Bubble Banter: Vanderbilt is heading to the NCAA tournament

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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds listed below come from.

This post will be updated throughout the day.

WINNERS

Vanderbilt (RPI: 43, KenPom: 36, ): Mike White deserves credit for getting two teams to the NCAA tournament this year: Florida, who he coaches, and Vanderbilt, who picked off the Gators for the third time this season on Friday night. Vanderbilt should be in the tournament at this point, even if they are going to have 15 losses to their names if they lose in the SEC tournament. Three wins over Florida speaks for itself, and those losses came was a result of one of the toughest schedules in college basketball this season. I don’t know how dangerous the Commodores will be in the Big Dance, but I do think that, after today, they will be there.

Middle Tennessee State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 51, No. 11 seed): The Blue Raiders took care of business in the Conference USA semifinals, getting themselves to the league title game, where they will play for the right to have a stress-free Selection Sunday. A loss would be very, very interesting, as MTSU doesn’t have a great profile but they have some quality wins and would be 29-5 on the season. They beat UNC Wilmington on a neutral. They beat Vanderbilt by 23. They won at Ole Miss and at Belmont. That’s pretty good. The problem is that a loss in the CUSA title game would mean they have four sub-100 losses, which is the exact number of top 100 wins they have. That’s not a good combination.

Rhode Island (RPI: 45, KenPom: 52, first four out): Rhode Island knocked off St. Bonaventure on Thursday afternoon, putting the Rams in a weird spot. On the one hand, Davidson knocked off top-seeded Dayton in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, which opened up that side of the Atlantic 10 bracket for the Rams. Their path to the title game is unquestionably easier now. The problem? Dayton would have been a significantly better win for their résumé, which currently is only strong enough to put them right on the cut line. They have a better chance of winning the league’s automatic bid now, but they very well may have to if they want to get in at this point.

VCU (RPI: 23, KenPom: 50, No. 10 seed): VCU advanced to the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament with a win over George Mason, which probably gets them into the tournament. The only reason the Rams are on this list at this point is that they may not have a strong enough profile to survive a bad loss.

LOSERS

Kansas State (RPI: 55, KenPom: 31, play-in game): The Wildcats blew a 12-point deficit in the second half against West Virginia, which leaves Kansas State in a precarious situation. They have the two wins over Baylor and a handful of other quality wins to their name, but they probably needed to beat West Virginia to really feel comfortable about their chances on Selection Sunday. It’s going to be a sweat, but as of today, I think they’re going to be on the right side of the bubble.

Xavier (RPI: 30, KenPom: 42, No. 11 seed): Xavier lost to Creighton in a nail-biter on Friday night, but the Musketeers should still be OK. Their win over Butler was good and they played well even in a loss to the Bluejays. Xavier’s issue is less their résumé and more whether or not they are the same team that got those wins earlier this year. I think they are.

Cal (RPI: 53, KenPom: 57, first four out): Cal is probably going to miss the tournament after losing to Oregon on Friday night. The Golden Bears have decent numbers and don’t lose to bad teams, but their only quality win came at USC. That’s just not going to be enough to cut it this year, even with this disaster of a bubble.

Georgia (RPI: 48, KenPom: 55, first four out): The Bulldogs are probably going to miss the NCAA tournament. They had a shot to get themselves onto the right side of the bubble with a game against Kentucky today, but the Bulldogs dug themselves an 18-point hole and couldn’t work their way out of it. The NIT beckons.

Indiana (RPI: 70, KenPom: 39, next four out): Indiana had a chance to play their way into consideration with a win over Wisconsin. They lost. For my money, the Hoosiers are out.

Houston (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, next four out): Houston needed to get to the AAC tournament finals to have any shot at an at-large bid. They lost to UConn in the quarters.

 

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.