Chris Fowler, AP Photo

MAC Preview: Can Central Michigan make a run?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the MAC.

The MAC enters the 2015-16 season with one clear favorite and a lot of teams fighting to form an identity. The two-division conference has some interesting candidates emerging from both sides of the equation, but one team stands out above the rest.

Central Michigan and head coach Keno Davis are coming off of a 23-win season and return all eight players who averaged at least 15 minutes a game last season, when the Chippewas made the NIT and won the West Division. Now the goal is the NCAA tournament as they have the pieces and experience to try to make a run. Led by MAC preseason player of the year favorite Chris Fowler at point guard, all eight of Central Michigan’s returning players can hit 3-pointers and they can space the floor in any lineup.

After a .500 finish in the MAC in 2014-15, Akron comes in as a major player thanks to the return of four starters and a solid backup guard in Antino Jackson. Senior center Pat Forsythe is a load to handle at 6-foot-11 and the Zips will ride his post touches and double-figure scoring as far as it can take them. Akron is coming off of a 21-14 season and the key could be the return of guard Noah Robotham, who tore his ACL in February.

Kent State checks in right behind Akron in the East Division thanks to the return of its three frontcourt starters and All-MAC junior power forward Jimmy Hall. The 6-foot-8 Hall is joined in the starting group by Chris Ortiz and Khaliq Spencer while Maine transfer Xavier Powell and redshirt guard Kellon Thomas, a former starter, could become the new starting perimeter tandem.

Similar to the Flashes in backstory is second-place in the West Division: Western Michigan. The Broncos lost some experienced guards but get back potential All-MAC forward Connar Tava for his senior season along with wing Tucker Haymond and 6-foot-10 sophomore Drake LaMont. With the addition of 7-foot recruit Seth Dugan and talented guard Bryce Moore, the Broncos could be a team that could make a surprise run.

Trailing Western Michigan in the West Division is Toledo, who has to replace the dynamic senior trio of double-figure scorers that are gone. Senior center Nathan Boothe returns and he’s joined by junior guard Jonathan Williams, so two double-figure scorers remain, but from there it will be interesting to see who takes over at point guard for the Rockets.

Things were looking very positive for Buffalo this summer, even with the loss of head coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State. But then new head coach Nate Oats had to deal with the dismissal of MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss, which leaves the Bulls with a huge hole. Talent is still around, especially on the perimeter, where senior Jarryn Skeete and versatile sophomore Lamonte Bearden are back. But can the program withstand the loss of Hurley and the talent he took with to the Aztecs?

One team to keep tabs on is Miami (Ohio), as the RedHawks return four starters and six scholarship seniors, led by potential all-league selection Eric Washington. Miami is looking for its first winning record since 2009, but they have the potential talent of a postseason team. Northern Illinois has trended upward since head coach Mark Montgomery took over and the Huskies hope that three returning starters and three top rotation players gives them a winning record. Seniors Travon Baker and Darrell Bowie have both started a ton of games while junior Aaric Armstead has All-MAC potential.

It’s hard to say how Ball State will look but the addition of Youngstown State transfer Ryan Weber, graduate transfer center Nate Wells and the return of guard Jeremie Tyler will certainly help. MAC Freshman of the Year Sean Sellers also returns and he’s a threat to hit shots from all over the floor. Ohio has some talent in potential All-MAC center Antonio Campbell, but the Bobcats have to rely a lot on transfers for big production as former Houston point guard Jaaron Simmons and former Michigan State forward Kenny Kaminski earn primary roles.

Questions marks also fill the lineup of Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad. Junior guard Raven Lee is an All-MAC talent, but he’s the only returning starter to a team that will ask a lot of role players and recruits. Bowling Green brings back a starting backcourt, but loses a player to the NBA in Richaun Holmes. With a new head coach in Michael Huger and a five-man recruiting class, there are a lot of people acclimating to new roles in Division I basketball.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “When you return that much of your team like Central Michigan did, it’s hard to argue with the success they already had with 23 wins and the NIT appearance. Fowler and Simons are such a solid one-two punch.”
  • Sleeper: “Miami has a core of seniors that really wants to win and Eric Washington is a solid playmaker at guard. I could see them having a good season.”
  • Star to watch: “Chris Fowler is the ultimate leader and winner. He makes everyone else on Central Michigan better.”

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chris Fowler, Central Michigan

Central Michigan enters the 2015-16 season as the most complete returning team in the MAC and Fowler is the engine that makes them go. An experienced guard with over 1,000 career points and loads of assists, the 6-foot-1 senior averaged 16.2 points and 6.1 assists per game last season while he helped lead the Chippewas to 23 wins and a NIT appearance.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MAC TEAM:

  • Eric Washington, Miami (Ohio): If Fowler is the MAC’s top lead guard, then Washington is right behind him. The 5-foot-10 senior put up 14.2 points and 5.5 assists a game last season.
  • Jimmy Hall, Kent State: Coming off of a breakthrough sophomore season, the 6-foot-8 Hall will look to somehow improve on 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 53 percent shooting.
  • Raven Lee, Eastern Michigan: A scoring guard coming off of a big sophomore season, the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 16.7 points per game and was a second-team All-MAC selection last season.
  • John Simons, Central Michigan: The talented running mate of Chris Fowler, Simons is a lethal shooter, hitting 91 treys last season at a 45 percent clip. Averaging 12.3 points and 6.8 boards as a junior, the 6-foot-8 forward could be in line for a big senior season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

