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Big South Conference Preview: Nick McDevitt, UNC Asheville just keep winning

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

Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.

At some point, a big school is going to figure out that UNC Asheville head coach Nick McDevitt is better at his job than most coaches are at their’s. After reaching the NCAA tournament in 2015-16, McDevitt lost his two best freshman – Dylan Smith and Dwayne Sutton – to Arizona and Louisville, respectively. In 2016-17, despite losing those two, McDevitt’s Bulldogs won three more conference games and a share of the Big South regular season title.

Better yet, McDevitt returns almost his entire rotation from that team, which includes a pair of first-team all-conference performers in Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague. With veterans like Kevin Vannatta and Alec Wnuk back and Donovan Gilmore, a transfer from College of Charleston, eligible up front, there’s no reason to believe UNCA will do anything other than push for the league title once again.

After reaching the NCAA tournament a season ago, Winthrop very nearly lost head coach Pat Kelsey to UMass, but after agreeing to a deal and having a press conference scheduled to announce the hire, Kelsey backed out and returned to the Eagles. He’s going to have his work cut out for him repeating last year’s success, as Keon Johnson, who averaged 22 points, is gone, along with four of their top seven from last year. But Xavier Cooks is back, and Kelsey will have a veteran-laden roster around him.

If Winthrop takes a step back, look for Liberty to take a step forward in the conference standings. They finished 14-4 in the Big South and return a number of key pieces, including Ryan Kemrite, a fifth-year senior a,d Lovell Cabbil. Ritchie McKay will also have a couple of younger players looking for bigger roles, namely Myo Baxter-Ball, but their ceiling will be determine by the health of Caleb Homesley. He was averaging 12.9 points, 6.3 boards and 2.9 assists when he tore his ACL, the second such injury he’s suffered, in December.

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Another contender to keep an eye on will be Campbell, who got Chris Clemons back for his junior season. The 5-foot-9 Clemons was the third-leading scorer in the country a year ago, but it is his supporting cast that makes the Camels promising. A year ago, they were young, with the majority of their rotation being freshmen and sophomores. Now, guys like Marcus Burk and Cory Gensler are sophomores, while there is still a nice blend of veterans on the roster; Shane Whitfield, Mogga Lado, Andrew Eudy.

Radford will also be an interesting team to track. They return everyone of consequence from a team that went 8-10 in the league last season. Charleston Southern is going to be interesting with Christian Keeling, who averaged 17 points and seven boards as a freshman, returning with Cortez Mitchell, but losing Armel Potter to transfer was a blow. Gardner-Webb would have had a shot had they not lost LaQuincy Rideau to a transfer during the offseason. Ande Fox and Jamal Wright are both good young pieces for High Point, but it won’t be easy replacing three of their top four scorers.

Presbyterian is going to be hoping that a change in leadership will change the fortunes of the program, former Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns has taken the reins. Longwood won three games last season and lost their two best players this offseason.

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PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chris Clemons, Campbell

This one was easy. Clemons, a dynamic 5-foot-9 scoring guard, was the nation’s third-leading scorer a year ago, checking in at 25.1 points per game. The Camels finished last season just 7-11 in Big South play, but they did make a run to the final of the Big South tournament and they do return essentially their entire rotation.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM

  • Xavier Cooks, Winthrop: Cooks proved to be one of the most versatile bigs in the league last season, averaging 16.5 points, 9.1 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.7 blocks for the Eagles as they reached the NCAA tournament.
  • MaCio Teague, UNC Asheville: No one is better at finding under-the-radar talent than Nick McDevitt, and he worked his magic again, as Teague averaged 15.4 points as a freshman with the Bulldogs.
  • Ahmad Thomas, UNC Asheville: Thomas was not only the leading scorer for last year’s regular season co-champions, but he also, at 6-foot-3, might have been the best perimeter defender in the conference.
  • Christian Keeling, Charleston Southern: As a 6-foot-4 freshman, Keeling averaged 17.4 points and 7.1 boards for the Buccaneers.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. UNC Asheville
2. Liberty
3. Campbell
4. Winthrop
5. Radford
6. High Point
7. Gardner-Webb
8. Charleston Southern
9. Presbyterian
10. Longwood

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.