2019 NCAA Tournament: Six possible Cinderellas

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For those who are looking to win their NCAA tournament bracket pools, identifying the teams most capable of pulling off an upset can be the difference between a decent bracket and winning the the pool. The 2019 NCAA tournament field has some solid options to choose from, with the formula for those teams over the years generally being the same.

Good guard play is paramount, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a high-level talent capable of putting the team on his back for stretches of time. Here’s a look at six teams capable of not only winning their first game doing even more beyond that point.

REGIONS: East | South | Midwest | West

TEMPLE (11-seed, East)

In every year of the First Four, which was established ahead of the 2011 NCAA tournament, at least one at-large winner in Dayton has gone on to win a game in the main bracket. Of course Temple, Belmont, Arizona State and St. John’s will all be aware of this fact, but the better choice for a win in the main bracket may come from the Temple/Belmont matchup.

Why? Because the 6-seed in the East, Maryland, did not finish its regular season in good form and has a habit of both getting off to slow starts and turning the ball over. The pick here is Temple due to a rotation led by guards Shizz Alston Jr. (19.7 ppg, 5.0 apg), Quinton Rose (16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Nate Pierre-Louis (13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and the motivation that comes from wanting to send retiring head coach Fran Dunphy out on a positive note should give the Owls a boost as well.

NEW MEXICO STATE (12-seed, Midwest)

The New Mexico State program is one that’s used to taking part in the NCAA tournament. This will be NMSU’s 25th appearance and seventh in the last eight seasons. Chris Jans has a team that has won 30 games this season, and they’ve gotten the job done by committee on the offensive end of the floor. Junior guard Terrell Brown (11.3 ppg) is the lone double-digit scorer, but the Aggies have six players averaging at least 7.5 points per game.

The Aggies don’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter, shooting 33.5% from three on the season, but they’ve made up for this by being one of the best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball (36.8% offensive rebound percentage). And New Mexico State’s opponent, Auburn, has a defensive rebounding percentage of just 69.8%. If Auburn struggles to keep the Aggies off the offensive glass things could get interesting Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City.

OREGON (12-seed, South)

Dana Altman’s Ducks had to win the Pac-12 tournament in order to reach the NCAA tournament, and they did so by winning four games in as many days. Oregon’s run to the tournament actually began with one of the team’s lowest points of the season, a 90-83 loss at UCLA February 23 in which the Ducks gave up a staggering 62 points in the second half.

From that point forward the Ducks have been downright stingy defensively, as they’ve allowed 61 points or more in just two of the eight games they’ve won since. There’s no shortage of talent on this roster even with Bol Bol suffering a season-ending foot injury during non-conference play, with junior guard Payton Pritchard running the show and forwards Louis King and Paul White also being double-digit scorers. And with Kenny Wooten and Francis Okoro inside, Oregon has the players needed to match up with a Wisconsin team led by senior forward Ethan Happ.

MURRAY STATE (12-seed, West)

High-level guard play is a must in March, and Murray State has a player in sophomore Ja Morant who’s projected to be a lottery pick this June should be forego his remaining eligibility. The sophomore is averaging 24.6 points, 10.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, and he’s an explosive athlete who can score at all three levels.

However, for all the attention Morant receives head coach Matt McMahon isn’t leading a one-man outfit. Three other Racers average double figures, including senior guard Leroy “Shaq” Buchanan, and the team is ranked eighth nationally in field goal percentage. The issue for Murray State is that their first-round opponent, Marquette, has an elite guard of its own (Markus Howard) and the Golden Eagles are deep on the perimeter as well. This sets up to be one of the most entertaining first-round matches.

UC IRVINE (13-seed, South)

With Kansas State senior forward Dean Wade’s status for this game yet to be determined, as he missed the Big 12 tournament with a foot injury, this sets up to be a dangerous game for the Big 12 regular season co-champions. Russell Turner’s Anteaters enter the tournament with a 30-5 record, and they’ve hung their hat on the defensive end for quite some time now.

Opponents are shooting just 38.0% from the field overall, 40.4% from two and 33.2% from three (defensive eFG% of 43.7%). Offensively the Anteaters are led by junior guards Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard, and nine players are averaging between 5.7 (Elston Jones) and 12.5 (Hazzard) points per game. Collin Welp (23 points in the Big West title game) is an effective option off the bench for UC Irvine, which gave Louisville all it wanted back in 2015 before losing by two. This matchup could be just as tight.

OLD DOMINION (14-seed, South)

ODU won the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, doing so by controlling tempo on offense and limiting their opponents’ quality scoring opportunities on the other end. Guards B.J. Stith, Ahmad Caver and Xavier Green average a combined 43.1 points per game for a team that scores just 66.1 points per on the season.

The Monarchs drew a team in Purdue that’s been considerably better offensively — against tougher competition — and the Boilermakers are comfortable playing a half-court game as well. This may be the longest shot of the six listed here but funny things can happen this time of year, especially in lower-possession games.

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.