2019 NCAA tournament: Did the committee pick the right bubble teams?

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It’s an argument that takes place every Selection Sunday: did the selection committee pick the right bubble teams? Every year it’s stated that the bubble is the worst that it’s ever been, and figuring out which teams should be in the field and which should be relegated to the NIT is an exhausting task.

The last four teams into the 2019 NCAA tournament field were (in order of their place on the seed list) Belmont, Temple, Arizona State and St. John’s. All four programs are headed to Dayton, with the Bruins facing the Owls in one First Four matchup and the Sun Devils and Red Storm playing in the other.

Belmont went 25-5 against Division I opponents, and Rick Byrd’s team finished with a NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ranking of 47 and a Ken Pomeroy ranking of 54. In Quadrant 1/2 games Belmont posted a record of 5-3, with their best wins being road wins over Murray State, UCLA and Austin Peay, and two wins over Lipscomb.

For programs in lower-profile conferences scheduling enough quality non-conference games can be difficult, especially when the competition for at-large bids hail from power conferences. In the case of Belmont the selection committee splitting the difference; not enough high-level wins to justify placing them directly into the main bracket, but understanding the difficulty that a program like Belmont can have in finding those non-conference games.

Temple, 43rd on the seed list, broke even in Quadrant 1/2 games (8-8) with six of the wins being of the Quadrant 2 variety. Home wins over Houston and UCF were the highlights for Fran Dunphy’s team, which was also a combined 15-1 (Penn being the loss) against Quadrant 3/4 opponents. Temple’s non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 223 wasn’t great, but its overall strength of schedule (84th) and strength of record (47th) numbers were helped by the strength at the top of the American.

Arizona State can claim three Quadrant 1 wins (11-6 vs. Quadrant 1/2) over non-conference opponents that are in the NCAA tournament field, as the Sun Devils picked up neutral site wins over Mississippi State and Utah State and beat Kansas at home. The issue for Arizona State was the perceived weakness of the Pac-12, which to the surprise of some ended up with three teams in the field.

Bobby Hurley’s team was a combined 2-1 against Washington and Oregon, with the loss coming at the hands of the Ducks in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils also had a total of four losses in Quadrant 3/4 games, including home losses to Princeton and Washington State.

While Arizona State can claim a couple high-profile non-conference wins, the same cannot be said for St. John’s. The Red Storm, who did pick up home wins over Villanova, Marquette (who they also beat in Milwaukee) and Seton Hall, had just one Quadrant 1 non-conference victory (VCU). St. John’s was a combined 10-10 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with eight of the wins being picked up in Big East play. The Red Storm’s non-conference slate wasn’t particularly impressive, but it was ranked higher than Temple’s (219).

So which of the first four teams left out, UNCG, Alabama, TCU and Indiana, has the best argument for inclusion into the field? UNCG, ranked 60th in the NET, was 26-6 against Division I opponents but won just two of its eight Quadrant 1 games. Add in Quadrant 2 results and the Spartans were 4-6 in those games with the best wins coming at the expense of Furman and ETSU (two apiece).

UNCG’s non-conference schedule was ranked (127th) significantly higher than those of Temple and St. John’s with regards to strength, so Wes Miller’s program can’t be blamed for feeling hard done by. Could the lack of “variety” in those quality wins be what kept UNCG out of the field? It’s certainly worth considering.

TCU also had a good argument for inclusion, but the lack of variety may have been an issue for Jamie Dixon’s team as well. All 12 of the Horned Frogs’ Quadrant 1 games were played in conference, with its Quadrant 2 win over Florida being the best non-conference result. TCU didn’t have any “bad” losses, going 11-0 in Quadrant 3/4 games, and the non-conference slate was ranked 117th with regards to strength.

Indiana, which at one point this season lost 12 of 13 games, had some really good wins on its profile including a sweep of Big Ten champion Michigan State. The Hoosiers were 8-15 against Quadrant 1/2 opponents, but the combination of that mid-season slump and a non-conference slate that was ranked 209th may have been too much to overcome despite it including wins over Louisville and Marquette.

Alabama was a combined 10-13 in Quadrant 1/2 games, with its best non-conference wins coming against Murray State, Penn State and Liberty. Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide had a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 40, which in most cases would be enough to get a team into the field. But it wasn’t meant to be for Alabama, which will now be a one-seed in the Postseason NIT.

And if Alabama couldn’t get into the field with its non-conference strength of schedule, NC State may have been a non-starter (352nd NCSOS) despite having other numbers in its favor. The Wolfpack had an overall strength of schedule of 49 and the 31st-ranked strength of record, and going 9-9 in a conference that produced three one-seeds is nothing to scoff at either. But the non-conference numbers, despite having beaten Auburn, were too much to overcome.

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.