Ten Things To Know: College basketball’s wildest day of the season

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THAT WAS THE BEST DAY OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!!!

We had game-winners. We had upsets. We had game-winners that landed upsets. We had upsets that earned automatic bids. We even had a game-winner that landed an upset for a team that earned an automatic bid.

What a wild and wonderful day of basketball.

I can’t imagine a better way to put a bow on the regular season and get ready for tournament hoops.

Here are the ten things you need to know from Saturday.

1. UTAH STATE IS DANCING, BABY!!! SHOUTS TO SAM MERRILL.

Sam Merrill hit this shot to beat San Diego State, win the Mountain West tournament and earn Utah State an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

He scored 83 points in three games in Las Vegas this week. That’s pretty impressive.

2. BELMONT IS TOO, SHOUTS TO LIBERTY.

Belmont beat Murray Sate to win the Ohio Valley’s automatic bid, and they did it on this beautiful backdoor play drawn up by Casey Alexander:

The play, according to the broadcast, was called Liberty.

Might it be derived from this?

3. DID WEST VIRGINIA PUT NO. 4 BAYLOR’S 1-SEED IN JEOPARDY?

For weeks, the four projected No. 1 seeds in the 2020 NCAA tournament have stayed the same. Kansas and Baylor dominated the Big 12. They’ve seemingly been ranked in the top five all season. San Diego State and Gonzaga have mostly steamrolled their respective conferences on the West Coast.

After No. 4 Baylor’s road loss at West Virginia, however, the No. 1 seed line is intriguing for the first time in months.

With three losses in the last five games –including road losses to unranked TCU and West Virginia — the Bears aren’t exactly playing their best ball over the final few weeks.

If Baylor ends up with an early exit in next week’s Big 12 tournament could they be in trouble? That remains to be seen — especially after another potential No. 1 seed in San Diego State fell to Utah State on Saturday. But there are a few teams on the current No. 2 line who are knocking on the door. And it makes for a fun storyline to follow for the final week of the season.

RELATEDBubble Watch | Bracketology | Conference Tournaments

4. WE HAVE A THREE-WAY TIE ATOP THE BIG EAST

After Seton Hall beat Marquette in Milwaukee last weekend, the Pirates were sitting two games in front of both Villanova and Creighton in the Big East regular season standings with two games left to play.

Based on the way this season has gone, it should come as no surprise that the Pirates went ahead and lost to both Villanova and Creighton this week, meaning that we will be ending this season with a three-way tie for first in the league. Tri-champions, if you will.

And honestly, after watching three months worth of Big East basketball, that seems like the right outcome. Villanova, Creighton and Seton Hall all looked like clearly the best team in the league at different stretches during the year, and I am all the way here for four days in the world’s most famous arena to try and determine the one true champion of the Big East.

5. NO. 6 KENTUCKY LANDS MIRACLE COMEBACK WIN AT FLORIDA

A crazy week for Kentucky continued with the Wildcats taking an inspired SEC road win at Florida.

Finding themselves down 18 points, Kentucky used a furious rally — without two starting guards — to knock off one of the league’s most talented teams. Playing without Ashton Hagans (personal reasons) and with guard Immanuel Quickley limited to only 21 minutes before fouling out, the Wildcats manufactured an unlikely road win with their backs against the wall.

The final nine minutes saw Kentucky will their way into the lead. Quickley was glued to the bench with his disqualification. It was big man Nick Richards who shined the final 20 minutes. Going to work with Florida center Kerry Blackshear Jr. exiting with a wrist injury, Richards scored 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half.

A few days after blowing its own 17-point lead in an ugly home loss to Tennessee, this is one of the biggest wins of the season for Kentucky. Although the Wildcats comfortably claimed the SEC title awhile ago, Kentucky is still in the mix for a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And if Baylor continues its recent slide, and Kentucky can mount a run in the SEC tournament, this win could be a focal point.

6. DID WISCONSIN REALLY WIN A SHARE OF THE BIG TEN TITLE?

A month ago, it was easy to picture Wisconsin missing the NCAA tournament.

A blowout loss at Minnesota on Feb. 5 put the Badgers at 13-10 and a mediocre 6-6 in the Big Ten. Greg Gard’s ballclub were losers in four out of the last six games.

Even worse, off-the-court storylines overshadowed the on-court product.

Brad Davison became a national story with a low-blow against Iowa. That play resulted in a suspension. Kobe King, one of the team’s key perimeter scoring threats and a starter, shockingly transferred from the school with a month left in the season. A Wisconsin staff member resigned over the use of a racial epithet.

Wisconsin was in a major tailspin they couldn’t seem to correct. Then, something miraculous happened. Gard and the Badgers pulled it all together and rattled off eight straight Big Ten wins.

And here we stand, on March 7, with Wisconsin claiming a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with a 60-56 road win at Indiana. Down by eight with 8:52 left, the Badgers clamped down on defense and shut down the Indiana offense. Nate Reuvers paced four double-figure Wisconsin scorers with 17 points. It wasn’t flashy, but the Badgers found a way to get it done for another tough road win.

It’s part of one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college basketball this season. Wisconsin was facing as much off-court scrutiny as any team in the country. The Badgers were sluggish in the middle of a brutal Big Ten schedule.

This group rallied around each other and figured things out once King left the program. Now at a notable 16-5 since Ohio State transfer Micah Potter joined the lineup, the Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the country. And, depending on what Maryland and Michigan State do on Sunday, Wisconsin still has an outside chance at being outright Big Ten champs.

Who could have possibly seen this coming?

7. JONAH MATHEWS ENDED UCLA’S DREAM OF A PAC-12 TITLE

UCLA has finally taken the lead at USC thanks to a pair of Cody Riley free throws when Mathews, on his senior night, did this:

Thanks to Oregon’s win over Stanford on Saturday night, the Bruins dream of winning at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season title died a quick death.

8. FLORIDA STATE WON THE ACC, BUT DUKE AND VIRGINIA IMPRESSED

Duke looked as good as they have in a long time in a win over rival North Carolina on Saturday night, and Virginia won for the 10th time in their last 11 games by beating Louisville at home, but none of that mattered.

No. 7 Florida State blew out Boston College at home on Saturday, earning themselves the outright ACC regular season title, the first time they have won a regular season title since 1989. As hard as it may be to believe, Florida State, Miami, Virginia (four times) and North Carolina (five times) have won regular season ACC titles since the last time Duke won one.

9. RUTGERS IS DANCING

The biggest bubble news of the day came in West Lafayette, Indiana, when Rutgers knocked off Purdue in overtime. The Scarlet Knights got a road win they desperately needed, and it looks like they are headed for the NCAA tournament.

All of our bubble content can be found here.

10. TEXAS GETS TEXAS TECH IN A KNOCKOUT GAME IN THE BIG 12 TOURNAMENT

Texas and Texas Tech are both very much on the bubble right now. According to the latest Bracketology from our Dave Ommen, they are both sitting in a play-in game at this point.

They will play each other in the first round of the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday. That will be fun.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.