Thursday’s Things To Know: Zion returns, bubble teams fall and West Virginia lives

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Myles Powell, Seton Hall and Zion Williamson, Duke

While Williamson’s return to action was the focus of many, the show that Powell put on in the first half of Seton Hall’s Big East quarterfinal win over Georgetown was a sight to behold. Powell scored 29 of his 31 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, a Big East tournament record for points in a half, outscoring the Hoyas by four with Seton Hall taking a 53-25 lead into the half in a game it would win 73-57.

Powell did get a bit banged up during the second half, so that’s something to keep an eye on as he and the Pirates face Marquette and Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard (who lit up St. John’s for 30) in Friday’s second Big East semifinal matchup.

Now, back to Williamson. The freshman played 38 minutes in his first action since February 20, shooting 13-for-13 from the field and finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, two assists and one blocked shot in Duke’s 84-72 win over Syracuse. The only place where Williamson showed any sign of rust was at the foul line, where he shot just 2-for-7 on the night.

Next up for he and the Blue Devils is a matchup with North Carolina, which swept the regular season series. Williamson played a total of 33 seconds on those games due to the knee injury he suffered in the first meeting. Now he’s healthy, and has a stronger pair of shoes to play in as well.

THURSDAY’S BUBBLE BANTER

TEAM OF THE DAY: West Virginia

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that West Virginia’s 2018-19 season has been a disappointment, as Bob Huggins’ team entered the Big 12 tournament with a 12-19 record. But conference tournaments can give teams a shot at redemption, and the Mountaineers are now in the Big 12 semifinals after knocking off No. 7 Texas Tech Thursday night, 79-74.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. scored a career-high 28 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, with Jordan McCabe adding 13 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals. Next up for West Virginia is Kansas, and while the challenge will be a difficult one it would be foolish to rule out the Mountaineers. And their run is one that has the attention of bubble teams across the country, with those programs hoping that West Virginia does not end up being a “bid thief.”

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Terence Mann, Florida State

Of the four quarterfinals in the ACC only one went down to the wire, with 4-seed Florida State and 5-seed Virginia Tech needing five additional minutes to determine the winner. The Seminoles advanced, winning 65-63 with Terence Mann’s floater with 1.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Florida State advanced to face top-seed Virginia Friday night in the first ACC semifinal.

And an honorable mention goes to Long Beach State’s Jordan Roberts, whose jumper with three-tenths of a second remaining gave the 49ers the 68-66 win over Hawaii in a Big West quarterfinal matchup.

THURSDAY’S WINNERS

Ohio State: One of the biggest “bubble games” of the day was the Big Ten second round matchup between 8-seed Ohio State and 9-seed Indiana, with the winner getting a shot at top-seed Michigan State on Friday. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes got the job done, winning 79-75 with Keyshawn Woods (18 points, seven rebounds), Kaleb Wesson (17 points, 13 rebounds) and C.J. Jackson (17 points, five rebounds and five assists) leading the way. Of the two teams the Buckeyes appeared to be in a better spot with regards to the NCAA tournament, and Thursday’s result does nothing to hurt Ohio State’s case for inclusion.

Xavier: The Musketeers were also locked in a bubble struggle of sorts, with Big East quarterfinal opponent Creighton also in need of a win. Travis Steele’s team beat the Bluejays by a 63-61 final score, with Zach Hankins’ tip-in with 27.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Xavier’s veteran transfers made big plays late, with Hankins’ basket being followed by a Kyle Castlin block of a Ty-Shon Alexander three-point attempt in the game’s final seconds. How close Xavier is to an NCAA tournament bid is up for debate, but they’ll have another opportunity to impress the selection committee with Big East champion Villanova being the opponent Friday night.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide helped their case for an NCAA tournament bid with a 62-57 win over Ole Miss Thursday afternoon in Nashville. Tevin Mack accounted for 21 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Donta Hall led a dominant effort on the glass with a game-high 15 rebounds. Alabama outscored Ole Miss 38-19 in the second half, and the reward is a matchup with 2-seed Kentucky on Friday. Avery Johnson’s team will see Kentucky’s full rotation, as Reid Travis (knee) has been cleared to play.

North Carolina: In the first quarterfinal of Thursday’s evening session at the ACC tournament, 2-seed North Carolina advanced with an 83-70 win over 7-seed Louisville. Luke Maye and Coby White scored 19 points apiece to lead the way, with the latter also dishing out six assists and committing just one turnover. While much has been made about the case for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament that Duke can make now that Zion Williamson is back, North Carolina can also strengthen its argument.

UNC won both meetings with Duke, but with Williamson playing 33 seconds total in those games some may look to attach an asterisk to the results as if it is North Carolina’s fault that he couldn’t play. Friday night North Carolina and Duke meet again, and a win for Roy Williams’ team would likely lock up a 1-seed regardless of what happens Saturday night.

Florida: The Gators have been inconsistent for much of this season, hence their being a bubble team in the eyes of many. Florida took care of business Thursday afternoon, eliminating Arkansas (66-50) to advance to the SEC quarterfinals. Mike White’s team, which was led by Keyontae Johnson (20 points, 12 rebounds) will face LSU for the third time this season Friday afternoon.

