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Horizon League Preview: Can Oakland rebound from a first round tourney exit?

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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 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Horizon League.

The major conference arms race in college basketball claimed another Horizon League staple this offseason as Valparaiso is leaving the league for the Missouri Valley Conference. While losing the Crusaders is a big blow to a proud mid-major league, there is still reason to be optimistic about the conference for this season and beyond. There are a few strong teams at the top of the league with intriguing starpower, while four head coaches will be in the Horizon for the first time.

One of the most scary mid-major teams in the country this season will be Oakland. Head coach Greg Kampe always has a fair share of talented offensive players and high-major transfers and the collection of talent he has in place this year could be great. Returning senior forward Jalen Hayes is a leading conference Player of the Year candidate while senior guard Martez Walker put up 17.8 points per game last season.

This team also adds a huge transfer in former Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn. A 1,000-point career scorer in the Big Ten, Nunn helps offset the loss of Sherron Dorsey-Walker. The Golden Grizzlies had a shocking first-round exit from the Horizon League tourney last season and they’ll be hungry to make the NCAA tournament. If Oakland gets there, nobody will want to play them in the first round.

Behind Oakland in the Horizon League pack comes an emerging threat in Northern Kentucky. Making the NCAA tournament in their first full year as a Division I member last season, the Norse return Player of the Year candidate Drew McDonald in the frontcourt and Horizon League tournament MVP Lavone Holland in the backcourt. With four returning starters of their own off of a 24-win team, Northern Kentucky should not be taken lightly this season.

UIC has been accumulating talent over the past few seasons as the Flames are hoping to stay fully healthy. Former league Freshman of the Year Dikembe Dixon tore his ACL 10 games into the season and missed most of his sophomore campaign as he was putting up huge numbers. The Flames still finished a respectable 7-11 in the league and return four starters besides Dixson, including the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year in rim protector Tai Odiase. Point guard Tarkus Ferguson led the Horizon in assists while Dominique Matthews and Godwin Boahen are both solid scorers on the wing.

Reigning league Freshman of the Year Corey Allen will be the go-to guy for a Detroit team that returns three starters of their own. Scoring guard Josh McFolley and forward Gerald Blackshear are two more returning starters while touted freshman point guard Jermaine Jackson Jr. chose to play for his dad, an assistant coach with the Titans. Transfers Kameron Chatman (Michigan) and Roschon Prince (Long Beach State) add additional depth for an intriguing team.

Wright State was hit hard when Mark Alstork opted to transfer to Illinois but the senior backcourt group of Justin Mitchell and Grant Benzinger will be among the league’s best. The Raiders are hoping that some transfers and redshirts are able to step up. Leading scorer Cameron Morse is back for Youngstown State after back-to-back seasons of over 20 points per game. Senior guard Francisco Santiago is another returning double-figure scorer for the Penguins. Other than that, it will be a lot of new faces for the program as new head coach Jerrod Calhoun, a former Bob Huggins assistant with DII success, brought in six new players.

Green Bay has almost an entirely new roster as all-league defensive guard Khalil Small is the only returning starter. Marquette transfer Sandy Cohen should help with his addition at semester break but this team has a lot of question marks. New head coach Dennis Felton inherits three returning starters at Cleveland State but the trio collectively averaged around 21 points per game so there isn’t much notable production. Senior guard Bobby Word is the team’s biggest threat.

Another new head coach in the Horizon is Pat Baldwin at Milwaukee as the former Northwestern assistant gets back junior Brock Stull, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season. The Panthers return three starters around Stull but they only won 11 games last season. Horizon League newcomer IUPUI was added this summer to be a 10th member and the Jaguars are going to have an adjustment period coming off of six consecutive losing seasons in the Summit League.

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


Out: Valparaiso


With nine double-doubles during conference play, the 6-foot-7 redshirt senior is one of the most talented and productive players in the league. The versatile forward put up 15.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game but he also has the skill to potentially space the floor a bit more this season.


  • Kendrick Nunn, Oakland: The redshirt senior put up 15.5 points per game at Illinois when he last played in 2015-16 and could put up big scoring numbers.
  • Dikembe Dixson, UIC: Although he only played 10 games before an ACL injury, the 6-foot-7 forward was putting up 20.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game to start his sophomore year.
  • Cameron Morse, Youngstown State: A big-time scorer with four career 40-point games, the 6-foot-3 Morse should be one of the nation’s leading scorers this season.
  • Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky: An impressive sophomore season made McDonald one of the league’s best as he put up 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.



  1. Oakland
  2. Northern Kentucky
  3. UIC
  4. Detroit
  5. Wright State
  6. Youngstown State
  7. Green Bay
  8. Cleveland State
  9. Milwaukee
  10. IUPUI

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.