SEC tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grant Williams, Tennessee

There was some speculation that, after a month of being the best player in the conference, P.J. Washington had overtaken Grant Williams in the SEC Player of the Year race. That seems silly now. Williams was the best player on the Vols all season long, the rock that they ran their offense through, and while it wasn’t enough to get Tennessee an SEC regular season title, it did keep them in contention for a No. 1 seed should they find a way to get out of Nashville with an SEC tournament title. Williams is the frontcourt version of Jalen Brunson — he’s not a look-the-part all-star, but he can absolutely dominate a game because of his intelligence and strength.

SEC COACH OF THE YEAR: Will Wade, LSU

This is a no-brainer for me. Wade beat out two top ten teams for the outright SEC title, and he did it while navigating a season in which he was ultimately suspended for his ties to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball and where one of his players, Wayde Sims, was shot and killed on the night before the first practice of the year.

FIRST TEAM ALL-SEC

  • GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee (POY)
  • TREMONT WATERS, LSU
  • ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee
  • P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky
  • CHRIS SILVA, South Carolina

SECOND TEAM ALL-SEC

  • BREEIN TYREE, Ole Miss
  • QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON, Mississippi State
  • JARED HARPER, Auburn
  • KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
  • DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

SEC TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-17
WHERE: Nashville
FINAL: March 17, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

FAVORITE: Tennessee (+150) or Kentucky (+180)

So who do you think is better?

That’s really what this comes down to.

Are you on the side of Tennessee, who just two weeks ago beat the brakes off of Kentucky in Knoxville? Or do you think that Kentucky, who two weeks before that completely embarrassed Tennessee in Lexington?

Personally, I fall on the side of the Volunteers, and that’s mostly because I’m always a sucker for veterans. Tennessee is old and tough and is finally getting Jordan Bone to play like the best guard in the SEC. Kentucky, on the other hand, needs an inconsistent P.J. Washington to be at his best if they are going to be at their best.

I also think the status of Reid Travis really matters here. He’s not always the best option at the five for Kentucky, but as we noted here, he is when Kentucky faces off with Tennessee. The biggest issue that I have with this potential rubber match is that it is going to happen in the semifinals, assuming seeds hold This should be for the SEC title.

SLEEPER: Auburn (+500)

The bracket could not have broken down more perfectly for Bruce Pearl’s club. They did not find a way to get into the top four, meaning that they do not get a bye into the quarterfinals, but as long as they dispatch of the winner of Georgia-Missouri, the Tigers will advance to take on SOUTH CAROLINA (+6500), who put together an impressive conference season despite the fact that they struggled so much early in the year. Win those two games, and the Tigers draw an LSU (+500) team that is playing without their head coach Will Wade and without star freshmen Javonte Smart and, potentially, Naz Reid.

BEST VALUE: No one?

The best value is probably Auburn, but I don’t really love any futures in this league tournament. I think the winner will be whoever wins the Tennessee-Kentucky semifinal, but I don’t want to bet on either of them because the odds just aren’t good. The top of the bracket is wide-open, but beyond Auburn, I just can’t see a short-handed LSU or South Carolina beating either Kentucky or Tennessee with an SEC title on the line.

So it’s Auburn, even if the 5:1 payout is not great.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

ALABAMA (NET: 58, SOS: 21): The Tide are probably on the wrong side of the cutline heading into the SEC tournament. With just a 2-9 record against Q1 opponents and a pair of Q2 losses — Texas A&M (82) and Georgia State (126) at home — they don’t have enough quality wins to make up for their 17-14 record. That said, they do have a home win over Kentucky and they did play a tough, tough schedule, so a run to the semis featuring wins over Ole Miss (25) and Kentucky again would probably be enough to get the job done.

FLORIDA (NET: 33, SOS: 28): Florida’s resume isn’t all that much different from Alabama’s. The Gators are 3-11 against Q1 with a win at LSU (14) highlighting their profile, but they have just six Q1 and Q2 wins combined and they lost to South Carolina (80) and Georgia (113) at home. It is worth noting, however, that Florida played five games against top 10 NET teams and currently sits at 1-9 against teams ranked in the top 25 of the NET. They had their chances. They missed on them.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Not only will Tennessee and Kentucky be playing for an SEC tournament title in Nashville, I think that they are going to be playing for a No. 1 seed as well. As it currently stands, our Dave Ommen has Kentucky the last No. 1 seed and headed to the Midwest (Kansas City) while Tennessee is a No. 2 seed in the South (Louisville). I think it goes without saying that the Wildcats would much prefer to jump North Carolina and get the No. 1 seed in the South, meaning that they end up playing in the state of Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

Hell, we can probably put LSU in this conversation as well. They are also sitting as a No. 2 seed in the latest bracket update, and if things break the right way, there’s a non-zero chance that they could end up as a No. 1 seed.

PREDICTION

I do think that Tennessee is the better team than Kentucky at this point, so I’ll pick them to win it by knocking off Auburn in the SEC title game.

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.