The Tigers, outright SEC regular season champions, don’t lack for talent but given everything that’s gone on around that program recently maybe they’re vulnerable. Florida don’t lack for talent, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. Friday would be a good time to change that.

The Pac-12 office: The Pac-12 has been an absolute mess this season, so it would have been fitting for either regular season champion Washington or runner-up Arizona State — the league’s best bets for an at-large bid — to get knocked off Thursday in Las Vegas. That didn’t happen, with the Huskies escaping USC’s upset bid in the first game of the day and the Sun Devils handling UCLA in the first game fo the evening session.

Joining those two teams in the semifinals are 5-seed Colorado and 6-seed Oregon, arguably the two hottest teams in the Pac-12. Last month there were serious conversations as to whether the Pac-12 would be a one-bid league. Should Colorado or Oregon win the automatic bid, there’s a chance that the conference winds up with three bids come Selection Sunday.

THURSDAY’S LOSERS

TCU: The good news for the Horned Frogs is that they avoided losing their Big 12 tournament opener Wednesday night. The bad news: Jamie Dixon’s team missed on its opportunity to (most likely) lock up an NCAA tournament bid, as TCU lost to top-seed Kansas State by a 70-61 final score. Not counting Thursday’s results TCU was ranked 48th in the NET, and the team is now 9-13 in games against Quadrant 1/2 opposition. Is TCU’s resume good enough as is? It may be given some of the other profiles up for debate, but the Horned Frogs would have slept much better had they pulled off the upset.

Texas: There were some who believed that a win over Kansas would be just what the Longhorns needed to seal a tournament bid. Shaka Smart’s team failed to do so, losing to the Jayhawks by a 65-57 final score to fall to 16-16 on the season. No .500 team has even received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so at this point the Longhorns will have to hope that its strength of schedule can sway the selection committee.

What makes matters even worse for Texas is the fact that freshman big man Jaxson Hayes suffered a left knee injury late in the second half of Thursday’s loss. Hayes’ health is obviously the most important thing here. But it also gives the committee another question to ponder, especially if the diagnosis isn’t a good one.

Indiana: As noted above the matchup between the Hoosiers and Ohio State was a big one, and with its loss Archie Miller’s team has to play the waiting game. Indiana has some good wins on its resume, including a sweep of Michigan State, but that 1-12 stretch earlier this season could be too much to overcome. The Hoosiers, ranked 51st in the NET, are 8-15 in Quadrant 1/2 games. Three of those wins were earned on the road: Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois. NCAA or NIT? We’ll find out Sunday. But until then Indiana can only sit at home and root for “chalk” in the conference tournaments that are still being played.

Creighton: The Bluejays will also have to endure the uncomfortable wait thanks to their Big East quarterfinal loss to Xavier. Ranked 54th in the NET, Greg McDermott’s team is now 9-14 in Quadrant 1/2 games with its best win being a 66-60 win at Marquette back on March 3. Creighton has as many Quadrant 1/2 wins as Ohio State, but the Bluejays won’t have the opportunity to add another to the ledger thanks to Thursday’s loss to Xavier.

St. John’s: Say this much for Indiana, which fought back to erase a 20-point deficit before losing, and Creighton: at least those teams competed. St. John’s, on the other hand, fell behind Marquette early and did not appear all that interested in fighting back as it lost by an 86-54 final score. And after the game Chris Mullin declined on the opportunity to politic on behalf of his team.

The Red Storm can point to home wins over Villanova and Marquette, but this is also a team that lost both regular season meetings to DePaul (they beat DePaul Wednesday night) and did not play the toughest of non-conference slates either. St. John’s will likely get into the field thanks to the wins over the Big East’s two best teams, but Shamorie Ponds and company may be headed to Dayton.

Maryland: Mark Turgeon’s team has struggled with two things for much of this season: slow starts and turnovers. It all went wrong Thursday, as Maryland was bounced from the Big Ten tournament by Nebraska, 69-61. Maryland is obviously headed to the NCAA tournament and will most likely wear its home uniforms for the opener. But the Terrapins may not be there too long based upon how they played in Chicago and the program’s recent history in postseason play. The last time Maryland wasn’t one and done in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournament: March 2016.

FINAL THOUGHT

With Duke’s Zion Williamson making his return to game action Thursday, the debate of whether or not he should be playing once again came up. Of course there are those who believe that Williamson should play, out of loyalty to his teammates and coaches. And there are those who were (and still are) of the opinion that he would be best served to sit in preparation for his likely being selected with the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft (if he decides to forego his final three years of eligibility).

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the matter, but only one truly holds any weight: Zion’s. Had Williamson decided that, in the aftermath of his injury, the risk was too much and he wanted to protect himself from a future earnings standpoint that would have been fine. Williamson’s decision to play because, as he stated in his postgame interview on ESPN, of his love for his teammates is perfectly fine as well.

The only “concern” should be whether or not Williamson — or any other athlete in a similar position — is able to make that decision on their own terms.

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.