Monday Overreactions: Isaac Okoro, Baylor’s win, the Big Ten battle royal

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Isaac Okoro, Auburn

If you wanted to know what makes Isaac Okoro a guy that has NBA scouts salivating, look no farther than what he did this week.

On Tuesday night, he scored 23 points on 6-for-9 shooting in a win over Vanderbilt. He got to the line 14 times and threw down this absolutely gargantuan dunk that nearly put Ejike Obinna in the hospital. He’s a freight train when he puts the ball on the floor and gets a step, and when — not if, when — that jumper finally comes around, there are going to be so many more chances for him to get a step on a defender.

But the best part of Okoro’s game is what he can do defensively, and that was on display on Saturday when he did the heavy lifting as Auburn slowed down Anthony Edwards and beat Georgia by 22 points. Edwards did finish with 18 on the afternoon, but the majority of those points game in garbage when the game was already decided.

When asked what he did to slow Edwards down, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said, simply, “The easiest answer was Isaac Okoro.”

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears

It’s hard to go against the team that went into Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off No. 3 Kansas just four days after going into Lubbock and picking off No. 22 Texas Tech.

That is impressive in and of itself.

But when you put those wins into context, they are an even bigger deal.

Baylor had never won at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Heading into this weekend, Scott Drew was 0-12 playing Kansas in Lawrence. And while the streak is nowhere near as long as his losing streak against Bill Self, it is worth noting that, prior to Tuesday, Drew was 0-3 against Chris Beard in Lubbock.

He got both of those monkeys off of his back in the span of four days.

That’s impressive.

We will have much more on Drew and Baylor in the coming weeks. You have my attention, sir.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. BUTLER AND SETON HALL ARE THE BEST TEAMS IN THE BIG EAST

As much as I love Villanova, I think it is time to admit that they are the third-best team in the conference this season.

By now, there should be no one questioning Butler. The Bulldogs are currently sitting at No. 2 in the NET ratings, and the only loss they have this season came by a single point on the road against the team sitting directly above them. Kamar Baldwin has had some incredible moments, Sean McDermott has grown into a really effective wing scorer and LaVall Jordan has proven his mettle as a coach. For my money, the Bulldogs are as good and well-prepared defensively as any team in the country.

They can absolutely win a national title this season. There is no question in my mind.

Which leads me to Seton Hall, who struggled through the early part of the season but has found their groove over the course of the last three weeks. They are tough, they are athletic, they can really get out and pressure defensively, they have more size around the rim than the Monstars, and not only are they going to have the best player on the floor in just about every game they play (Myles Powell), but his supporting cast has really started to come on strong during this recent six-game winning streak.

And here’s the kicker: On Wednesday, Butler will host Seton Hall.

Buckle up.

2. THE BIG TEN IS GOING TO BE A BLOODBATH …

The depth of the Big Ten is absolutely insane this season. As of this moment, 12 of the 14 teams in the conference are rated somewhere between 12th and 41st in the NET. In KenPom, those same teams are ranked between fifth and 38th. Road teams are just 5-32 in the 37 conference games that have been played to date. Ohio State, who ranks 16th in the NET and 17th in KenPom, is currently sitting at 13th in the league standings despite losing four straight games because none of those four losses comes even remotely close to being a bad loss.

What this means is that evaluating and differentiating between these teams is going to be a nightmare. They are all good. They are all going to win a lot of home games because winning on the road in league play is something that only elite teams do and there may not be a single elite team in the entire country, let alone in the Big Ten.

So what you are going to see are a lot of weeks where things like this happen: Minnesota beats Michigan at home after losing at Michigan State, who got blown out in Mackey Arena by Purdue just three days after the Boilermakers lost at Michigan.

If all of these teams defend their home court and avoid too many losses to Nebraska and Northwestern, I don’t think it’s crazy to think that 12 Big Ten teams can get to the NCAA tournament.

3. … BUT THE LACK OF ELITE POINT GUARD PLAY IS GOING TO DOOM THEM IN MARCH

There are so many good big men in the Big Ten that it is astounding.

Xavier Tillman. Luka Garza. Kaleb Wesson. Daniel Oturu. Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers. Kofi Cockburn. Jalen Smith. Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers. Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams. Mike Watkins. Myles Johnson.

That’s insane.

almost as insane as the fact that there really isn’t much in the way of elite guard play in the league. Cassius Winston is a beast, we all know this, but beyond that, who scares you? Zavier Simpson is a solid player. Anthony Cowan is what he is. Ayo Dosunmu isn’t really a point guard. Is there anyone else that I’m missing?

The point is that if you look at all of the teams that won titles in the last decade, only one of them didn’t start two point guards — the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks in the NBA Draft, including Anthony Davis.

Does anyone in the Big Ten has that kind of lead guard play outside of Sparty?

4. THE COACH OF THE YEAR RACE IS ABSOLUTELY ELECTRIC

There are so many really, really good candidates for Coach of the Year this year.

Take, for example, Scott Drew, who lost three starters from last year’s team, has yet to get Tristan Clark back to full health and may end up having the best team in college basketball. Bob Huggins has a chance to go from worst to first in the Big 12, and he’s the clear No. 2 in that league’s Coach of the Year pecking order. LaVall Jordan, who was picked eighth in the Big East and is trending towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Anthony Grant has done wonders at Dayton, as has Brian Dutcher at San Diego State. Bruce Pearl deserves serious consideration for the award considering what he lost this offseason. Leonard Hamilton has surprised everyone with how good Florida State has been. Mark Few lost four pros from last year’s team and has a chance to win a national title this year.

I cannot remember a season with this many really good Coach of the Year candidates.

5. THE ACC MIGHT BE A THREE-BID LEAGUE

We have reached the point where the bottom has fallen out of this year’s ACC.

Duke looks awesome. Florida State and Louisville are legit. But beyond that there are so many question marks surrounding every other team in the conference.

Like, for example, who is the fourth-best team in the conference? Virginia cannot score and is coming off of back-to-back losses to Boston College and Syracuse, the latter of which came at home. North Carolina is a train wreck and Roy Williams is asking to be fired. Georgia Tech has looked pretty good, but they aren’t eligible for the postseason. Virginia Tech beat Michigan State. N.C. State beat Wisconsin. Have we reached a point where those two teams are the two teams that can keep the league from getting just three teams into the NCAA tournament?

In our latest bracket projection, five ACC teams were in the field, but that came because UVA’s home loss to Syracuse. N.C. State is a No. 10 seed.

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.