Iowa State stakes claim to title of Big 12’s best after dominant win over No. 5 Kansas

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The Big 12 title is going to run through Lawrence until it doesn’t, and an Iowa State win in a building that has played host to so many upset wins that the phrase ‘Hilton Magic’ was created doesn’t mean anything more than Ames, Iowa, never has and never will be a fun place for opposing Big 12 coaches to visit.

I know that.

You know that.

Bill Self and Steve Prohm know that.

But it should not take away from the statement that Iowa State made on Saturday afternoon.

The Cyclones got 24 points from Marial Shayok and shot 13-for-25 from three, pulling away from No. 5 Kansas in the second half of a 77-60 win over the Jayhawks in their Big 12 home opener.

And frankly, it’s not a result that should be all that surprising.

For starters, Kansas was playing without Udoka Azubuike, who suffered a sprained wrist in practice on Friday and was held out for precautionary measures. He’s expected to have an MRI in the coming days to determine the severity of the injury and just how much time he is actually going to miss. His absence was obvious, as the Jayhawks struggled to find a way to run their offense smoothly. They don’t have the guard play that they have had in recent seasons, which is why Bill Self has built his offense around throwing the ball into the post. Dedric Lawson is the best post-feeder on the roster, but when Azubuike is out, he is the guy that moves to the five and is asked to be that post presence.

That is the lineup that changed the game against Oklahoma on Wednesday night. Going small is when the Jayhawks made their run.

It did not work anywhere near as well on Saturday, which frankly, has more to do with Iowa State than it does anything else.

And that gets me to the larger point here: Iowa State is really, really good. This scoreline was not simply a result of a homecourt advantage wreaking havoc on a short-handed, highly-ranked team. This result was the byproduct of being better this year than anyone has acknowledged. It is far too early in the year to say this definitively, but there’s a chance that this group can be better than any team that Fred Hoiberg had during his five-year tenure with the Cyclones.

(It’s worth noting here that this group is currently 15th in KenPom, and Hoiberg never had a team finish better than 16th.)

The reason for that is that current head coach Steve Prohm has but together just about an ideal roster for the modern way that basketball is played. He starts four wings, all of whom stand between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6. The smallest of the four — Talen Horton-Tucker — checks in at 240 pounds and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. It makes them switchable and versatile on the defensive end of the floor, where Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb and Tyrese Haliburton can all guard up and down somewhere between adequately and effectively. Michael Jacobson starts at the five, where he is averaging 14.5 points and 6-2 boards, while Cameron Lard is probably their most talented big man and definitely is their best rim protector.

The Cyclones are historically a team that has a reputation for being soft on the defensive end, and that’s not this group.

They are, however, as dangerous on the offensive end of the floor as we’ve come to expect out of this program.

It’s starts with this: The best player in the program is Lindell Wigginton, a 6-foot-2 combo-guard that returned to action in the Big 12 opener after missing about a month with a foot injury. He’s one of three players on this roster that are skilled enough to play the point — Weiler-Babb is technically the starting point guard while Haliburton, a sneaky NBA prospect, is averaging 8.3 points, 4.5 boards, 4.2 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 45 percent from three. Throw in Horton-Tucker, and there are now four perimeter players on this team that are averaging 3.0 assists this season.

That doesn’t include Shayok, who is the leading scorer in the Big 12 at 20.1 points, and Horton-Tucker is the only member of that perimeter rotation that is not a dangerous three-point threat.

Think about that for a second.

Prohm can run out lineups where he has four players on the floor that are capable of being the handler in a ball-screen action while also being able to space the floor if someone else is the handler, and he can do it without sacrificing any of his defensive switchability.

This is what positionless basketball looks like, and we still haven’t seen their best.

Remember, Wigginton probably isn’t back to being himself quite yet. It takes a while to get back into shape and into a rhythm after missing as much time as he did. Solomon Young has missed 11 games. Lard missed the first five games of the season as well. Put another way, the best is yet to come, and to date, they’ve been pretty damn good.

What I like the most about this group is that this Iowa State team is built in the same vein as last year’s Villanova team was. They’re not as good, but they create many of the same matchup problems.

And it was those matchup problems that allowed those Wildcats to run over Kansas en route to the national title game.

It’s too early to predict that Iowa State will do the same in the Big 12 standings, not when Texas Tech might be the redneck version of Virginia and when Oklahoma is busy proving the Ewing Theory true.

But it’s not too early to say that the Cyclones are here to stay, or that if this group reaches their ceiling, it will be the better than any of the Hoiberg-era teams.

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.