Bubble Banter: The SEC-Big 12 Challenge is a big chance for a number of teams

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.


N.C. STATE (RPI: 70, KenPom: 74, NBC seed: First four out): The Wolfpack will go down as Saturday’s big winner, as they landed a road win over North Carolina, who is currently 5th in the RPI. Kevin Keatts’ club now has wins over Duke (1), Clemson (6) and Arizona (15), the latter of which came on a neutral floor. Losses to UNC Greensboro at home and Northern Iowa on a neutral floor are not ideal — both are Quadrant 3 losses — but I challenge you to find any program with four wins as good as N.C. State’s four wins.

ALABAMA (RPI: 33, KenPom: 58, NBC seed: 11): Alabama added another excellent win to a profile that already looks like it is strong enough to earn the Crimson Tide an at-large bid as they knocked off Trae Young and Oklahoma on Saturday. Alabama now has three Quadrant 1 wins — which could become four if Texas A&M rights their ship — and nothing worse than a Quadrant 2 loss. The big concern? Alabama’s five-best wins all came at home. They’ve only beaten BYU (69) and Memphis (107) on a neutral and LSU (84) on the road. They still have work left to do, but as of today, the Tide are in a really good spot.

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 54, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: 10): Is there a hotter team in the country than Kansas State right now? The Wildcats have won four games in a row — including Oklahoma (9) and TCU (16) — and it would be six if Barry Brown hadn’t missed a game-winner at Kansas. The Wildcats have just two Quadrant 1 wins right now, and the combination of a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked 344th (before Saturday’s win over Georgia) and a home loss to Tulsa (122) keeps Kansas State less safe than they feel like they should be.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 77, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: Next four out): Has anyone had a better week than Virginia Tech? Six days ago, they were barely in consideration for an at-large bid. Now, after beating North Carolina on Tuesday and winning at Notre Dame (60) on Saturday, they now have four Quadrant 1 wins. They’ll need more with a non-conference SOS of 319, but seven of their last nine games come against RPI top 20 teams.

TEXAS (RPI: 41, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: 9): The Longhorns took care of business at home on Saturday afternoon against an Ole Miss (75) team that is better than their 11-10 record would indicate. With four Quadrant 1 wins and nothing worse than a Quadrant 2 loss to their name, the Longhorns are in a great spot. The Big 12 is a bear, which means that there are going to be plenty of chances for big wins … and more than a few opportunities to take a loss.

UCLA (RPI: 65, KenPom: 59, NBC seed: Out): I think the Bruins are closer to the NCAA tournament than they are getting credit for right now, but it’s really going to come down to the next two weeks: USC (38), at Arizona (15), at Arizona State (42). I think they need to win at least two of those games.

FLORIDA STATE (RPI: 39, KenPom: 24, NBC seed: 8): The Seminoles picked up a Quadrant 1 win on Saturday, knocking off Miami (14) at home in overtime. That’s the third Quadrant 1 win that FSU has to their name. Throw in a 16-5 record with four Quadrant 1 losses and a Quadrant 2 loss, and Leonard Hamilton’s club is in a really good spot. The one thing to keep an eye on: Their non-conference SOS is 308th. That’s bad enough that it could be the difference between a couple seed lines.

ARKANSAS (RPI: 22, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: 9): The Razorbacks landed a home win over Oklahoma State (79), which isn’t a great win. The Hogs are 15-6 on the season now, and their toughest remaining games on the schedule are at home. They’re in a good spot.

BUTLER (RPI: 29, KenPom: 35, NBC seed: 9): Butler smoked St. John’s, which is relevant for one reason and one reason only: Losing to St. John’s would be bad, as would losing to DePaul or Georgetown at home.

