Jayson Tatum shines as No. 18 Duke knocks off No. 8 North Carolina at home

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Grayson Allen scored 25 points and Jayson Tatum chipped in with 19 points, all of which came in the second half, nine boards and five assists as No. 18 Duke knocked off No. 8 North Carolina, 86-78, in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday night.

Luke Kennard chipped in with 20 points of his own as Duke moved to within a game of first place in the ACC regular season standings.

Justin Jackson led the way with 21 points for North Carolina, but he was quieted down the stretch. Joel Berry II finished with 15 points for the Tar Heels, who got Theo Pinson back but played this game without one of their starting big men, Isaiah Hicks.

Duke is now 4-0 since fully embracing small-ball by playing Tatum at the four, while UNC suffered their first loss with Pinson in the lineup.

Here are five things that we can take away from this game:

1. This was the Jayson Tatum break out game: The second half on Thursday was the first time all season long that we’ve had a chance to see Jayson Tatum take over a game.

After going scoreless in the first half – he didn’t actually play poorly, more on that in a second – Tatum exploded for all 19 of his points after the break. A potential top three pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum hasn’t really looked comfortable on the offensive end of the floor this season. Some of it is that he doesn’t seem to know where his shots are coming from, when he’s supposed to attack and when he’s supposed to keep the ball moving, where the help-side is coming from.

All of that disappeared in the final 20 minutes, as Tatum was hitting threes and beating bigger defenders off the dribble and overpowering smaller guards that tried to guard him. Should I mention the poster he put Kennedy Meeks on?

But it wasn’t just his offensive arsenal that was on display. We knew that was going to come with time. It was the team-high five assists that he had, four of which came in the first half. It was the team-high nine rebounds he finished with, spending much of his 32 minutes of the floor dealing with Meeks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye, UNC’s oversized front line. He even blocked a couple of shots for good measure.

Duke is quite clearly going all=in on small-ball, and the only way that can be effective is if Tatum is able to hold his own on the defensive end of the floor against bigger players, and that’s exactly what he did Thursday and what he’s done for the last four games.

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2. It’s funny what happens now that Duke has had everyone healthy for a little while: Duke has now won four straight games. All four of those games have come with Tatum at the four. Coach K is back. Everyone on the team is, for the most part, healthy; at least healthy enough to suit up every night. This is the first time all season long where the Blue Devils have been able to play, and practice, with all of their key pieces available.

Guys are learning their roles. They’re figuring out where in the offense they can get shots. They’re getting more comfortable playing with one another.

It really shouldn’t surprise you that having everyone available has led to things starting to come together for this group.

3. North Carolina is a different team when Theo Pinson plays: The thing to keep in mind about this loss for North Carolina: They were playing without one of their starters – the guy that was a key to counteracting Duke’s small-ball lineup – on the road in one of the toughest environments in college basketball, and they had a chance to win this thing down the stretch.

Put another way, the Tar Heels are really, really good, and nothing about this loss should impact your opinion on that.

The difference for them on Thursday was the return of Theo Pinson, who is a difference-maker for this group. Jackson is clearly UNC’s star and Berry is the guy that makes this offense tick, but Pinson provides something that no one else can. For starters, at 6-foot-6, he’s the best perimeter defender on the roster, a guy that’s athletic enough to guard twos and big enough to defend small-ball fours like Tatum, Josh Jackson and Dillon Brooks. Beyond that, he’s a tough rebounder, a playmaker and a guy that can stick a jumper when he’s left open.

There’s no one else on the roster that can play the role that he plays, and it’s not a coincidence that this is the first game UNC has lost with him available.

And when Pinson is playing, North Carolina may not have the highest-ceiling of anyone in the country, but I’m not sure if there are many elite teams that have a higher floor.

Theo Pinson
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

4. Depth is an issue for Duke because they have a lot of guys that just aren’t ready: For a team that has roughly 6,000 McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster it’s surprising just how much issues Duke has with depth. The reason why is pretty simple: Some of those youngsters they have just are not ready to play at this level yet.

The most glaring example is Marques Bolden, who played quite a few minutes on Thursday after managing all of just four minutes in his previous three games. He’s just a mess defensively, a guy that has no idea where he’s supposed to be and when he’s supposed to be there. Chase Jeter, when healthy, isn’t much better. Javin DeLaurier isn’t either. What that means is that Duke’s rotation is, essentially, limited to the five starters, Frank Jackson and Harry Giles III, who is still clearly dealing with the after-effects of the three knee surgeries that he’s had already.

He’s getting closer, but he still doesn’t have the strength, explosiveness or endurance that he needs.

5. The ACC title race is going to be nuts: We already knew that was going to be the case coming into the season, and it sure it living up to its promise. As it stands today, after Duke’s win, North Carolina is tied with Florida State for first place in the league with Virginia sitting a half-game off the pace. Syracuse is a game behind the Seminoles and the Tar Heels while Duke and Louisville sit a game-and-a-half back, just one game back in the loss column.

Throw in Notre Dame and Miami, and there are eight teams currently within two games of first place in the ACC.

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.