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2017-18 Season Preview: Programs on the Rise, Decline

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

College basketball is a zero sum game. For every winner, there’s a loser. For every ascendent program, there’s a descending one. Here, you’ll find five programs on their way up, and five headed the other way.

PROGRAMS ON THE RISE

Wichita State: At first glance, it wouldn’t appear that there’s a lot of room to move up for the Shockers given all they’ve accomplished over the last five years (five NCAA tournaments, an undefeated regular season and a Final Four being the highlights), but Wichita State remains on the come-up. The move from the Missouri Valley Conference, which after the defection of Creighton became destined for one-bid league status, to the American isn’t a radical move, but it’s an important one. It keeps the Shockers insulated against a bad conference tournament showing by upping their chances for quality RPI wins and will keep them in the national conversation throughout the winter months – rather than just as Selection Sunday approaches. Plus, every spring that passes with Marshall still in south central Kansas is further evidence that he’s not leaving unless the best of jobs comes along. Oh, and he’s got a top-10 team this year. The Shockers are solidifying themselves among the nation’s elite.

Alabama: The Tide have been pretty mediocre in Avery Johnson’s first two seasons as a college coach, going 37-30 overall and 18-18 in SEC play. This year, though, Alabama looks like a top-25 team after Johnson reeled in a top-10 recruiting class, headlined by potential lottery pick Collin Sexton along with top-100 prospects John Petty and Alex Reese. Alabama looks like it’s becoming a player on the national recruiting stage, and it’s setting up to make Tuscaloosa an interesting place for hoops.

Texas: The Longhorns shouldn’t be on a list like this given the money that their athletic department operates with and the fertile recruiting grounds within driving distance of Austin, but after things languished in the final years of Rick Barnes’ tenure and then cratered with an 11-22 season in Shaka Smart’s second year, it’s exactly where Texas is. Things are looking up, though, as Smart looks to be gaining a footing in the program, recruiting the likes Mohamed Bamba, Matt Coleman and the rest of a five-man 2017 recruiting class made up of top-100 players. Texas is back on its way to being Texas, which is to say a national power.

Northwestern: After going 0-for-program history, the Wildcats finally broke through with an NCAA tournament appearance last year, even winning a game before bowing out to Gonzaga on the Bulldogs’ way to the national championship game. They’re even in better position this year to make a run with nearly everyone from last year’s team returning, plus coach Chris Collins looks to be setting the program up for success in the future, having already secured commitments from two four-star recruits in 2018. Northwestern, much like their north side Chicago baseball neighbors, are finally selling something more than hope.

Ohio State: As much success as Thad Matta had in Columbus, it’s inarguable that the Buckeyes ran into tough times in the last few years, missing back-to-back NCAA tournaments and seeing a heralded recruiting class all transfer out of town. Matta’s one of the game’s best, but a move to Chris Holtmann helps secure the future for Ohio State. Holtmann helped Butler transition from the A-10 to the Big East without the Bulldogs ceding any ground. He’s an excellent fit from just about every perspective, and makes Ohio State’s return to the top of the Big Ten seem likely.

PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE

Louisville: This one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Tuesday’s federal charges that apparently claimed that the Cardinals landed five-star prospect Brian Bowen courtesy of $100,000 payable to his family from adidas would make this “on the decline” designation fit by itself. Coupled with the fact Louisville hasn’t even made it yet through the NCAA appeals process for its prostitution scandal, yeah, this ain’t going in the right direction for the Cardinals. It’s hard to see how legendary coach Rick Pitino makes it through this with a job, and how the athletic department as a whole makes it through well enough to keep the basketball program among the country’s elite without a significant – and lengthy – hit.

Syracuse: Yeah, the Orange made the Final Four in 2016, but they did it after sneaking into the field after a 9-9 ACC season. On the years sandwiching that Final Four, Syracuse missed the tournament. Jim Boeheim’s 2017 recruiting class didn’t have a top-100 player in it and the Orange only have two of their top-seven scorers back from last year. Syracuse does have a top-25 commit in 2018, but there’s a lot of work to do in upstate New York.

