Iowa State upsets No. 15 West Virginia as the Mountaineers could be in serious trouble

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Iowa State picked up a blowout win over No. 15 West Virginia on Wednesday night as the Cyclones used some “Hilton Magic” to earn a 93-77 Big 12 home win.

While Iowa State (12-9, 3-6) had a balanced scoring effort to earn its biggest win of the season — getting huge outings from guards Donovan Jackson (25 points) and Lindell Wigginton (22 points) — the real story in this one is the continued freefall of West Virginia after a promising start to the 2017-2018 season.

Ranked as the No. 2 team in the country three weeks ago, the Mountaineers started the season at 15-1 with a 4-0 mark in the Big 12. After another meltdown against the Cyclones on Wednesday, West Virginia (16-6, 5-4) has lost five of its last six games while playing in the nation’s deepest conference.

So what happened to West Virginia to cause its sudden reversal? Opponents are figuring out the vaunted press that head coach Bob Huggins has used so successfully over the past few years.

After scoring only 45 points total in an ugly home loss to Tennessee over the weekend, Iowa State put up 53 points on the Mountaineers in the first half after West Virginia struggled to force turnovers. Giving up eye-opening point totals during a 20-minute stretch has been a common trend for the Mountaineers during this recent skid.

West Virginia has blown three second-half, double-digit leads during that span. The second half of games, overall, has been abysmal for the Mountaineers in recent weeks. They allowed 50 points in the second half to Kentucky, 47 points to TCU and 43 points to Kansas — all of them losses. And keep in mind that this team was ranked No. 16 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, entering Wednesday night’s game. Defense and forcing turnovers is West Virginia’s identity.

The Iowa State first-half blitz is the outlier of that recent stretch, but it also shows that if a team is prepared to face West Virginia’s press then the Mountaineers are in serious trouble. The losses to Kentucky, TCU and Kansas all signified teams who made halftime adjustments and were able to put up serious points in a hurry once they figured out West Virginia’s first wave of defenders.

Iowa State didn’t even need a halftime break to beat the brakes off of West Virginia. The Cyclone backcourt of Jackson and Wigginton tore up the press and was good to go from the start.

That could be the main issue for West Virginia.

Now that we’re in the heart of conference play, teams in the Big 12 aren’t intimidated by “Press Virginia.” All of the Big 12’s coaches and players have faced the Mountaineers two-to-three times each season over the last few years. They know what to expect.

If a Big 12 team has strong guard play, and limits turnovers, like Iowa State did with only eight turnovers on Wednesday, then West Virginia is forced to create offense in the half court. That’s never been a strength for this group. As NBC colleague Rob Dauster noted, Mountaineer leading scorer Jevon Carter puts up more ridiculous shots than perhaps any All-American candidate in the country because West Virginia is so desperate for consistent half-court offense.

West Virginia is also still trying to effectively integrate Esa Ahmad back into the rotation since his return to the team. The second leading scorer and rebounder for the Mountaineers last season, Ahmad has looked visibly rusty since his return, as he went scoreless playing a combined 36 minutes in the losses to TCU and Kentucky.

A team that once looked like a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is now desperately trying to prevent themselves from falling out of the top 25 all in the course of a month. And it doesn’t get any easier for West Virginia from here. The four teams that beat the Mountaineers in the Big 12 all get another crack at West Virginia. Shaky on the road during some recent games, the Mountaineers also have plenty of games away from Morgantown.

Once regarded as one of the best teams in college hoops, West Virginia should still be safely in the Field of 68. But they certainly don’t look like the darkhorse Final Four team that some predicted.

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.