No. 7 Texas Tech now the favorite to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12

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If the streak is going to end, if the one certainty in college basketball — that Kansas will win the Big 12 regular season title — is no longer guaranteed, this is the year for it.

For the first time since Bill Self inherited the Kansas program from Roy Williams back in 2003, Kansas lost four Big 12 games before Feb. 23rd after they fell at Baylor, 80-64. Hell, they’ve only done this five times in the previous 14 seasons. They’ve never lost more than five Big 12 games with Self as their head coach. It’s also the first time that Self lost three games in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in one year, the first time that two of those losses came by double-figures and, if things hold, the first time since the run of Big 12 titles started that Kansas will finish the season ranked as low as 15th in KenPom.

Put another way, this is as beatable as Kansas as ever been under Self.

But they’ve been beatable before. There just hasn’t been anyone in the league good enough to, you know, beat them, to take the Big 12 regular season title for their own.

In 2006, after beating Kansas by 25 points to take over sole possession of first place in the Big 12 by a game, Texas turned around and lost at Texas A&M their next time out. Kansas shared the title. In 2008, holding a one game lead in the Big 12 race with just three games remaining, Texas lost at Texas Tech, sharing another league title with the Jayhawks. In 2013, Kansas State entered the final Saturday of the regular season tied for first place with Kansas, but on a day where Baylor blew out the Jayhawks by 23 points, Kansas State couldn’t find a way to win at Oklahoma State. Again, they shared the title. Iowa State had a chance in 2015, but they lost two of their last four games of the regular season, and Kansas would eventually win the league title outright despite losing five Big 12 games that season.

Which begs the question: Is No. 7 Texas Tech actually good enough to be the team that gets this done?

We know it’s not going to be Oklahoma. The Sooners have now lost three in a row after they fell at Iowa State on Saturday. They’ve lost six of their last eight games and their last five road games with road trips to Texas Tech and Kansas left on the schedule. West Virginia might have a shot, but they still have to play at Kansas — who beat them in Morgantown — and get Texas Tech again.

So Texas Tech then.

It’s there for the taking, more than it’s ever been there before.

With just three weeks left in the regular season, the Red Raiders currently hold a one game lead on Kansas in the Big 12 standings after they went into Manhattan and snuffed out Kansas State the way closing the vents on a grill snuffs out the last remnants of heat on those coals. The final score was 66-47, and it never felt in doubt. It’s the sixth straight win for Chris Beard’s club, their third straight on the road after losing four of their first five road games.

The Red Raiders seem to have solved the issues they had adjusting to life without Zach Smith, who went down in early January with a broken foot, and as a result they’re playing some of their best hoop of the season.

But here’s the most important part: Texas Tech’s second game against Kansas is in Lubbock, where the Red Raiders have not lost a game all season long. Let’s assume that Kansas loses that game. Let’s assume that one of the toughest teams in college basketball beats up on a Kansas team that has lacked exactly that all year long. Let’s assume that one of the nation’s top three defenses, a team that allows opponents to shoot just 31 percent from three and forces turnovers on 24 percent of their defensive possessions finds a way to keep one of the nation’s most three-point reliant teams from getting hot beyond the arc.

Assuming all that happens, the Jayhawks will have to make up a two-game deficit just to earn a share of the Big 12 title. This is a Kansas team that lost at home to Oklahoma State. This is a Kansas team that lost by 16 points to Baylor, who entered Saturday in last place in the Big 12. They play West Virginia and Oklahoma and Iowa State’s Hilton Magic before they even face off with Texas Tech.

Considering where Chris Beard was six years ago — coaching an expansion ABA franchise that didn’t have a single player on the roster when he was hired in late July — it’s remarkable that he has gotten Texas Tech to this place in just his second season with the program.

But none of that will matter if Beard and Texas Tech cannot finish the job.

And for once, I think we finally have found a team that will be up to that task.

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.