College Basketball Catchup: College football’s title game is done, so here’s all you need for hoops season

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Now that Clemson has knocked off Alabama to win the 2017 National Title, college football is officially over and college basketball can now take center stage on campuses around the country.

And look, I get it. Football is a big deal, there are only so many free hours we have in a week and, until the bowl games are over and done with, they’ll take center stage. I can forgive you for your trespasses … as long as you’re now turning into college hoops.

I’m not just saying that as a college hoops fan, either. This is the most exciting season of college basketball in a long, long time. Duke is super-talented and a mess at the same time. UCLA is awesome and as entertaining as anyone this side of the Warriors. Kentucky is loaded with the most enjoyable back court I can remember watching. Kansas is loaded but playing in a league where Baylor is the No. 1 team in the country. North Carolina can beat anyone, but the ACC is so good they can also lose at Georgia Tech. Gonzaga hasn’t lost yet. Villanova can repeat. 

There’s so much happening.

To help you get ready for the final three months of the basketball season, we’re here to get you caught up on everything that has happened and prep you for that is about to happen.

So without further ado … :

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball up the court against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE’VE LEARNED THIS SEASON?

Rob Dauster: Duke is not the team that we thought they were going to be this season. That could change – when completely healthy, I would still argue that this group more talented than the Kentucky team that started the year 38-0 – but through two months, we’ve seen Duke play with all five members of their ideal starting lineup just twice in 17 games while losing Coach K to back surgery and dealing with another tripping incident involving Grayson Allen. Throw in the issues they’ve had defensively and sharing the ball, and this Duke team has had the look of a Ferrari that can’t get out of second gear.

Scott Phillips: There are no clear-cut favorites at this point in the season. Things are really wide open. There are really good veteran teams like Villanova and there are really good freshmen-laden teams like Kentucky. But they are all beatable teams with flaws. I’m excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

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Terrence Payne: That is this is an opening act to a March Madness for the ages. How many good games have we seen so far: Duke-Kansas, Kentucky-UCLA, Kentucky-North Carolina, Kansas-Indiana. And those are just the blue bloods. Hell, did you see what Nevada just did?! As Scott mentioned above, there are no clear-cut favorites. Add in a number of talented mid-major programs, and this could make for a memorable NCAA Tournament.

Travis Hines: It may not be the most important thing about this but it is the most important thing from this season: Scott Drew is a good coach. Baylor probably isn’t the best team in the country, but they might be. That’s a testament to Drew, who is the most ridiculed coach in the sport. This season is proving that his prior success was no fluke or the product solely of high-level recruiting.

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears leads the Baylor Bears against the Texas Southern Tigers at Ferrell Center on December 21, 2016 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Scott Drew (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST STORYLINE MOVING FORWARD?

Rob Dauster: It is not going to be the story that gets the most coverage, but the single biggest storyline over the next three months is whether or not Villanova will be able to repeat as National Champions. Through the first two months of the season, they’ve looked the part of a national title contender. Josh Hart has been better than expected, the Wildcats are just as unguardable as they were a year ago and they are still waiting for Phil Booth to be the guy that he was last season. It’s been a decade since anyone has repeated, and it may be another ten years before we see a team that’s able to mount another challenge as serious as this one.

Scott Phillips: How does Duke handle all of the drama and injuries to become the team we all believed we’d see? With the Grayson Allen issues and Coach K’s surgery there are some new twists to a team that was already acclimating freshmen in late because of injuries. Will this team rally together to win a ridiculous ACC and become the national title favorite we all saw before the season?

Terrence Payne: It may not be the biggest storyline, but I feel like it’s getting no attention when, at this point, it should be picking up steam: Can Gonzaga pull off an undefeated regular season? The Zags are 15-0 and are one of the more balanced teams in the nation with guard play led by Nigel Williams-Goss and the frontcourt being anchored by Przemek Karnowski. They have two tough tests against No. 21 Saint Mary’s (the first of two meetings slated for Saturday), and sure, the Bulldogs aren’t safe from having an off night, but outside of a road trip to Moraga they’ll be favored to win the rest of their games this season.

Travis Hines: It’s not ideal but it’s not arguable that Grayson Allen is it. And I don’t mean Duke at large. It’s Allen, and the saga of how his season unfolds after his third tripping incident. It would be better if we could focus on Gonzaga or the other of the sport’s best teams but it’s the drama surrounding Allen.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST OVER THE NEXT MONTH?

Rob Dauster: Can I say everything? Is that OK? Because more than anything, I’m just fired up for what is going to be an awesome stretch run for college basketball.

But if I had to pick a specific storyline, I’m going with the Baylor Bears and whether or not they can actually mount a challenge to Kansas in the Big 12 regular season title race. The Jayhawks have won 12 straight, but this Baylor team is legit and currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Scott Phillips: I’m really excited to see the ceiling for Lonzo Ball and UCLA because the way they play can draw a lot of eyeballs in March. If casual fans (and coaches) see how good this uptempo Bruins offense can be then I hope that college basketball will shake some old labels because UCLA is awesome to watch.

Terrence Payne: How the ACC unfolds. We knew going in that this league would be stacked, pegging 12 teams as possible NCAA Tournament at-large bids. But Wake Forest is better than we thought, Georgia Tech and Boston College aren’t pushovers either, and that’s the bottom of the conference. With six ranked teams (Virginia Tech and Clemson both receiving votes in the latest poll) and the uncertainty surrounding heavy preseason favorite Duke, the ACC has an endless amount of outcomes.

Travis Hines: I really am excited to see if Gonzaga can finish the year undefeated. The schedule means they’ll be tested but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility they’ll make it unscathed. How cool would it be if Mark Few’s first Final Four came in an undefeated season?

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 and Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate a victory over the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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.