Saturday’s Things To Know: Three top ten teams lose, four bubble teams land massive wins

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In the last full Saturday of regular season college hoops, we had three top ten teams lose, four teams seemingly play their way off of the bubble and Michigan State show the world that they are, in fact, back.

Here is everything you need to know.

1. MICHIGAN STATE IS BACK

The No. 24 Spartans went into College Park and put together the best, most through and most dominant performance we’ve seen from them this season in a 78-66 win over No. 9 Maryland.

Is Michigan State back?

I think so.

RELATEDBubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments

2. VIRGINIA MIGHT BE BACK, TOO

The Cavaliers got 15 points, nine boards and 10 blocks from Jay Huff to put together their best win of the season, a 52-50 triumph over No. 6 Duke in Charlottesville on Saturday afternoon.

And for me, this is the crown jewel of what has been the best coaching job of Tony Bennett’s career. Look, this Virginia team is not all that talented. Their point guard, Kihei Clark, is the size of Baby Yoda. They play two bigs together that weigh a combined 197 pounds in Mamadi Diakite and Huff. Their shooters can not shoot. They are trying to piece together a rotation that includes the likes of Kody Stattman and Casey Morsell, neither of whom are ready to contribute on a stage like this.

Yet, here we are on March 1st, and Virginia is sitting one game out of first place in the ACC regular season standings. They are 21-7 on the season. They are 11-5 in the league. They have won six in a row and nine of their last ten. They were leading with under four minutes left in all five of the games that they lost in league play.

Virginia has no business being this good.

But it looks like they are.

3. PROVIDENCE PROBABLY PUNCHED THEIR TICKET TO THE DANCE

The Friars have completely turned their season around. On Saturday, they went into the Wells Fargo Center and beat No. 12 Villanova. It is the sixth win in the last eight games for Providence, but that’s not the most impressive part of this run. In the month of February, the Friars have beaten five teams that were ranked at the time, the other five teams in the Big East that are going to the NCAA tournament: In addition to today’s win at Villanova, they beat Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton at home and won at Butler.

For a team that suffered through four hideous losses before conference play kicked off, it’s a remarkable turnaround.

4. WEST VIRGINIA AND TEXAS TECH PERFECTED BIG 12 BID COLLUSION

West Virginia and Texas Tech are both pretty comfortably in the NCAA tournament at this point. Both teams squared off with the Big 12’s two bubble teams — Oklahoma and Texas — this week. And both teams lost twice.

What does this mean?

Oklahoma looks like they are tournament bound. Texas has some more ground to make up, but they are more likely than not heading to the NCAA tournament as well. This is excellent work from the Mountaineers and the Red Raiders. Instead of being a four-bid league, the Big 12 looks like they are going to get six teams into the dance.

Bid collusion at its finest.

5. DID SHAKA SMART SAVE HIS JOB?

This is far more interesting than anything that has to do with this season for the Longhorns.

It’s hard not to laugh at the irony here. Shaka Smart went into Lubbock and got a win to put himself in a great position to get into the NCAA tournament while coaching against the guy, Chris Beard, that everyone is speculating will be the coach to replace him in Austin.

Texas is one of the best jobs in college basketball. It is the flagship program in a talent-rich state at a school where the athletic department has more money than they know what to do with while simultaneously caring very little about basketball. Oh, and Austin is a fun place to live, too. If Texas were to open, it would be the job that might actually make the coaching carousel get weird this spring. If it doesn’t open, you have to start wondering just how many changes are going to be made.

I like Shaka Smart. I don’t want to see him get fired. I also don’t think that he is the right fit for that job. Seeing how this plays out over the course of the next month is going to be fascinating.

6. MYLES POWELL RUINED MARKUS HOWARD’S SENIOR NIGHT

Markus Howard had 37  points and 12-for-20 shooting, but it wasn’t enough. Myles Powell had 28 points and Sandro Mamukelashvili added 26 as No. 13 Seton Hall went into Milwaukee and picked off Marquette, 88-79.

7. BAYLOR AND FLORIDA STATE LOST

The Bears got picked off by TCU. That is not a good loss, but it is something that we should have seen coming. Florida State fell at Clemson, who has now beaten Duke, Louisville and Florida State and won at North Carolina. That’s quite a season.

8. KENTUCKY WON THE SEC

Immanuel Quickley had 18 points and 12 boards as No. 8 Kentucky beat No. 15 Auburn as the Wildcats won the outright SEC regular season title. This is one of John Calipari’s best coaching jobs.

9. SEAN MILLER GETS EJECTED, UCLA WINS

UCLA is all alone in first place in the Pac-12 after beating Arizona on Saturday. The Bruins have won 11 of their last 13 games, including sweeps of Arizona and Colorado this month. What’s more fun is that Sean Miller got ejected while going up against his archnemesis, Mick Cronin. The Pac-12 is weird, man.

10. IS DOKE’S ANKLE OK?

Udoka Azubuike, the most important player in college basketball this season, hurt his ankle in Saturday’s win at Kansas State that included exactly zero chairs being thrown. He returned to the game after he hurt it the first time, but after tweaking it again, he hit the bench for good. The staff doesn’t seem too worried about it, but that is definitely something to monitor.

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.