Monday Overreactions: This is Tony Bennett’s best coaching job of his career

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Luwane Pipkins, Providence

Providence has just about played their way into the NCAA tournament thanks for a February that saw them win five games against ranked teams and earn six of their eight Quad 1 wins on the season.

And if you have been following the Friars closely this season, it may come as a surprise to you that the best player on the floor in those two games was point guard Luwane Pipkins. The grad transfer from UMass had 24 points in an 84-72 win over Marquette in the Dunk on Tuesday night and followed that up with 27 points in a 58-54 win at Villanova on Saturday.

Cooley’s offense has always been at its best when he has a star point guard on his roster, and Pipkins looks like he is starting to emerge as that guy.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia and Texas Tech

Shout out to West Virginia and Texas Tech, because they pulled off some of the most impressive conference bid collusion that I have ever seen this week.

What is bid collusion you ask?

It’s when teams that have bids locked up lose to conference foes that are on the bubble to help ensure that those teams will be in the NCAA tournament as well. West Virginia lost at Texas on Monday and then fell to Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday. Texas Tech? They lost to Oklahoma in Norman on Tuesday and then lost to Texas at home on Saturday.

Oklahoma and Texas are the only two teams in the league that entered the week on or near the bubble.

That is bid collusion at its finest.

Well done, boys.

RELATEDBubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. MICHIGAN STATE IS BACK, BABY

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, and I wrote an entire column about it on Saturday night.

2. THIS IS THE BEST COACHING JOB OF TONY BENNETT’S CAREER

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 13-5 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. SHAKA SMART MAY HAVE JUST SAVED HIS JOB

Texas won two games against ranked teams this week and put themselves into a really good position to try and snipe an at-large bid, but what is a far more interesting storyline with this program is what’s happening with their head coach. Over the last month, Shaka Smart has had to endure everyone wondering whether he would be replaced by Chris Beard or John Beilein. We weren’t even talking about whether or not he could survive this season. We skipped that part and went straight to hiring his replacement.

And it’s hard not to laugh at the irony here. Shaka went into Lubbock and got a win that could get him another season while coaching against the guy that everyone is speculating will be the coach to replace him. I see you, Shaka.

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 absolutely fascinating and one of the biggest storylines in the sport.

4. IMMANUEL QUICKLEY IS THE MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY

At this point, I think Quickley is a lock to win the SEC Player of the Year award. On a team where no one on the roster seems to have any kind of consistency, Quickley has been the rock. In his last 18 games, the 6-foot-3 off-guard is averaging 19.1 points and shooting 46.4 percent from three. He makes all of his free throws. This is anecdotal so I don’t know if it’s entirely accurate, but I’m pretty sure’s hit every single big shot that he has taken this season.

Quite simply, Quickley has been immense. He is Kentucky’s best player and the reason why they have a chance to make a run to the Final Four this season.

5. UDOKA AZUBUIKE HAS THE MOST IMPORTANT ANKLE ON THE PLANET

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: Udoka Azubuike is the most valuable player in the country because he allows Kansas to be able to play four guards, and the four-guard look is the reason this team is elite defensively and a cut above the rest of the country. He’s the best defensive center in the country and he is also the best lob-catcher in college basketball. He’s limited as a player, but in the role he is asked to play for the Jayhawks he is an absolute monster.

And on Saturday, he twice rolled his right ankle. He was able to return to the game after rolling it the first time, but he re-injured the ankle later in the game.

So just how worried should we be able Azubuike’s ankle? Bill Self said he was “fine,” and I don’t think that’s just coach-speak, because Self also told reporters this: “The way he laid on the ground initially, amputation may have been a viable course of action. But he came back, and we probably don’t win the game unless he’s able to give us some minutes.”

OK, I’ll be the one to say it: I’m glad you didn’t need your ankle amputated, Doke.

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.