Five things we learned this week: The Kansas zone, Luke Kennard and what’s up with the Pac-12?

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1. So how much zone is Bill Self going to play moving forward?: In a year where Bill Self, who has been as wed to two-big lineups as Gregg Popovich, has fully embraced the idea of playing small-ball, the Kansas head coach faces another important decision regarding his team: Just how much zone should they play?

I ask because Self, who loves playing man-to-man more than I love New Haven-style apizza, went into Rupp Arena on Saturday night and knocked off No. 4 Kentucky thanks to the ability of his team to flip-flop between 2-3 zone and a triangle-and-two defenses. Using junk defenses like this isn’t necessarily new for Self – he loves tossing out wrinkles like that – but it’s usually his last-gasp effort to slow an opponent down.

After the win, the question needs to be asked: Should Kansas go zone full-time?

On the one hand, that defense really does have some benefits for the Jayhawks. It saves the legs of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, as they play close to 40 minutes in big games, and it protects Landen Lucas, who can focus on walling-up at the rim and rebounding in his area instead of having to risk fouls battling for position in the post and trying to defend 1-on-1 on the block; with Udoka Azubuike out, Lucas is really the only big man at Self’s disposal.

It’s also worth noting that, on paper, this is a team with a roster that should work well in a zone. Mason and Graham aren’t going to give up much penetration, and the wings – two of Josh Jackson, LeGerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk – have the length and athleticism to run at perimeter shooters and challenge shots when skip passes are thrown.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that this Kentucky team is not really built to play against a zone. We know how much trouble they have shooting the ball from the perimeter already, which isn’t exactly ideal against a zone, and their front court players aren’t known for their ability to pass the ball. Maybe it was less about the Kansas zone itself and more the result of a team that doesn’t have the pieces to break it down.

Whatever the truth may be, this is something to track moving forward.

2. It’s time to turn this thing over to Luke Kennard: The Luke Kennard conundrum has been solved.

After seeing what the sophomore guard did to Wake Forest in the second half on Saturday – 30 points, 10-for-10 shooting from the floor, a game-winning three – I think it’s time for the Blue Devils to embrace the obvious: Luke Kennard is the best player on their team even if he isn’t the best NBA prospect, and Duke will be at their best if they go ride or die with him leading the way.

Watch the performance here:

https://youtu.be/1vCwZQ4iqhs?t=47s

The big thing to take away from this isn’t just that Kennard went bonkers shooting the ball – that’s obvious – it’s how well he got others involved and how effective he was not only in isolation but in ball-screen actions. He had four assists, but not shown are the open shots he created that were missed or the hockey assists that he had, where his penetration moved the defense and the basket was scored after an extra pass was made.

Duke doesn’t need a point guard.

They need to understand that Kennard is the guy that can get them where they want to go.

3. Shout out to Josh Pastner: Think about this for a second: Memphis paid Josh Pastner to leave.

That’s how bad things got for him in Memphis. The university paid him to take another job.

That other job ended up being Georgia Tech, where Pastner took over for Brian Gregory and has proceeded to put together a team that looks like it will be in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday. Seriously. The Yellow Jackets don’t have a perfect résumé by any stretch of the imagination, but after this last week, where they blew out Florida State and beat Notre Dame, they have wins over three of the best teams in the ACC, including North Carolina.

Arizona coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call during the first half of Arizona's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Arizona coach Sean Miller (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

4. Arizona is the best team in the Pac-12. Again: In the preseason, we thought that Oregon was the best team in the conference. After UCLA took the nation by storm over the course of the first two months of the season while Oregon struggled with Dillon Brooks’ returning from injury, the Bruins looked like shoe-ins to be the Pac-12 champs. Then UCLA forget how to defend and Brooks turned back into an all-american, meaning that the Ducks were, again, the favorites in the league.

All the while, Arizona was quietly winning, and winning, and winning. They put us on notice last weekend, when Allonzo Trier returned from his absence and they went into Pauley Pavilion and roughed up UCLA, but we got a firm answer regarding the Pac-12 hierarchy this weekend. With Oregon taking a loss at Colorado, who was 0-7 in the Pac-12 entering last week, it looks as if Sean Miller has himself yet another Pac-12 title favorite.

5. Just how good is the Big 12?: We know how good Kansas is. Baylor still has some doubters, but their 20-1 record, and the teams they’ve beaten to get there, speak for themselves. West Virginia has beaten those two teams by a combined 37 points.

So it’s probably safe to assume that all three of those teams are good.

What about the rest of the league? Well, it didn’t fare well in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Kansas State, who has looked like an NCAA tournament team this season, lost by 12 at Tennessee. Iowa State, who some thought would be the fourth-best team in the conference, lost at Vanderbilt. TCU, who is in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid, lost at home to Auburn. Oklahoma, who won at West Virginia, lost by 32 points at home to Florida.

The best win for the Big 12 outside the top three in the league? Oklahoma State, who is 2-6 in the conference whipping Arkansas. Those could end up being costly losses.

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.