0: The Trojans will playing their second road game in three days when they play in Eugene, and by then, it’s probably fair to assume that this Oregon team, who was in the top five in the preseason will get things figured out. The key? When does Boatwright get back.
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17: Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Johnathan Motley (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

THEY CAN MAKE A FINAL FOUR

No. 4 Baylor (8-0): Baylor has been the most surprising team in college basketball this season. The Bears have piled up wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier, which is impressive of a résumé as you’ll find at this point in the season. If they can find a way to beat Kansas at some point during the regular season and win either a share of the Big 12 regular season title or the Big 12 tournament, the Bears could realistically end up getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. I’m not yet ready to say that Baylor is in the same class as the likes of KU, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova or UCLA, but I am ready to say that every single one of us missed wildly on how good Baylor would be this season.

  • First loss will be 1/10 at West Virginia, 15-0: The Mountaineers are another team we missed on in the preseason, and I think they provide a nightmare matchup for Baylor. The Bears strength is their front court, but that can get taken away by the pressure WVU provides. As good as he’s been this season, I’m not totally sold on Manu Lecomte yet. I think pressure can beat the Bears, and no one has a tougher press than Press Virginia.

No. 10 Creighton (10-0): Through the first month of the season, the Bluejays look like they might be the second-best team in the Big East as Xavier continues to try and figure out how they are going to make threes this season. Creighton doesn’t have that issue, as they rank second nationally in both effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Their top six three-point shooters are all shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the are, and three of those six are knocking down more than half of their three-point attempts. This team is more talented than the team Creighton had during Doug McDermott’s senior season.

  • First loss will be 1/16 at Xavier, 18-0: Xavier is still trying to find themselves, but there are two things you can count on with a program run by Chris Mack: toughness and defense will never, ever be an issue. They’re hard to beat in the Cintas Center and there’s a chance that Myles Davis will be back by then. I don’t want to bet against Xavier in a situation like that were they really need a win.
OMAHA, NE - NOVEMBER 15: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the hoop past Jordan Hill #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers during their game at the CenturyLink Center on November 15, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

THEY CAN WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

No. 1 Villanova (10-0): The Wildcats managed to remain unbeaten thanks to a masterful performance from Josh Hart, who had 37 points and 11 boards to send No. 23 Notre Dame to their first loss of the season. Villanova is the reigning national champion, so of course they have the ability to repeat as national champs; like Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine last season, Hart has really improved as a senior.

Villanova is also playing without Phil Booth, who has a knee injury. This group deserves to be in the same conversation as the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA, the biggest brands with the most talent in the sport. Jay Wright may not have NBA scouts beating down the doors of practice to get a look at the guys on his roster, but this veteran group is greater as a whole than the sum of their parts.

  • First loss will be 12/31 at Creighton, 13-0: Creighton has always been a tough matchup for Villanova because Creighton plays the same kind of small-ball, four-around-one style. What’s traditionally made Villanova so difficult for opponents to matchup with is that they create mismatches offensively because their players are versatile defenders. Creighton, however, can do the same thing. Cole Huff, the Bluejays four-man, can play as a small forward and is most comfortable on the perimeter. He will have no issues defending the lines of Eric Paschall or Kris Jenkins. Throw in the fact that Creighton packs 17,000 fans into their home games, and I think they can hand the Wildcats their first loss.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

No. 8 Gonzaga (10-0): Of the seven teams left without a loss, I think Gonzaga probably has the best chance to get to the NCAA tournament unblemished. Part of that is because they play in the West Coast Conference, a league every road game is their opponent’s Super Bowl but those opponents are decidedly mid-major competition. Gonzaga? They’re as high-major as high-major gets and have a roster that is stocked with talent.

Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have played really well together in the back court, while Jordan Mathews works as a floor-spacer and Silas Melson has seemed to embrace his role within the team. But the front court is where this team is so exciting. Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III are veterans that fit well together, but there’s an argument to be made that their freshmen backups – Killian Tillie and Zach Collins – are the second-best front court pairing in the league. I think this is the best team that Mark Few has had in Spokane, and that includes the Adam Morrison and Kelly Olynyk years.

  • First loss will be 2/11 at Saint Mary’s, 25-0: This year is the first time that the Zags have reached 10-0 since joining Division I. They’ll have three real tests before their road trip to Moraga – they’re at Tennessee this weekend, they host the Gaels in mid-January and visit BYU in early February – but if they can get to this game unscathed, they’ll likely have a shot to be undefeated when the postseason comes around.

No. 2 UCLA (10-0): We mentioned earlier how Creighton’s offense is a powerhouse. Well, UCLA is the only team in the country that has a higher effective field goal percentage, a higher three-point percentage and they play at a faster pace. In fact, UCLA is currently shooting 47.1 percent from three. Only one team since 1997 has shot better than 45 percent from three, and that was Northern Colorado in 2011-12. That UNC team shot 16 threes per game. This UCLA team shoots 24.

In other words, it’s not crazy to say that this UCLA team could end up being the best three-point shooting team in college basketball history if they can find a way to keep up this pace through league play. But even if they don’t, this is not a team that relies entirely on the three-ball. They have a guy named Lonzo Ball – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he’s not bad – that makes them lethal in transition and has transformed that roster into one of the most unselfish in the country.

  • First loss will be 2/25 at Arizona, 28-0: I think UCLA can get past their road trip to Oregon three days after Christmas mostly because I think that the Bruins will have a bit of an advantage over USC; they play the Ducks on the first day of the road trip. The trip to play the Mountain teams (Colorado and Utah) is always tricky given the altitude, and that starts a stretch where they play five of seven on the road, including at USC and capped with a visit to Markelle Fultz and Washington. But I think this group gets through all that mostly because I think the Pac-12 is down this year. Where I think they get tripped up is at Arizona, who should have Parker Jackson-Cartwright (and maybe/hopefully Allonzo Trier) back and who should be getting the best out of Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins. That’s a fierce rivalry that only has fuel added to the fire by T.J. Leaf, a UCLA player that was originally an Arizona commit.
NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats takes a shot against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Josh Hart (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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.