Weekend Preview: A North Carolina showdown, Wisconsin-Purdue

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THIS WEEKEND’S SHOWDOWNS

N.C. State at No. 14 North Carolina, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN): The best game of the weekend takes place in Chapel Hill as Dennis Smith Jr. will make his one and only trip to the Dean Dome. The Wolfpack are coming off what is, by far, their best performance of the season, a 104-78 mollywhopping of No. 21 Virginia Tech behind 27 points, 11 boards, 11 assists and five steals from Smith.

N.C. State is finally reaching full strength. Omer Yurtseven, a potential first round pick this season, missed the first nine games due to some amateurism issues while Maverick Rowan sat out much of the first month of the season with a concussion. With Smith playing the way he’s playing and the likes of Terry Henderson, Torin Dorn and Abdul-Malik Abu on the floor as well, Mark Gottfried’s got himself a squad that looks like it can make a run this year.

But just how much of a run?

As good as N.C. State looked on Wednesday night, they lost by 18 points in their ACC opener to a Miami team that looks to be headed for the bubble. Playing at UNC will be a nice test for them, and for the Tar Heels as well. UNC lost their ACC opener at Georgia Tech. They barely survived a trip to Clemson. Is the road in the ACC just that difficult, or are there real reasons to be worried about Roy Willaims’ club?

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No. 13 Wisconsin at No. 20 Purdue, Sat. 4:30 p.m. (CBS): This is a fascinating matchup of what appears to be the two best teams in the Big Ten this season. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan has been absolutely fantastic through the first two months of the season, turning into a double-double machine. But Wisconsin has a pretty good good front court of their own, with Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. This game has serious Big Ten title implications, which I’ll get into later.

No. 21 Virginia Tech at No. 12 Florida State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ACCN): First place in the ACC is on the line as the Seminoles, who are one of just two teams sitting at 2-0 in the league, host the Hokies. The last time we saw FSU take the floor was at Virginia, where Dwayne Bacon was scoring 26 second half points to lead them to a win in Charlottesville. The last time we saw Virginia Tech, they were getting beaten down by N.C. State on the road. FSU has the talent to push for a top four finish in the league, but if they are going to do so, they have to win games like this.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Clemson at No. 23 Notre Dame, Sat. 3:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Tigers missed out on a massive opportunity to land a win over North Carolina on Wednesday. Can they get that back against one of the ACC’s two undefeated teams?
  • Tennessee at No. 24 Florida, Sat. 5:15 p.m. (ESPN2): Tennessee has been better than they’ve gotten credit for this season, while Florida may be the second-best team in the SEC.
  • Oklahoma State at No. 2 Baylor, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (ESPNNews): The way that Oklahoma State plays – a pressuring, half-court man-to-man – should give the Bears some trouble, as should their talented back court of Phil Forte and Jawun Evans.
  • Texas Tech at No. 3 Kansas, Sat. 7:15 p.m. (ESPN2): Kansas struggled to hold off Kansas State at home and couldn’t put away TCU on the road. Now they get the Red Raiders, who are coming off of a win over West Virginia.
  • Rhode Island at Dayton, Fri. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): A battle of the two-best teams in the Atlantic 10 this season.
DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 04: Associate head coach Jeff Capel of the Duke Blue Devils watches during the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 4, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 110-57. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Jeff Capel’s first game: On Wednesday night, for the first time all season long, we saw the Duke team that we expected to see this season. Grayson Allen was running the point, Harry Giles III was starting at center and Coach K was on the sidelines. That will be the last time that we see that team for quite some time, as Krzyzewski will undergo surgery on Friday to repair an issue with a herniated disc in his back, meaning that associate head coach Jeff Capel will spend the next four weeks working as the interim coach.

Capel has some experience – he coached Blake Griffin at Oklahoma and he coached at VCU – but this next month could very well end up being his audition to eventually be Coach K’s replacement. He’ll get an easy opener, with Boston College coming to Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the road gets tougher after that, with visits to Florida State and Louisville on deck.

2. Can the Badgers take control of the Big Ten?: No. 13 Wisconsin will have a chance to put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title race on Sunday afternoon. If the Badgers go into Mackey Arena and beat No. 20 Purdue, Wisconsin will hold a two-game lead over both the Boilermakers and No. 25 Indiana, owning wins on both team’s home floor.

Since Nigel Hayes embraced the roll of playing point forward on Wisconsin’s return from the Maui Invitational, the Badgers have looked like the best team in the conference, with Indiana and Purdue right behind them. The other team to keep an eye on: Michigan State, who plays against Penn State on Saturday and who is also undefeated in the conference.

3. No. 25 Indiana has a get-right game: The Hoosiers have reached a crossroads this season. Having lost their last three games and the last four games they’ve played against teams not named Delaware State or Austin Peay, Indiana is currently sitting at 10-5 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten. A loss at home to Illinois on Saturday would drop them to 0-3 in the league with all three of those losses coming in Assembly Hall. If that happens, it will be fair to question if the Hoosiers, who have already beaten Kansas and North Carolina this season, might play their way back onto the bubble.

4. ACC teams looking to bounce-back: No. 9 Louisville, who has beaten Indiana, Purdue and Kentucky this season, is the only team in the ACC without a win yet this season. They’ll spend their Saturday at Georgia Tech, playing in the same building that North Carolina took a loss in last weekend. Meanwhile, No. 11 Virginia, who has lost two straight after winning at Louisville, will look to bounce back as they host Wake Forest.

5. Will the Big 12 have the nation’s No. 1 team?: For all the talk about how the Big 12 was going to be down this season, it looks like, on Monday morning, we’re going to have two teams from the conference sitting at No. 1 and No. 2 in the national polls. Baylor, who is currently No. 2, hosts Oklahoma State while Texas Tech pays a visit to No. 3 Kansas. With No. 1 Villanova losing to Butler on Wednesday, there will be room for the two teams to move up, which begs the question: Do we all really think that Baylor is better than Kansas this year?

WACO, TX - JANUARY 04: Ishmail Wainright #24 of the Baylor Bears and King McClure #22 of the Baylor Bears celebrate with fans after beating the Iowa State Cyclones 65-63 at Ferrell Center on January 4, 2017 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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.