Title game to feature a Battle Of The Bigs we don’t often see in college basketball anymore

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Pace and space. Stretch fours. Small-ball fives.

In an era of basketball where the power forward has been Stephen Curry’d out of the game, where big wings with a shooting guard’s skill-set — Josh Jackson, Dillon Brooks, Jayson Tatum, Josh Hart — have made the Charles Oakleys of the world obsolete, it’s fitting that Monday night’s national title game will feature two teams that almost exclusively play two big men together.

That’s who Roy Williams has been his entire career, and it’s somewhat ironic. Williams is affectionately known as ‘Ole Roy’, a hillbilly from western North Carolina that somehow lucked his way into coaching the flagship program in his home state and his alma mater. The ‘aw, shucks’ schtick is one that he’s not afraid to play up, and, in turn, it’s helped play into this perception of Williams as a guy that does nothing but roll the ball out and let his talent takeover.

There may be something to that — this is a topic that I’m going to dive into later on today — but it’s worth noting that there are few coaches in college hoops that have bought into the mantra of extra possessions quite like Williams has, particularly when it comes to the offensive glass. Only once, in the 14 seasons that Williams has been the head coach of the Tar Heels, have they finished outside the top 30 in offensive rebounding percentage, and that just so happened to be the year that they went 25-11, entering the tournament as a No. 8 seed and exiting in the second round to Williams’ former school, Kansas.

That also happened to be the one year since he took over Carolina that Williams was forced to play a way that he didn’t want to play. With the mass exodus that came after UNC’s terrific 2012, a year where a broken bone in Kendall Marshall’s wrist was likely the only thing standing between those Tar Heels squaring off with Anthony Davis’ Kentucky Wildcats for a national title, Williams had one big man on his roster that could handle the rigors of the college game, and that was James Michael McAdoo. P.J. Hairston played the four that year.

(Photo by Chris Steppig – Pool/Getty Images)

This season, Williams is riding the size of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Make, who have combined to make the Tar Heels the best offensive rebounding team in the country. It won them a Final Four game on Saturday; UNC had 19 second-chance points off of 17 offensive rebounds, the final two of which came on missed free throws in the final 5.2 seconds of a 77-76 win. They pound the ball into the paint, they try to corral every missed shot and they dare you to play small against them. Oregon tried it. It didn’t work.

Gonzaga is one of the few teams in the country that won’t have to worry about the size of North Carolina’s front line because, frankly, they have more of it.

“I’m bigger than 99.9 percent of basketball players,” 7-foot-1, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski said earlier this week, failing to note that basketball players are bigger than 99.9 percent of people. Karnowski is joined on Gonzaga’s front-line by Johnathan Williams III, a 6-foot-10 power forward and former top 50 recruit that started his career at Missouri, and spent much of Saturday’s win over South Carolina playing alongside Zach Collins, a 7-foot McDonald’s All-American whose 14 points, 13 boards and six blocks in the game may have cemented his status as Mark Few’s first one-and-done player.

Those are the two guys that the Gonzaga offense runs through.

They’re also the guys that are going to be tasked with keeping North Carolina’s bigs from getting to the offensive glass.

That won’t be an easy ask, not when the Tar Heels are now just one win away from redemption, from masking the pain of last year’s heart-breaking loss in the national title with a ring of their own.

But it will be a battle that isn’t all that common amongst college basketball’s elite these days.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.