Oklahoma State: There’s a lot to this one. Let’s start with the fact that Lamont Evans was one of the four assistants charged Tuesday as part of the FBI corruption investigation. Evans was hired in 2016 by Brad Underwood and then promoted to associate head coach by current head man Mike Boynton, Jr. this spring. So that’s not good. In more traditional trouble, the Cowboys have developed a reputation for being cheap on hoops. While mega-donor T.Boone Pickens lavishes the Oklahoma State football program, hoops is languishing. Underwood left reportedly due to feeling unappreciated financially (he was making about $1 million), and instead of going out and making a statement hire, they just elevated Boynton from assistant to head coach for the same annual salary as Underwood. So just a year after a universally praised move of hiring Underwood, Oklahoma State finds itself with an unproven coach, a damaging reputation for hoops prioritization and a part of perhaps the biggest scandal in college basketball in a generation or two. Not great.

Connecticut: Since winning the 2014 national championship, Kevin Ollie’s program has missed the NCAA tournament twice in three years. Last year, the Huskies lost the last four games of the regular season to end things with a thud. Their 2017 recruiting class didn’t feature a top-150 recruit, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll finish in the top-half of the American this year. Things are not trending in the right direction in Storrs.

Cal: The Bears opted for continuity when they elevated Wyking Jones from assistant to head coach after Cuonzo Martin skedaddled to Missouri. What’s continuing, though, isn’t all that pretty. Cal made just one NCAA tournament in three years under Martin, and this year it looks as though the Bears may finish in the cellar of the Pac-12. They do already have two top-100 recruits in the fold for 2018, but the immediate future looks difficult in Berkeley.

Iowa’s McCaffery says, “I’ve turned programs in” for cheating

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There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.

Not for Fran McCaffery, though.

The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.

“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”

Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.

McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.

“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”

Report: Louisville offered $1.5 million settlement to Pitino

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When it became clear that Louisville and Rick Pitino were going to part ways, much of the discussion instantly turned to the more than $40 million left on the coach’s contract.

The school reportedly tried to avoid that whole ordeal Monday, but Pitino apparently wasn’t interested.

Louisville offered to pay $1.5 million to a charity started by Pitino in exchange for his resignation, according to WDRB-TV Louisville. Pitino did not accept and was then fired for cause by the Louisville board.

It’s little surprise to see Pitino reject such an offer with so many more millions on the table should he (almost certainly) begin legal proceedings trying to recoup the cash that Louisville says it doesn’t owe him by firing for cause.

I vehemently reject (the school’s) right to do so ‘for cause,’” Pitino said in an affidavit sent to the school. “I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”

The firing came on the heels of the latest controversy  to hit Louisville under Pitino’s watch. First came the escort scandal that rocked the program, but now the school is part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Ten people were arrested as part of the probe, including an adidas executive who is alleged to have orchestrated getting $100,000 to the family of a recruit in order to facilitate his commitment to the Cardinals program.

Pitino may be out at Louisville, but with more than $40 million at stake, the school surely hasn’t seen the last of him.

Louisville officially fires Rick Pitino

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Louisville’s Athletic Association has officially fired head coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball linked the Hall of Fame head coach and his program to a $100,000 payment from Adidas to a recruit that enrolled at Louisville.

The association, made up of trustees, faculty, student and administrators, oversees Louisville athletics. They voted unanimously to fire Pitino.

Pitino has $44 million in salary remaining on his contract, which extends through the 2026 season. He was with Louisville for 16 seasons.

Pitino had been ‘effectively fired‘ by the university on September 27th, the day after the scandal first broke.

