The ten wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade

Getty Images
0 Comments

More college basketball all-decade content here.

The 2010s are coming to an end, which should make you feel incredibly old.

We’ve now gone a full decade with John Calipari in charge of the Kentucky Wildcats. We’re more than a decade removed from the existence of Psycho T on a college basketball campus. In the last ten years, we’ve seen Kentucky and Duke win titles by playing as young as possible, Virginia win by playing as slow as possible, Villanova win by shooting as many threes as possible and UConn win a pair of titles by hoping a star point guard can carry them through a six-game tournament.

We’ve experienced Jimmermania. We survived Zion Williamson’s Shoegate. We watch Louisville win a national title and then had the NCAA erase it from our collective memory because an assistant coach like to turn dorm rooms into the Champagne Room.

It’s been a wild ride.

And over the course of the next two weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the best parts of the decade.

Today, we are talking about the wildest ‘What ifs?’ in college basketball this decade. The first five are in this story, and the top five can be found here.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL ALL-DECADE TEAMS


Robbie Hummel (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

10. WHAT IF ROBBIE HUMMEL NEVER TEARS HIS ACL?

I think everyone in the state of Indiana, or at least in West Lafayette, remembers the exact moment that this happened.

There were just over seven minutes left in the first half of Purdue’s game at Minnesota. It was something of a look-ahead game, a Wednesday night fixture before a massive Sunday afternoon tip against Michigan State that would put the Boilermakers two wins from clinching their first outright Big Ten title in 14 years. Hummel drove into the middle of the paint, came to a jump-stop and had his right knee buckle.

ACL gone.

At the time, Purdue was the No. 3 team in the country, a stifling defense that relied on their three-headed monster of E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Hummel to put enough points on the board to get them wins. With Hummel, they looked like one of the few teams that would have a shot at winning the title. Without him, they lost that game to Michigan State, got dropped in the second round of the Big Ten tournament and ended up with a No. 4 seed, getting drubbed by Duke in the Sweet 16.

But the story gets worse.

Just eight months after he initially tore the ACL, he tore it again, in his first practice back. So not only did Purdue miss out on a chance to win a title in 2010, they never got to see what Hummel could have done playing alongside Johnson and Moore in their senior seasons.

Purdue has not been to the Final Four since 1980. Last year’s Elite Eight run was their first since 2000 and just their second since 1994. I have a feeling those numbers would be different had Hummel’s right ACL been less disagreeable.

9. WHAT IF JOHN WALL GOES PRO INSTEAD OF GOING TO KENTUCKY, OR IF JODIE MEEKS RETURNS TO KENTUCKY INSTEAD OF GOING PRO?

I’m not quite sure how many people are actually going to remember this, but there was a time where it was unclear if John Wall would actually end up in college. In was in April after his senior season in high school and before he committed to Kentucky to play his college ball. There was a chance that Wall was eligible to go straight to the NBA draft like Anfernee Simons did and Hamidou Diallo tried to do.

You see, Wall had spent five years in high school. He spent two years at Garner Magnet school before transferring to Broughton High as a junior. Midway through that school year, he again transferred, this time to Word Of God Christian Academy, where he enrolled as a sophomore. Combine that with the fact that he was 19 years old at the time, and he could have made a pretty compelling case.

Ultimately, it never came to that because he never declared, instead enrolling at Kentucky.

But what if he didn’t?

What if Wall had been determined to be eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft and went straight to the pros out of high school? Where would the Kentucky program be? Would the Wildcats have still been in a position to send five players to the first round of the NCAA tournament? Would Coach Cal still have been posted at the NBA draft talking about the most important day in the history of their program? Would Kentucky still have been able to change the way that college basketball programs built super teams with recruiting arms races?

But that’s not the only interesting ‘What if?’ surrounding the 2010 Kentucky team.

Hell, it might not be the most significant one.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL ALL-DECADE TEAMS

Jodie Meeks (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

What if Jodie Meeks returned to school for his senior season?

When Billy Gillispie was fired following the 2008-09 season, there were two key players who had their future up in the air. One was Patrick Patterson, who opted to return to school and play alongside Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe for a season. Meeks, who averaged 23.7 points as a junior, did not. He went pro, was picked 41st and found a way to carve out a 10-year NBA career.

So it worked out for him.

But that Kentucky team had one fatal flaw, and it was their ability to shoot. I don’t need to remind Kentucky fans this, but those Wildcats, as a team, shot 33.1 percent from three. They were 4-for-32 from beyond the arc in the Elite Eight loss to West Virginia. What would have happened if they had an All-American that, the year before, had shot 40.6 percent from three on eight attempts per game on the floor? Do you think there’s any chance that a team with a starting five of Wall, Bledsoe, Meeks, Patterson and Cousins loses?

With Meeks back, does 2010 Kentucky become the first 40-0 team in college basketball history? Does John Calipari actually get an NBA job after he wins a second title in three seasons? Is there an alternate reality where Cal gets hired by the Celtics and it’s actually Brad Stevens that is currently coaching the Wildcats and winning national titles with nothing but three-star prospects from Kentuckiana? I like to think there is.

8. WHAT JALEN BRUNSON WENT TO TEMPLE?

There are so many ‘What ifs?’ surrounding this Villanova dynasty that would be fun to dive into.

What if Kris Jenkins missed that buzzer-beating three? You know the one that I’m talking about. Does Villanova hang on to win that game in overtime? If they don’t, if the Tar Heels take home the 2016 national title, do they bring back everyone and become the first team to win back-to-back titles in 2017, or do the likes of Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks turn pro?

