Wednesday’s Things to Know: Creighton claims another top-10 win, Auburn keeps winning OT games and Villanova stops its skid

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It was a busy night for hoops around the country, that featured some good news for a team not even playing, Louisville struggling and Kansas showing itself to be just a notch better than West Virginia. Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Creighton lands another top-10 W

We’re probably not talking enough about Creighton. After Wednesday’s 87-82 win over No. 10 Seton Hall, the 23rd-ranked Bluejays are now tied for second in the Big East and have quietly assembled a resume that’s going to moving up to top-four NCAA tournament seed territory here shortly. Creighton is very much for real, and has a real chance of making the first Sweet 16 in school history next month.

It’s the offense that makes the Bluejays go, and Seton Hall learned that Wednesday. Creighton shot 46 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds while playing at a blistering 76-possession pace. Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski, Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson all had 18 points for coach Greg McDermott on the night. Creighton’s offensive night was almost even more impressive considering Mitchell Ballock, their best 3-point shooter and a consistent offensive threat, was 0-7 from the floor. Take that out, and Creighton was 51.8 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3.

They’re now up to sixth nationally in offense on KenPom, thanks strong 3-point shooting, good work inside the arc and their ability to take care of the ball.  The rotation is thin, but every player McDermott sends out on to the floor is a capable offensive presence. There’s something to be said for the power of simply not having a liability on the floor to help make an offense excellent. The defense isn’t much to lean on, but the Bluejays get buckets.

The loss is the second in four games for Seton Hall, with both Ls coming at home. There’s certainly no reason to start wondering about the Pirates now – they’re probably not winning on nights when Myles Powell goes an atypical 3 of 16 from the floor – but they’re missing on opportunities to push their resume up a notch.

2. Auburn wins in OT…again

What in the world do you make of Auburn?

The Tigers improved to 22-2 on the year and 9-2 in SEC play with their seventh-straight win, a 95-91 victory over Alabama at home. It was the third-straight extra-time victory for the Tigers, and their fourth in five games.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but winning is, obviously, the thing that’s most important in a basketball game. When you’re trying to evaluate just how good Auburn is, though, all these close games make it awfully difficult. Does it say anything all that much different about a team if they win or lose an overtime game? It’s five minutes of basketball, and in five minutes of basketball anything can happen. Are they clutch? Lucky?

When a game comes down to such a small sample size, it’s hard to assign credit. The average KenPom ranking of these teams that are playing Auburn even for 40 minutes is 42. Not cupcakes, but hardly national title contenders, either. Making things even more difficult to judge is that the one game in this stretch that didn’t take OT was Auburn’s win against Kentucky.

I don’t really know what to make of Auburn, but I imagine they don’t care too much. They’re too busy winning.

Side note: Alabama shot 59 times from 3-point range tonight. The Tide are one of the fastest-playing teams and highest-volume 3-point shooting teams in the country. If Nate Oats starts loading up on skilled players that can maximize that style of play, they’re going to be a ton of fun.

3. Villanova gets back on track

Villanova’s three-game losing streak is no more.

The Wildcats salvaged their last chance in a tough four-game stretch by beating Marquette, 72-71.

It was the first victory in two weeks after losses to Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall. Even with two of the three coming at home, those are schedule losses as much as anything. Getting this one against Marquette, even if it came down to the wire, helps build a little momentum and confidence heading into a regular-season finale stretch of seven games when a rematch against Seton Hall is the only KenPom top-45 opponent on the slate.

Villanova has a real chance to stack victories over the next month.

Marquette, meanwhile, has a huge game against Creighton next week before a similarly light finish to Big East play that features a rematch with the Pirates.

 

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.