Earlier this summer, Louisville had received their sanctions from the NCAA in a different scandal that enveloped Pitino’s program. In October of 2015, a book was published by an escort named Katina Powell who alleged that a member of Pitino’s staff had paid for strippers and prostitutes for recruits and members of the Louisville team, some of whom were underage. The NCAA’s sanctions, which included vacating the 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title in addition to Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban, were handed down in June, two weeks after a Louisville coach had allegedly helped facilitate a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Brian Bowen’s family and six weeks before another coach would allegedly attempt to do the same for a 2019 prospect.

Kansas’ Self: Adidas case a “dark cloud on our profession’

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self had come to know James Gatto well over the years, along with just about everyone else involved with the college basketball side of the athletic apparel giant Adidas.

It comes with the territory as one of the company’s flagship schools.

But when Self first heard that Gatto had been swept up in a wide-ranging FBI investigation, centered on Louisville but uncovering corruption elsewhere in college basketball, the Jayhawks’ coach admitted being “very disappointed and disheartened” and likened it to a “dark cloud for our profession.”

Prosecutors have accused the 47-year-old Gatto of conspiring with coaches and others to funnel payments to top prospects and their families to win commitments to play at schools sponsored by Adidas. The idea was that their relationship with Adidas would continue whenever they reached the professional level.

The family of one prospect was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit, according to court documents, and the school was later revealed to be Louisville. The school has since placed coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave while the federal investigation is being resolved. Nine others, including former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, have been charged in the case.

Self said during a lengthy interview Friday that the cash payments from Adidas surprised him, but “what is not surprising is third parties’ involvement in recruiting. Everyone should know that.”

“That’s prevalent everywhere,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about agents talking to kids and their families in ninth and 10th grade. There’s nothing illegal about shoe companies funding AAU programs. That is what’s been encouraged and done, so it shouldn’t be a surprise you could have influence from third parties.”

Kansas officials insist they have not been contacted by the FBI, and the school is not under any sort of investigation. It

Kansas recently reached a 12-year contract extension with Adidas that will ultimately provide the school with $191 million in sponsorship money and apparel. Self suggested the affiliation is being used by rivals on the recruiting trail.

“Whenever in recruiting there is something out there that has been reported, whether it’s reliable or unreliable, total myth, whatever, there’s usually competitors that make sure that information gets to people. Unfortunately, that’s how it works,” Self said. “You can say that’s negative recruiting … but a lot of times the things that are reported are so inaccurate it puts you on the defense.”

The Jayhawks already have commitments from two top-100 prospects in 6-foot-9 forward Silvio de Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy and 6-10 center David McCormack from Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.

They are also in the mix for several more top-50 prospects in what could be a crucial class for them.

“I’d be lying,” Self said, “if I told you we hadn’t discussed these issues with kids. And has it hurt us to date? I don’t think it has. But it’s not signing day, either.”

Attorney makes case for Louisville to retain Pitino as coach

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rick Pitino’s attorney has told the Louisville Athletic Association that it should not fire the coach of the men’s basketball program because his client “could not have known” about activities alleged in a national federal investigation of the sport.

Steve Pence made his case Monday while the ULAA was meeting to discuss whether to fire Pitino nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged the program’s involvement in the investigation. The association board is still meeting and has not announced its decision.

Association, a separate body that oversees Louisville’s sports programs and comprised of trustees, faculty, students and administrators, on Oct. 2 authorized university interim President Greg Postel to begin the process of firing Pitino for cause after Postel placed him on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 27.

Pitino, 65, is not named in court complaints in the federal probe but Postel said in a disciplinary letter that the allegations violated his contract.

Pence has contended that Louisville rushed to judgment and made his case before the board for 45 minutes on Monday.

He said Pitino should be retained and noted, “The coach did not engage in any of this activity, he didn’t know about the activity. I think we made a very compelling case to the board, I think they listened attentively and we’ll just have to wait and see what they say.”

Pitino has coached 16 years with the program, a run that included winning the 2013 NCAA championship but was tarnished by several embarrassing off-court incidents.