Sweet 16 Breakdowns: How the East will be won

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
1 Comment

The East Region was completely blown up when No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 2 seed Duke lost in the second round as we have an unexpected Sweet 16 doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

While things have certainly changed in the East Region, it has also become completely wide open as we’re going to see some very unique matchups from some teams we didn’t expect to see. 

Here’s a look at how things stand in the East Region.

No. 3 BAYLOR

How they can get to the Final Four: The Bears started this season 15-0 and looked like one of the best teams in the country before the Big 12 deflated expectations a little bit. Now that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have been eliminated from the East Region, Baylor is the top seed with a decent draw to make it to Glendale.

Scott Drew’s team is very sound on the offensive and defensive end this season (No. 26 and No. 3 in KenPom) and the key for the Bears is getting the ball inside and continuing to be effective scoring the ball. Among teams left in the 2017 NCAA tournament field, the Bears score the most points in the paint per game (45 per game) of anyone as All-American forward Johnathan Motley is one of the field’s best remaining players.

Offensive rebounding is another huge factor in the points-in-the-paint discussion for Baylor as they grab 40 percent of their misses, No. 3 in Division I this season.

Baylor shoots a respectable 35.6 percent from three-point range, but with their brutally slow tempo (No. 329) and lack of attempts, they need to be getting inside and finishing around the bucket.

Defensively, if the Bears stay out of foul trouble then they have the length and athleticism to give any team fits. Center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is one of the nation’s premier shot blockers and Baylor’s defense also has the length of Motley and the toughness of Ish Wainwright to help on the interior.

If Baylor guards like Manu Lecomte and Al Freeman are dialed in and hitting shots, then the Bears should have enough offense and a consistent enough defense to make it to Glendale.

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Why they won’t get to the Final Four

Baylor happens to be facing a team that specializes in limiting points in the paint in No. 7 seed South Carolina in the Sweet 16 as that could make for a tough matchup if the red-hot Gamecocks continue to hit shots.

The Bears also need to prove that they can consistently hold onto the ball and limit turnovers. There have been times when the Baylor backcourt has looked shaky this season.

Baylor is 305th in the country in turnover percentage at 20.5 percent and in six of the Bears’ seven losses this season they’ve been higher than that.

Since Baylor likes to play such a slow-tempo game, stretches of turnovers and sloppy play for its offense can lead to prolonged periods of time without scoring.

If an opposing team gets even a little bit hot with a few three-pointers during that stretch then Baylor might be playing from behind towards the end of a game as a shaky perimeter shooting team.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

No. 4 FLORIDA

How they can get to the Final Four

When you discuss the most impressive teams of the first weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Florida has to be in the discussion among the first few teams. The Gators have been impressive so far in running past East Tennessee State and Virginia for decisive double-digit wins as they are the better seed for their Sweet 16 matchup with No. 8 seed Wisconsin.

Florida’s defense is very strong as the Gators come in at No. 3 in KenPom. The Gators feature a lot of length and athleticism across multiple positions. Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen are both great athletes and Devin Robinson can cover a ton of ground at the four to make up for anything Canyon Barry can’t cover. Kevarrius Hayes is also a plus rim protector who is getting more minutes with John Egbunu out with injury.

That defense also turns over opponents 21.1 percent of the time as it can get Florida a lot of easy buckets.

Offensively, the Gators are balanced as nobody averages more than 13.5 points per game as Allen, Barry and Robinson are the team’s three best players. The play of Hill and Chris Chiozza could decide Florida’s fate. If those two are getting easy looks for others and finishing plays then Florida is in significantly better shape.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four

Florida just doesn’t have a go-to player who can go and get things done when the game is tight. While the Gators have a lot of guys who put up puts behind a balanced rotation, they also get a lot of inconsistent play from guys like Hill and Robinson.

The length and athleticism isn’t going away from Florida, so they should be able to keep defending at a high level, but they have an offense that is prone to poor stretches of play. The Gators are a very average No. 116 in effective field goal percentage this season and they can be a shaky team shooting the ball from the perimeter at 36.2 percent from three-point range.

With Egbunu missing, Florida just isn’t as strong as they were inside as they miss his depth and athleticism on the interior. Hayes has been a nice replacement who can still protect the rim but the Gators have had to play Keith Stone more minutes down the stretch.

Without a go-to presence and a shaky offense, Florida might have issues in tight games against so many strong defensive teams in the East Region.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA

How they can get to the Final Four

One of the NCAA Tournament’s most unique storylines is South Carolina’s Sweet 16 run. The Gamecocks winning their first NCAA tournament games since 1973 is cool, but more importantly, South Carolina’s offense is clicking at the right time.

Struggling to put up points for much of the season–South Carolina is 45.7 percent on two-point field goals this season, which is 301st in the country–the Gamecocks suddenly dropped 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke as South Carolina got hot over a few games.

Part of that is senior Sindarius Thornwell playing at a very high level but South Carolina also has a deep roster that comes at you in waves.

If South Carolina can even shoot remotely close to how they did in the first weekend then they can rely on its rugged and physical defense to force turnovers and also create more offense.

The Gamecocks have the No. 4 defense on KenPom and are No. 4 in defensive turnover percentage, so they can create issues in a hurry by turning other teams over to get back into games.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four

Teams that shoot 45.1 percent from two-point range tend to lose against the best teams in the country, so South Carolina’s woefully inconsistent offense is going to be the focus in New York.

We already know that South Carolina is going to be fine defensively while bringing a lot of intensity on the glass but their offense has to be good enough for them to get buckets at the end of close games.

Not only does South Carolina struggle to make shots from all over the floor but they have a turnover rate of 18.6 percent that is No. 185 in the country, so they can also be loose with the ball against strong defensive teams.

And getting consistent help for Thornwell is also going to be necessary. The talented senior has received double-digit scoring efforts from both Chris Silve and Duane Notice during both games of the tournament while P.J. Dozier had a big game against Marquette.

But can all four of those guys play at a high level to get past Baylor? That remains to be seen.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

No. 8 WISCONSIN

How they can get to the Final Four

Already knocking off defending champion and No. 1 seed Villanova, Wisconsin has the reassurance of already beating the best team they would face in the East Region.

With an experienced and veteran group led by seniors Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, the Badgers have made the Sweet 16 four consecutive years. Factoring in the two Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015, and this senior group has been apart of 17 NCAA Tournament games over the last four years.

That kind of experience matters and it doesn’t hurt that Madison Square Garden should be mostly red for a Wisconsin fanbase that travels incredibly well.

As for the on-the-court play, the Badgers will want to slow the game down, limit turnovers and pound the offensive glass as this team is bigger up front with Hayes, Brown and sophomore Ethan Happ, the team’s best player. Koenig and Showalter as the floor spacers and Hayes is a nifty passer for a big man.

If the Badgers control tempo and hit enough shots then they could be in good position to make another Final Four as No. 8 seed after doing so in 2000.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four:

The athleticism factor will be interesting to watch as Wisconsin advances through the East Region. With a game against Florida and a potential game against Baylor that means the Badgers would have to go against a lot of length and athleticism.

While the Gators want to play much faster than Wisconsin, Florida also had no issues playing slower and dismantling Virginia at a methodical pace. Florida has the No. 3 defense on KenPom and they have the type of athletes that could smother Wisconsin’s offense.

Not getting on the offensive glass, where the Badgers are 18th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, would also really hurt a Wisconsin offense that is so-so when it comes to shooting percentages.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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.