Gonzaga’s bid for perfection begins with No. 1 overall seed

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga’s road to perfection will be filled with familiar faces.

The Bulldogs were the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket announced Sunday as they try to become the first team in 35 years to complete a perfect season.

Gonzaga is the top seed in the West Region for the all-in-Indiana bracket that starts this week and the next three seeds are teams it has already beaten – all by double digits.

The Zags (26-0) beat No. 2 Kansas 102-90 to open the season and took down No. 2 seed Iowa 99-88 a month later. Gonzaga also beat No. 4 seed Virginia 98-75 in late December.

Gonzaga won every game this season by double digits except for one – when star freshman Jalen Suggs was injured – and has a school-record 30-game winning streak over two seasons.

The Zags are the first team since Kentucky in 2015 to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated and have their sights set on the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, the last team to finish a perfect season.

“We finally acknowledged this is a big deal,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It puts us in some incredible company. It’s a heck of an accomplishment.”

Gonzaga opens the tournament Saturday against the First Four winner between Norfolk State and Appalachian State. Get by that and the Zags will play the winner between No. 8 Creighton and No. 9 Missouri.

BENEFICIAL SCHEDULING

Kansas and Virginia have to be thankful the NCAA not only pushed back the start of the tournament but put them in a region that begins on Saturday.

Both teams had to bow out of their conference tournaments before the semifinals due to positive COVID-19 tests and the extra time should allow them to have their full rosters available.

No. 11 Kansas held out David McCormack and Tristan Enaruna before the Big 12 Tournament started due to positive tests, then had another before it was supposed to play No. 13 Texas.

All three players remained in Kansas City after the tournament, but McCormack and Enaruna are expected to rejoin the team this week. The third, unidentified player will have to miss the first weekend of the tournament.

“Since that’s the draw we got, I might as well be comfortable with it and like it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I certainly don’t dislike it.”

No. 16 Virginia, which won the last national championship in 2019, had to bow out of its Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament game against eventual champion Georgia Tech due to a positive test.

Kansas opens against Big Sky champion Eastern Washington and Virginia plays Mid-American Conference champ Ohio, which made the field of 68 for the first time since 2012.

SHOCKING RIDE

Wichita State’s return to the tournament for the first time since 2018 couldn’t have gone down a bumpier road.

The Shockers appeared to be headed toward a rebuild when seven players transferred from last year’s team and coach Gregg Marshall was fired just before the season started for allegedly verbally and physically abusing players.

Wichita State also had eight games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 issues.

The Shockers (16-5) rallied behind interim coach Isaac Brown, who was hired fulltime late in the season, to reach the American Athletic Conference title game. A loss to Cincinnati led to some tense moments on Selection Sunday, but Wichita State made the field as a No. 11 seed and will open against Drake in the First Four.

LOPING IN

Grand Canyon has a difficult opening game, facing Iowa on Saturday. The 15th-seeded Antelopes will enjoy their trip to Indianapolis no matter what happens.

Grand Canyon lost to New Mexico State in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title game for two straight years under previous coach Dan Majerle. The Antelopes finally got over the hurdle in their first year under coach Bryce Drew, beating the Aggies 74-56 in Las Vegas to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight years as a Division I program.

Drew knows a little something about NCAA Tournament drama, hitting a game-winning 3-pointer for Valparaiso against Mississippi 23 years ago, so you never know.

REST OF THE REGION

The West Region has two Pac-12 schools: No. 24 Southern California and regular-season champion Oregon.

The sixth-seeded Trojans open with the Wichita State-Drake winner and the Ducks face Virginia Commonwealth in a battle of two tenacious defenses.

Games between No. 5 and No. 12 seeds are always popular upset picks and Santa Barbara over Creighton will likely show up in a few brackets across the country.

No. 5 Creighton had a 20-win season that included victories over NCAA Tournament teams Georgetown, Villanova and two over Connecticut. The Bluejays also have one of the bracket’s best players in Marcus Zegarowski, but have had games where they’ve gone cold shooting, including the Big East title game.

The Gauchos are in the bracket for the first time since 2011, but have lost once since Jan. 1 and beat UC Irvine in the Big West title game.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.