Scouting Final Four teams: How to beat Virginia

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NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four. 

The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty. 

Up first, we have Virginia.

IT ALL STARTS WITH THEIR DEFENSE

Every one knows about Virginia’s defense. They run the Pack-Line, they run it better than anyone else in the country and they’ve been a mainstay in the top five of KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings over the course of the last six seasons. I asked coaches how they go about beating what has been the best defense in the sport over the course of the last half-decade.

“Everything starts with their defense, because their style of play makes it very difficult for a team that’s used to playing fast if that team can’t play slow as well. It’s hard. Because they force you to play at their pace.”

“The first thing is if you can get a stop and try to get out and score in early, drag situations, kick aheads, single-double pick and rolls. You want to try to score before it’s set. Once you’re in the half court, it really does require a level of toughness offensively to screen them. Run multiple actions on both sides of the floor. Run a pick on single side bump defender because you know he’s going to be in there tagging. Get it to [the helper’s] man.”

“You have to make threes against them. You won’t get a lot at the rim. You won’t get a lot off penetration. You have to create shots with off-ball movement.”

“They usually post-trap. We’ve had more success throwing it in to guys off the block when they are post-trapping. You can only throw it into the post from the high-post. Run some high-low action, it’s harder for them to double that way.”

“Do you have some playmakers in the front court that you can play through? Do you have a great post passer that can handle being double-teamed? Also, if your bigs can shoot, putting shooting in at the five to get Jack Salt in a situation where you know he’s not gong to switch.”

“The other thing is, historically, someone has to have a big game against them. Like Carsen Edwards.”

“Purdue hung with them because they have Carsen. Most teams don’t.”

“Virginia had the blueprint [to stop Purdue] and Carsen went out and individually made some tough plays. If you look at the times people beat them, dudes made plays. Virginia is going to make you make tough, contested shots off the dribble.”

“They can get beat early in a possession in terms of teams being ready to shoot. And shoot with confidence. They’re going to make you catch-and-shoot in the halfcourt. And you have to consistently make shots the whole time. They’ll give you those. It’s what the Pack-Line is designed to do.”

And if worst comes to worst, get every edge you can.

“Stay on the refs. They’re really handsy, bumping, holding, fouling with their lower body, with their hands. They’re not outstanding movers but they teach defense well enough and they have the respect of the refs. People know they’re Virginia.”

THEY RUN TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT OFFENSES

For years, Tony Bennett and Virginia have been known for running the Blocker-Mover offense that Tony’s dad, Dick Bennett, developed. The Blocker-Mover is an offense that features three “movers” continuously running off of screens set by the two “blockers.” This year, however, Virginia has transitioned into running more Ball-Screen Continuity, which is an offense that relies much more on spacing, three-point shooting and is more effective with smaller lineups.

“Early in the season, they were really into the Blocker-Mover stuff, but not as much later in the year. They come and go with that, but when they run it, you can’t chase pin-downs. That opens up curling off of those screens. It opens up the pocket-pass to the big guy. They can make curl jumpshots. They can pass out if you help, and they’ll kill you with the flares. You have to make them see that you’re chasing them and then go over the screen at the last second.”

“The Ball-Screen Continuity, they’ve gone to that a lot. They don’t come off the first ball-screen looking to attack or shoot. You can go under it, and you cannot switch it. Switching is doable, but you cannot do it early in the shot block. They will be patient and poised as they find the mismatch. They can get a big on a little, get you into foul trouble that way, but the harder part is when they get you with someone bigger on Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome. They’ll make them chase around screens.”

“Both offenses, they mix up what they do. It will seem simple enough, and then suddenly they’re running an action where your tagger is thinking about the role man while Kyle Guy in the weakside corner is flying off a pindown. As simple as it is, the way in which they do it, the intention they have, they almost run it slowly just to try and pick you apart to see where the help is, or where the switch is. They are really, really good at figuring out what you’re doing and taking advantage of it.”

THEY’RE MORE VERSATILE THAN THEY HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST

One of the reasons Bennett has incorporated more Ball-Screen Continuity into his offense is that he has a more versatile and skilled roster than he has had in the past.

“The Ball-Screen Continuity, they’re going to run it hard and put you in multiple actions because of their ability to stretch the floor, especially when Hunter is at the four. When Jay Huff is in there at the five, they’ll four or five guys that can make a three. It creates a different look for them than in the past, when they had big guys like Anthony Gill. I would guess that’s some of the reason why they’re running more Ball-Screen Continuity, so they can spread it a little more on the perimeter.”

“I think Kihei Clark coming in and moving Guy and Jerome off the ball gives them a real threat, playmaking at three positions. They’re more skilled.”

“You can play some zone, a 1-3-1, because you don’t have to guard Kihei. When he drives, he’s driving to pass. If he’s going to beat you, you have to live with it.”

“Ty is so good in ball screens it opens up opportunities for him to play pick-and-roll and not just run Blocker-Mover.”

KYLE GUY IS THE PLAYER TO KEY ON

“De’Andre Hunter is their best player, but we were most worried about Guy because he has game-changing ability. As good as Hunter is, he’s not a hungry scorer. We knew where we would have to guard him — those elbow iso’s 3-4 times a game — and he can shoot it, but we were more concerned with Guy as a cutter. He is relentless and always cutting hard. He is going to get 10 threes off and he can make six or seven, easy. That, more than anything, is the game-changing part.”

“It was Guy for us. Jerome, too. He’s the most versatile of their threats in terms of being able to make a three, floaters and runners. They play off the deep shooting of Guy and Jerome, and as good of a coach as Tony is, those two kids they take and make really difficult, long threes that are hard to defend.”

THE BEST MATCHUP IS? AND THE WORST MATCHUP IS?

“Auburn is the best and worst. The thing about them, as many threes as they shoot, if they don’t shoot the ball well, they’re going to get drilled by UVA. Virginia is going to take care of the ball, they’re not going to open the game up and play frenetic. You’ll miss shots and get grinded.”

“But if they get hot, they’ll shoot 40 threes if they want. UVA will allow them those shots. If you can consistently hurt them fro the outside, you can hang in the game. The way that Auburn plays, they’re tricky and wild, which can win or lose them the game.”

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.