Big Ten tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cassius Winston, Michigan State

The top three for Player of the Year in the Big Ten is a tight race, but the way the season ended solidified Winston as the recipient in my mind. Michigan State lost two of their three best players to injury this year, which meant that the entire load of the offense was thrust upon Winston’s shoulders. Not only did he deliver, but he did so while winning a share of the Big Ten regular season title and sweeping in-state rival Michigan in the process. Should I mention that he won a pair of duels against his nemesis Zavier Simpson, too?

BIG TEN COACH OF THE YEAR: Matt Painter, Purdue

Purdue was a borderline top 25 team heading into the season, but in hindsight, that was probably a poor choice. The Boilermakers rolled through the Big Ten and shook off a slow start to the season en route to a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Carsen Edwards put up numbers all season long, but it was the emergence of players like Grady Eifert, Ryan Cline and Trevion Williams that made all the difference in the world for this team.

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG TEN

  • CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
  • ZAVIER SIMPSON, Michigan
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG TEN

  • ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland
  • ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
  • IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan
  • JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota
  • LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State

BIG TEN TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-17
WHERE: Chicago
FINAL: March 17, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

FAVORITE: Michigan State (+175)

For my money, Michigan State is probably the most likely team to win this tournament. I say that because I trust them on both sides of the ball more than I trust just about anyone else in the conference. Regardless of who has been on the floor for them this season, the Spartans have been elite defensively. They are the ninth-best defense in college hoops, according to KenPom, and they are actually better offensively than they are defensively — that is the Cassius Winston factor.

That said, the concern for me here would be Winston’s legs. At what point does he get tired having to carry such a massive load game in and game out? Maybe it’s not the second game in two days, but three games in three days against good basketball teams is enough to tire anyone, let alone a player that gets the usage Winston gets.

But … I mean, is there anyone else you think you can trust fully in this conference? WISCONSIN (+500) has a superstar that gets Hack-a-Happed late in games. MICHIGAN (+250) can go weeks without scoring. PURDUE (+350) has been great, but I’ll always have a tough time trusting a team where the best player is a streaky, inefficient volume scorer.

So it’s the Spartans, I guess.

SLEEPER: Maryland (+900)

The Terps ended up as the No. 5 seed in this tournament, but they actually have a pretty good draw here. If they can get out of the first round they draw the Badgers in the quarterfinals where they can put two different NBA big men on Ethan Happ. I think they can beat Michigan State, assuming Michigan State gets past Indiana, and there is nothing about Purdue or Michigan that truly scares me if I’m Mark Turgeon … other than Zavier Simpson’s sky-hooks.

BEST VALUE: Indiana (+2500)

The two hottest teams in the Big Ten right now were both dumpster fires in January. Indiana lost 12 of 13 games at one point this season while PENN STATE (+1500) opened league play with 10 straight losses.

Indiana is the better value here. They have won four in a row heading into the Big Ten tournament — including wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin — and look like they are finally playing with some confidence. Not only are they getting much better odds, but the way the bracket shakes out works for them. OHIO STATE (+6000) really shouldn’t scare anyone even with Kaleb Wesson back in the mix, and if the Hoosiers get to the quarterfinals, they will play a Michigan State team they swept this season.

The Nittany Lions don’t have quite as good of a draw. They get Minnesota in the first round and Purdue in the quarterfinals. They lost to the Golden Gophers and got swept by the Boilermakers. That said, this is a different Penn State team now. They’ve won five of their last six and seven of their last ten, giving Pat Chambers a puncher’s chance at keeping his job. I like Indiana significantly more in this spot, but that’s mostly because of what they payout with a win.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

MINNESOTA (NET: 56, SOS: 37): Minnesota is probably going to be in the tournament regardless of what happens in Chicago. Penn State, at this point, is a Q1 opponent on a neutral court, so a loss to the Nittany Lions would only drop Minnesota to 3-10 against Q1 opponents. That said, I do think they could stand to win one more game. As of today, they are 3-9 against Q1 and 10-12 against Q1 and Q2 with three sub-100 road losses that all qualify as Q2. The win at Wisconsin (15) is going to look very good on Selection Sunday.

INDIANA (NET: 51, SOS: 45)
OHIO STATE (NET: 55, SOS: 53): Another play-out game to kick off a conference tournament!!! Indiana and Ohio State face-off in the 4-5 game of the Big Ten tournament at noon on Thursday, and it will be for the right to still be on the bubble come Selection Sunday. At this point, I think Indiana is in a much better spot. The Buckeyes had a good non-conference season, but they’ve fallen off a cliff in the last month. They lost their last three games without Kaleb Wesson and have lost six of their last eight in total. Indiana, on the other hand, has won four in a row — including Michigan State and Wisconsin — to put themselves in a spot where one win here could end up being enough.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Can anyone in the Big Ten climb up to the No. 1 seed line? I’m not sure that they can. Michigan State will likely be the closest if they can find a way to win the Big Ten tournament, and the Wolverines will also have a shot if things break their way, but I have a hard time seeing either of them leapfrog enough teams to get there. Part of the reason for that is I think Gonzaga and Virginia both have No. 1 seeds just about locked up, and Kentucky will likely play Tennessee and Duke will likely play North Carolina before the finals of their conference tournaments.

There are also some jobs on the line. Is this going to be the end of the Tim Miles era in Lincoln? Will this be the last that we see of Pat Chambers?

PREDICTION

I think that it gets wild in this event. I think Indiana gets to the finals. I think that Illinois wins two games. I think that Penn State can win two games. I would love to see Michigan-Michigan State part three or Indiana-Purdue for the tournament title, but I have a feeling we are going to be watching Maryland play Penn State, or something else totally off the board, before the Selection Show commences.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

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.