Which program will be next first-time national title winner?

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Last week, we took a look at the next head coach to follow in the footsteps of Tony Bennett and win their first national title.

Today, we’re going to mix it up a bit.

Here is a list of the seven programs that are the next in line to cut down the nets on that first weekend in April for the first time in program history.

GONZAGA

BEST FINISH: National title game, 2017

This is the easiest and most obvious pick. The Zags may play in the WCC, but they are nationally relevant and perennially a preseason top ten team. They have already made it to the national title game, and eventually they will breakthrough with a title.

I think the most important thing that can be said about the Zags is this: Since getting to the national title game, they have lost five players to the NBA with eligibility remaining. Outside of Rui Hachimura this past season, none of the other four were players that entered the season as guys that were expected to be gone. That includes all-americans Nigel Williams-Goss and Brandon Clarke, as well as sophomore Zach Norvell and freshman Zach Collins.

And despite all of that, the Zags were a No. 4 seed in 2018, a No. 1 seed in 2019 and will enter this season as a preseason top ten team. How many programs can sustain losses like that without missing a step?

Mark Few (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

PURDUE

BEST FINISH: National title game, 1969

Matt Painter is one of the most underrated coaches in the game. Over the last four years, despite some significant roster turnover, the Boilermakers have never won less that 26 games, have finished as a top ten team on KenPom three times and have done all this despite three pretty different styles. This has paid off with two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight in the last three years.

I don’t think this will be the year where Purdue wins a national title, but I do think that it is going to happen eventually.

MEMPHIS

BEST FINISH: National title game, 2008

I’ve written too many words on Memphis over the course of the summer, but that’s because they may just be the most intriguing team heading into this season. Personally, I think they are overrated as a preseason top ten team this year, but I do think that Penny has positioned himself to be arguably the most powerful program in college sports within the next five years. He landed the No. 1 recruiting class this year. He was always going to get James Wiseman, but Penny also, landed guys like Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones, none of whom are from Memphis.

There are two things that we can take away from this: 1) Penny is going to continue to bring in the elite of the elite, battling with the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Kansas for the top players in every class. 2) Perhaps more importantly, five of the seven players in this year’s Memphis recruiting class are guys that will spend two or three years in college.

Wiseman and Achiuwa will get the hype train rolling, but the true value of this class is that Penny set himself up really well for the future.

AUBURN

BEST FINISH: Final Four, 2019

There should be no question Bruce Pearl’s ability to win at the college level anymore. He took Auburn to their first Final Four a decade after he had Tennessee ranked No. 1 in the country.

Pearl has proven himself to be a consistent, high-level winner at the college level. He has turned Auburn Arena into one of the toughest places in college basketball to play. He is recruiting pros to his program, and he is developing guys that aren’t necessarily NBA guys into being all-conference players.

At some point, there is going to be a year where it all comes together for Auburn. If Jared Harper had stayed in school for one more year, it might have been this season.

Chris Beard (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

TEXAS TECH

BEST FINISH: National title game, 2019

Let’s start with the obvious: Chris Beard is a helluva coach that has, for two straight seasons, had the best team in the Big 12. (I will go to my grave saying they would have won the 2018 Big 12 regular season title had Keenan Evans not broken his toe.) His ability to win at a high level with a completely restructured roster makes me believe that Tech’s reliance on grad transfers to fill gaps won’t hinder Tech’s chances of winning.

The biggest concern here is that Tech’s success is almost entirely tied to their current head coach. No one, not even Bobby Knight, has ever come close to winning at the level that Beard has one, and eventually, that is going to pique the interest of some bigger programs. I don’t think there are many jobs that Beard would leave for considering his salary and the fact that he will never, ever be fired, but there are a few that could open fairly soon … *cough, Texas and Arizona, cough*.

TENNESSEE

BEST FINISH: Elite Eight, 2010

Not only has Tennessee never won a national title, the program has never actually been to the Final Four. I think that will change sooner rather than later with Rick Barnes in charge. I know that it is trendy to make fun of Barnes’ coaching ability, but he has been to a Final Four (with Texas in 2003) and he twice came within a game of reaching the Final Four (in 2006 and in 2008) as Big 12 co-champion. The 2006 loss came in overtime against LSU.

The biggest question with the Tennessee program is whether or not they missed on their best chance to win a title the last two years. The Vols had three NBA players on their roster in Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone, and they were able to keep all three of them until they reached upperclassmen status. I’m not sure how often that is going to be true in Knoxville, and considering that Barnes is currently 65 years old, I don’t know just how long he is going to continue coaching. Keep in mind, he also said this summer that he would have left the program for UCLA had UCLA been willing to pay his buyout.

So while I love the direction this program is trending, the Vols are like Texas Tech in that the longterm stability of the program does not appear to be as solid as some of the teams higher on this list.

SETON HALL

BEST FINISH: National title game, 1989

It took a while for him to get it there, but Kevin Willard has built Seton Hall into one of the better programs in the Big East. He enters this season with a borderline top ten team that, arguably, is the favorite to win the Big East. This comes just two years after he put together a team that entered the season with top 20 hype. I’d be shocked if the Pirates didn’t find their way to their fifth straight NCAA tournament, and with an All-American like Myles Powell on their roster, I can see this being a year where the Pirates make a deep run.

I can acknowledge that this may be a bit of a reach, but how often will teams that have never won a title enter any season in the preseason top 12?

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.