Sunday’s Things to Know: Houston wins AAC title; three autobids earned; bubble madness in the Big Ten

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The final regular-season Sunday in college basketball had some drama as a major conference title was decided. On the postseason side, three more autobids were also claimed while the bubble had some action as well.

Houston runs past Cincinnati to claim AAC regular-season title

Houston earned its first regular-season conference title since 1992 with a convincing 85-69 road win at No. 20 Cincinnati. The No. 12 Cougars poured on 48 second-half points as they went on a 35-12 run to put the game away. Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points while freshman Nate Hinton produced a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds — knocking down some key three-pointers to ignite the comeback run.

For the fourth time in the last six games, Houston scored at least 85 points, which is a notable accomplishment considering the Cougars generally prefer to play on the slower side (232nd in adjusted tempo on KenPom). Houston already has a top-15 defense, so if its offense is getting hot before the postseason, then it’s a trend to keep an eye on during Championship Week.

Autobids handed out to Bradley, Gardner-Webb and Liberty

Sunday didn’t have very many regular-season games left. But there were plenty of conference tournaments to keep track of with three autobids being handed out in traditionally one-bid leagues.

The Big South kicked the autobid day off as Gardner-Webb earned its first NCAA tournament bid in school history by knocking off Radford for a true road win. With back-to-back true road wins during the conference tournament, the Bulldogs certainly earned their way into the Field of 68 with two difficult wins.

Things got crazy during the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference title game shortly after as Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to stun Northern Iowa. A day after knocking out a Final Four team from last year in Valley No. 1 seed Loyola, the Braves followed it up with their eighth win of the season in which they were trailing at halftime to come back and win. This will be Bradley’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 when they stunned the nation as a No. 13 seed who made the Sweet 16.

Finally, Liberty gutted out yet another road win for a team in an autobid situation by advancing in front of a sold-out crowd at Lipscomb. A high-level game featuring two teams who deserve a real look from the NCAA tournament committee, the Flames are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. While Liberty is a potentially-dangerous double-digit seed, Lipscomb remains on the bubble as they have a long week of waiting ahead.

The bubble gets crazy in the Big Ten

Among bubble teams playing on Sunday, things got especially chaotic in the Big Ten. Indiana began the conference’s bubble day with a home win over Rutgers. Winners of four consecutive games, the Hoosiers have played their way back into the serious at-large discussion after a mid-season freefall.

Later in the afternoon, No. 21 Wisconsin outlasted Ohio State for an overtime road win that brutally hurts the Buckeyes’ bubble profile. Rallying from 23 points down to tie the game and force overtime, this was a golden opportunity for Ohio State to add some insurance by getting another Q1 win. Instead, they’ve dropped three straight games as the slide continues entering the postseason.

These two results mean that Thursday’s Big Ten tournament matchup between Indiana and Ohio State will have massive implications for the bubble. Both of these teams appear to be teetering right on the edge of the cut line as this result could ultimately put one team in while leaving the other team out of the proceedings.

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.