Five Things We Learned This Week: Oregon’s back and the ACC is weird

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1. Oregon is back: On Wednesday, Oregon put the nation on notice.

The Ducks rallied late to knock off No. 2 UCLA on Matt Court thanks Dillon Brooks, Eugene’s resident all-american, hitting a game-winning three with 0.7 seconds left. Two nights later, with No. 22 USC coming to town, Brooks looked every bit the part of an all-american, as he scored 28 points on 10 shots, hitting all four of his threes as the Ducks steam-rolled the Trojans, who had entered Friday night undefeated.

That was Oregon’s statement, their warning to the rest of the country that their early season struggles and health issues were behind them.

I was as high as anyone on the Ducks back in September, but I was in the same boat as everyone else after they lost to Baylor and lost to Georgetown and struggled to beat the likes of Boise State and Alabama and UConn. I wasn’t going to believe in the Ducks as a title contender until they proved they can be a title contender.

They did that this weekend.

Which means that I’m back on board.

2. The ACC was really weird this weekend: And it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon.

Let’s start with the obvious: Each of the top four teams in the league took a loss during the first week of conference play. No. 6 Louisville lost at home to No. 12 Virginia, who proceeded to lose at home to No. 20 Florida State. No. 5 Duke got blown out at Virginia Tech, a lot that should tell you there are more issues in Durham than just Grayson Allen’s tripping problems. No. 9 North Carolina lost at Georgia Tech, who, along with Boston College, were supposed to be the league’s bottom-feeders this season.

Should I mention that Boston College blew out Syracuse on Sunday?

And frankly, this is probably going to be the norm in that conference this season. The teams we all thought were going to struggle to win more than a couple of league games, Boston College and Georgia Tech, both look much more dangerous than they did a month ago. Duke, the juggernaut that was supposed to truck-stick everyone opponent they faced, is clearly at a crossroads of their season. UNC, UVA and Louisville all have flaws. Florida State and Notre Dame are beatable.

The kicker? There are 12 teams in the league that are good enough to push for an at-large berth. It’s the most cliché piece of coach-speak there is, but there are no easy games or off-nights in the ACC this season.

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3. Is Louisville the best team in the league?: I know this sounds crazy five days after Louisville got embarrassed at home by Virginia, but the thing to remember with Louisville is that Virginia is just about the worst possible matchup for them. Styles make fights in college hoops, and what Louisville does well gets taken away by what Virginia is the best in the country at.

And considering that, in the last two weeks, Louisville sandwiched that loss to Virginia with a win over Kentucky and a win over Indiana in Indiana, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this team is peaking. Quentin Snider played the best game of his career in the win over Kentucky. Donovan Mitchell played the best game of his career in the win over the Hoosiers. Deng Adel was very good in both. The early-season struggles of those three players is why there are doubts about the Cardinals.

Should I mention that as Louisville is starting to peak, Duke is a mess and North Carolina is losing to Georgia Tech?

Honestly, I think the correct answer is that there isn’t a “best team in the ACC”, but Louisville has as good of a chance to win the regular season title as anyone.

4. The Big Ten was weird this weekend, too: It wasn’t quite as weird as the ACC was, but after the first week’s worth of Big Ten games it’s pretty clear that the league is going to be tougher to peg than we thought. It starts with Nebraska, who entered league play having lost six of their last eight games and who will enter next week having won at Indiana and at Maryland, two teams that look like they’ll be in the NCAA tournament in March. Then there is Minnesota, who had a 12-1 record during non-conference play and proceeded to lose to an under-manned Michigan State team at home in overtime before beating No. 15 Purdue on the road in overtime.

Wisconsin is quiet clearly the best team in the Big Ten, but before this weekend, I think most observers would have told you that Purdue and Indiana aren’t all that far behind the Badgers. Maybe that’s wrong.

5. Is it time to start calling Villanova the favorite to win it all?: Our Travis Hines was in Omaha for that game and penned an excellent column on this very subject. I won’t totally repeat it here, but I will say this: The freshmen at Duke, Kentucky and UCLA have been as hyped as any freshmen class in recent memory; rightfully so, those dudes are awesome. Baylor has been celebrated because of the fact that no one saw this coming. North Carolina is North Carolina and played the most entertaining game of the year in the most watched game of the year against Kentucky.

And all the while, Villanova just keeps winning.

Yes, they’re the reigning champs. Yes, they have a National Player of the Year favorite on their roster. Yes, they’re No. 1 in both polls.

But they never seem to be the trendy team, the popular pick to win it all, the favorite among the “experts” in this business. It may be time to change that, because if Villanova’s win at No. 10 Creighton taught us anything, it’s that know team in the country understands how to win better than the Wildcats. They’re cool, calm and collected in pressure moments. They don’t rush. They don’t panic. They don’t force shots.

They execute.

They just win.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) dribbles the ball down court with Creighton guard Khyri Thomas (2) guarding him during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (AP Photo/John Peterson)

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.