Or how about this one: What if Omari Spellman isn’t ruled ineligible for the 2016-17 season? If he isn’t forced to redshirt, does he ever put in the work he needed to in order to change his body and become a first round draft pick? What if Phil Booth doesn’t miss that season with an injury, either? Might we actually be looking at a situation where the Wildcats win three straight national titles?

And if you want to play the inception game, what if Villanova’s higher-ups decide to fire Jay Wright when he followed up the 2009 trip to the Final Four with a 25-win season, a 21-win season and then a 13-19 season in 2011-12?

But those are not the most interesting ‘What ifs?’ involving this Villanova dynasty. This is: What if Jalen Brunson had actually ended up at Temple?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL ALL-DECADE TEAMS

Because that’s what the plan was. Brunson’s father, Rick, is a Temple alum. Fran Dunphy was going to use a spot as an assistant coach to hire Rick and bring along his McDonald’s All-American offspring until Rick went and got himself into a bit of legal trouble. Hiring him became untenable, which meant that Brunson had to find elsewhere to play. Just so happens that Philly’s intracity rival needed a point guard, and the rest is history.

Would Villanova have found the same amount of success if Brunson had not ended up on the Main Line? He was a starter for two teams that won national championships, the second of which came in a season where he won National Player of the Year. That’s a pretty big loss to overcome.

At the same time, it is fair to wonder if he would have had the same amount of success had he not ended up playing for Villanova. Brunson has carved out a nice little role for himself in the NBA, operating as a part-time starter for the Dallas Mavericks and averaging 9.0 points and 3.2 assists in two seasons as a pro. He probably gets there either way, but given that he was still a second round pick after three sensational years at Villanova, would he have actually gotten a chance at the NBA if he hadn’t cut down so many nets while a Wildcat?

I think there’s a very real chance that, were it not for the fact that he ended up at Villanova, Brunson ends up being a four-year player at Temple that has to go through Europe to get to the NBA, a la Nigel Williams-Goss.

Brandon Ashley (Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

More college basketball all-decade content here.

7. WHAT IF BRANDON ASHLEY DOESN’T BREAK HIS FOOT IN 2014?

One of the fun little tools that Ken Pomeroy has added to his website, KenPom.com, is a way to look at archived ratings. If I wanted to go back and see who was considered to be the best team in college basketball on, say, Sat., Feb. 1st, in 2014, I can do that.

On that morning, the Arizona Wildcats were sitting pretty as one of just three undefeated teams left in college basketball. They were the No. 1 team in the country, receiving 63 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the AP poll, and they were No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings. At that moment in time, the gap between Arizona and the team in second (Duke) was only slightly smaller than the gap between 2015 Kentucky and the team that finished second (Wisconsin) on the final day of the season.

Put another way, on February 1st in a season where a No. 7 seed and a No. 8 seed played in the national title game, Arizona was very clearly the best team in college basketball.

And then Brandon Ashley broke his foot.

It happened early in a game at Cal that would go down as Arizona’s first loss of the season. Without Ashley in the lineup, Arizona would go on to lose three of their final 10 regular season games in a watered down Pac-12. They lost in the Pac-12 tournament title game to UCLA. They lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight in overtime.

It’s that last loss that I want to discuss.

At the time, Ashley was a sophomore averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 boards while shooting 37.9 percent from three. He was a really good player on a team that had quite a few really good players. But the real value Ashley carried was evident in the game against Wisconsin, when the quicker Frank Kaminsky was able to exploit Kaleb Tarczewski to the tune of 28 points and 11 boards on 11-for-20 shooting. Ashley’s health would have allowed Sean Miller to be able to play a more fleet-a-foot big at the five without going to a small lineup.

That doesn’t sound like much, but in a game that went to overtime when only one guy on the winning team had a good game, slowing him down even a little bit would have been the difference.

Maybe Sean Miller still winds up without a title. Maybe Kentucky’s 2014 team was just a team of destiny that ran into Shabazz Napier and another team of destiny in the title game. Or maybe, with Ashley in the fold, the best team in college basketball goes out and wins themselves a national title in a down year.

We’ll never know, but it may go down in history as Miller’s best chance at a ring.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL ALL-DECADE TEAMS

Brandon Davies (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

More college basketball all-decade content here.

6. WHAT IF BRANDON DAVIES DOESN’T GET AN HONOR CODE VIOLATION?

On the same day that a then-27-2 BYU team was ranked No. 3 in the AP poll for the first time ever, Brandon Davies was in the process of learning that he would no longer be a part of that team.

On Monday, Feb. 28th, just two days removed from beating San Diego State and Kawhi Leonard by 13 points on the road in a top ten showdown, the school was made aware of an honor code violation that was committed by Davies – he reportedly had sexual relations, something that is not allowed by the school. Davies admitted it, and the next morning the school announced that he was suspended for the rest of the season. On that Wednesday, they got blown out at home by New Mexico and would never be the same team.

San Diego State got their revenge in the Mountain West title game with an 18 point win. The Cougars would bow out of the NCAA tournament with an overtime loss to Florida in the Sweet 16. And that was the end of Jimmermania.

Davies was the most athletic member of BYU’s frontcourt that season. He was their third-leading scorer, their leading rebounder and one of just two players on that roster that would go on to play in the NBA. His loss was a devastating blow, one that cost us a chance to see if Jimmer could play his way into the final weekend of the season.

In a year where the Final Four consisted of a three-seed, a four-seed, an eight-seed and an 11-seed, anything could have happened.

Just imagine a national title game that featured Jimmer vs. Kemba.

It definitely would have been more exciting than this.

Continue with the top five here

COLLEGE BASKETBALL ALL-DECADE TEAMS

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

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

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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.