BOISE STATE (RPI: 43, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Play-in game): Boise State did not lose at Air Force (239). Their only chance of getting an at-large is to win out, which includes Nevada (18) at home.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 34, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: First four out): Syracuse beat Pitt. Pitt is terrible. A loss could have been a killer for the Orange because they don’t have much in the way of good wins. Buffalo (26) at home is the only Quadrant 1 win, and Georgetown (163) is their only road win.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 28, KenPom: 51, NBC seed: 11) and WESTERN KENTUCKY (RPI: 47, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: Next four out): The Conference USA foes both won on Saturday. WKU has the better win while Boise State doesn’t have losses that are nearly as bad. I honestly don’t think either ends up being an at-large bid by the end of the year.

NEBRASKA (RPI: 63, KenPom: 63, NBC seed: Out): I think Nebraska is drawing dead tight now. They don’t have a top 100 win away from home, they don’t have a Quadrant 1 win and they only play one top 100 team the rest of the season. Congrats on beating Iowa (139), though.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (RPI: 74, KenPom: 79, NBC seed: Out): The Bulldogs landed themselves a nice win at home on Saturday, knocking off Missouri (40). They have so much more work to do, however. MSU has just one win away from home — Southern Miss (194) on a neutral — and just two top 85 wins.


TEXAS A&M (RPI: 31, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: First four out): There really is no shame in losing at Kansas, like the Aggies did on Saturday. The bigger issue is that they have now lost seven of their last nine games and have not won on the road since picking off USC (38) on Nov. 26th. The good news? None of their losses are terrible, and a win over West Virginia (21) on a neutral and that win at USC will both age well.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 60, KenPom: 29, NBC seed: Next four out): The Irish lost their fifth straight on Saturday. They’re now 12-8 on the season with three sub-100 losses, only one of which is a Quadrant 2 loss. Six of their last ten games are on the road. They need Bonzie Colson back.

SOUTH CAROLINA (RPI: 52, KenPom: 68, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Gamecocks wasted a great opportunity to add another Quadrant 1 win to the résumé, as they blew a late lead at home against Texas Tech. The good news for Frank Martin’s club is that those wins over Kentucky and at Florida aren’t going anywhere, and they will have plenty of chances to add to their profile in SEC play.

LSU (RPI: 84, KenPom: 57, NBC seed: Next four out): The Tigers are in the midst of a three-week stretch that will determine their tournament chances. They started it with a blowout loss at Auburn (7), their fourth loss in five games. Their next five games: at Tennessee (12), Arkansas (22), at Florida (37), Ole Miss (75) and at Alabama (33).

GEORGIA (RPI: 55, KenPom: 69, NBC seed: First four out): The Bulldogs were in a great spot three weeks ago. Since then, they’ve lost five of their last six games to drop to 12-8 on the season, not a good thing when you’ve lost to San Diego State (121) on a neutral and at UMass (184). They’re not all that far from the cut line right now, but this thing is trending the wrong way.

MISSOURI (RPI: 40, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: Play-in game): Losing at Mississippi State on Saturday certainly didn’t help matters for the Tigers, but that’s not devastating. That’s a Quadrant 1 opponent, and Mizzou has three Quadrant 1 wins and two more Quadrant 2 wins. The biggest issue? That neutral court loss to Illinois, a Quadrant 4 loss.

UTAH (RPI: 49, KenPom: 70, NBC seed: Out): Already well on the wrong side of the bubble, Utah lost at Arizona, which is their last game against an elite team this season. They are going to need to win games in the Pac-12 tournament to have a chance.

OKLAHOMA STATE (RPI: 79, KenPom: 64, NBC seed: Out): Losing at Arkansas (22) is hardly a bad loss. But with just two Quadrant 1 wins and one other Quadrant 2 win and a non-conference SOS of 322 (before the game at Arkansas), they have ground to make up.

BAYLOR (RPI: 86, KenPom: 42, NBC seed: Out): The Bears can certainly play their way back into contention, but after losing at Florida on Saturday, they’ve lost five of six and seven of nine. They have a lot of ground to make up.

IOWA STATE (RPI: 81, KenPom: 100, NBC seed: Out): As of today the Cyclones are in a tough spot. Beating Tennessee at home would have helped; they lost by 23. But there are eight Quadrant 1 wins left on their schedule. It would be a helluva, but there is a road to get there.

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.