Weekend Preview: The five most important story lines this side of the Super Bowl

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1. #CoachKback: The four weeks are up.

After seven games on the sideline and more than a month laid up after undergoing surgery on his back, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is headed back to the bench on Saturday afternoon. Duke went 4-3 in his absence, but over the course of the last two games, it seems as if they have started to get some things figured out. That run started after a meeting at Coach K’s house where, among other things, the Duke players had their access to the locker room taken away and lost the right to wear gear with a Duke logo on it.

But the other thing that happened after that meeting is that Duke seems to have made the changes we all thought they needed to make. In their last two games, the Blue Devils have made a concerted effort to run their offense through Luke Kennard, primarily, and Grayson Allen. Without a point guard, their best option is to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers and let them do what they can do, right? The other change has been that Jayson Tatum has played primarily at the four – when he manages to stay out of foul trouble – while Harry Giles III has been relegated to playing a bit role off the bench.

So it looks like the Blue Devils are starting to figure this thing out.

And, at the same time, one of the greatest to ever do it returns to the sidelines.

Is Duke back to being back again?

2. Maryland has a chance to prove they’re not frauds: Other than Duke, whose season has been nothing short of a soap opera, Maryland is the nation’s most intriguingly confounding team. They’re 20-2, but they haven’t even played a team that is currently ranked or that was ranked at the time that they played. So they’re record is unproven, and the believe in them isn’t helped by the fact that they seem to play down to the level of their opponent, struggling through every game until Melo Trimble finds a way to bail them out down the stretch.

For metrics like KenPom and Sagarin, that heavily value margin of victory and level of competition, this is a good way to get your rating dropped.

RELATED: What should we make of Maryland?

On Saturday, the Terps have a chance to prove themselves to everyone. Playing in their first game that will attract anything close to a national audience – they’re on ESPN, playing No. 23 Purdue is what is the marquee early game of the day – Maryland will have a chance to, more or less, give us our first impression of who they are and what they can be. Are they truly a Big Ten title contender? Are they a team that can get to the Final Four? If they are, they should be able to beat Purdue at home.

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3. Jim Boeheim goes for his 1,000th win on Saturday: Syracuse won for the 999th time with Jim Boeheim as their head coach on Saturday, coming from 17 points down in the second half to knock off N.C. State on the road. They will host No. 9 Virginia this weekend with the chance for Boeheim to win for the 1,000th time in his long, illustrious and – dare I say it – tarnished career.

In the eyes of the NCAA, it is.

Thanks to a ruling that came down last year, Syracuse had to vacate 101 of Boeheim’s 999 wins due to various infractions the program had committed over the course of the last decade. What that means is that beating Virginia on Saturday would give Boeheim 899 career wins in the eyes of the NCAA, who will be watching the Orange closely on Saturday.

“The NCAA has written and sent us a letter. We got a letter right away,” Boeheim told the Syracuse-Post Standard this week. “‘You delete all these, and this is how many wins you have. Period.’ We’re forbidden from saying something in the Dome at any time. Or post anything. Or congratulate in any way.”

So what that means is that instead of being on the verge of being celebrated for becoming just the second men’s Division I coach – and just the fourth Division I coach, period, behind Coach K, Pat Summitt and Tara Vanderveer – to ascend the 1,000 win plateau, Boeheim will find himself just one win away from winning his second 900th game.

And I get it, I guess.

The NCAA’s gotta do what they gotta do, even if vacating wins is the single-dumbest punishment in the history of punishments.

But keep in mind that, with a win on Saturday, Boeheim will be doing something that has only happened once before in men’s Division I basketball.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jim Boeheim (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

4. The Pac-12 title race may come to an end Saturday: If No. 5 Arizona goes into Eugene and knocks off No. 13 Oregon on Saturday, the Wildcats will, for all intents and purposes, have basically locked up the Pac-12 title.

They’ll be two games up on Oregon and three games up on UCLA with a home game left against the Bruins while the Ducks will still have to head to Pauley Pavilion for their rematch. At the risk of jinxing a good thing, that’s as close to a lock as you can get for a team that’s sitting pretty with a 21-2 record and a 10-0 mark in the Pac-12 entering the weekend.

And to think, this was supposed to be the year where Arizona came back to earth. Terrence Ferguson went pro in Australia. Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time. Allonzo Trier sat out the first 19 games of the season. Sean Miller was forced to rely on a pair of freshmen guards and a 7-foot forward from Finland to headline a roster with seven healthy guys.

5. Kentucky’s SEC title could be in jeopardy this weekend: The Wildcats have been in a rut the last two weeks. They lost at Tennessee, they lost at home to Kansas, they nearly lost at home to Georgia and their star point guard has a stomach bug. Should I mention that on Saturday, they get the pleasure of tripping down to Gainesville to play No. 24 Florida, a team that currently sits 9th in KenPom’s rankings.

Fun!

Kentucky is currently tied atop the SEC with South Carolina, a game in front of Florida. A Gator win would, in all likelihood, drop Kentucky out of the top spot in the league standings with just eight games left in league play.

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.