EAST
1. Akron
2. Kent State
3. Buffalo
4. Miami (Ohio)
5. Ohio
6. Bowling Green
WEST
1. Central Michigan
2. Western Michigan
3. Toledo
4. Northern Illinois
5. Ball State
6. Eastern Michigan

New York senator the latest to propose bill to abolish amateurism

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A second state now has legislation in the works that would make it legal for college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

Kevin Parker, a New York state senator from Brooklyn, has proposed a bill similar to California’s Fair Pay To Play act, not only giving college athletes the ability to sell their NIL rights but also requiring athletic departments to give a 15 percent share of their annual revenue to the student-athletes. California’s bill, which will go into effect in 2023 if it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, would make removing a student-athlete from their scholarship for accepting endorsement money illegal.

“It’s about equity,” Parker told ESPN. “These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities.

“You don’t need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we’re providing some real support for these student-athletes.”

New York joins the growing list of organizations that are pushing back against the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado and Washington have had legislators discuss whether or not to make similar changes to the law, while Congressmen from North Carolina and Connecticut have made pushes at the federal level. Democratic Presidential candidate Anrew Yang has blasted the NCAA over their amateurism rules, while just last week, NBA agents made public the fact that they will be refusing to register for the NCAA’s proposed certification process.

Rick Pitino, Louisville settle lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The University of Louisville and former head coach Rick Pitino have reached a joint agreement to drop their lawsuits against each other.

The two sides “have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation and move forward,” according to a joint statement that was released by the University and Pitino. Pitino will not be paid any money as a result of this settlement, but he departure will now be classified as a resignation, effective Oct. 3rd, 2017.

Pitino had sued Louisville for somewhere around $40 million.

“For 17 years, Coach Pitino ran a program that combined excellence on the court with a commitment to the program’s student-athletes, their academic achievement, and their futures in and out of basketball,” the state said. “Nevertheless, there were NCAA infractions during his term which led to serious consequences for the university. Although these infractions may not have occurred at Pitino’s direction or with his knowledge, the problems leading to NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. We thank Coach Pitino for his years of service to the University of Louisville basketball program and wish him well.”

“Today I move on to a new chapter in my life,” a statement from Pitino reads. “Against my lawyer’s advice, I’m dropping my lawsuit with ULAA. I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I’m so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I’m also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members. I still have so much passion for the game and so many goals I want to achieve. From this day forward I start my climb.”

Kentucky lands commitments from two more elite prospects

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John Calipari is getting his work done early in the 2020 recruiting class, as he added two more commitments over the weekend.

On Thursday, it was Lance Ware, a 6-foot-10 post player from Camden, New Jersey, that announced his commitment. Ware is a top 50 recruit that held offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Miami. The bigger news, however, came on Saturday afternoon, when Terrance Clarke announced that he will be enrolling at Kentucky whenever he ends his high school tenure. Clarke is currently a member of the Class of 2021, but the plan is for him to reclassify and graduate high school this year.

Clarke is a consensus top three player in 2021 – and he may be the No. 1 player in that class, depending on who you ask – and should immediately vault into the top five of the 2020 recruiting class. An athletic, versatile wing that stands 6-foot-6, Clarke is a potential lottery pick given his physical tools and the way that he projects as multi-positional defender with the ability to create off of the dribble. Ware, like Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery before him, projects as the kind of player that will spend 2-3 years in Lexington.

Clarke and Ware join top ten prospect B.J. Boston and another top 50 recruit, Cam’Ron Fletcher, in Kentucky’s 2020 class. That’s three wings in the class with Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks currently on campus. Throw Montgomery into the mix, and that’s eight players that fit somewhere into a lineup as a wing or a face-up big man, and it seems rather unlikely that all five of the guys currently at Kentucky will leave the school this offseason. Put another way, this looks like the end of Kentucky’s pursuit of the likes of Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.

Calipari is still recruiting Cade Cunningham despite the fact that many expect Cunningham to end up at Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother Cannen, but Cade has skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings as he has transitioned to playing the point. Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of other forwards, including Scottie Barnes, Isaiah Todd and Greg Brown.

Tony Bennett turns down raise, signs contract extension

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Virginia announced that they have signed head coach Tony Bennett to a contract extension, keeping him under contract through the 2025-26 season.

This is not unexpected. He just won the national title. I think he earned a new deal.

What is unique here, however, is that Bennett turned down a raise. He asked for more money for his assistants and for some cash to be put towards improvements in both his program and the other Virginia sports teams, but he passed on getting more money put into his own bank account.

“[My wife] Laurel and I are in a great spot, and in the past I’ve had increases in my contract,” Bennett said in the news release. “We just feel a great peace about where we’re at, all that’s taken place, and how we feel about this athletic department and this community and this school. I love being at UVA.

“… I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men’s basketball], that’s my desire.”

That’s the dream scenario right there, being rich enough to turn down more money.

NCAA urges California governor not to sign ‘fair pay’ bill

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The NCAA Board of Governors wants California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject a new attempt to pay college athletes.

And it is prepared to take the fight to court if necessary.

In a six-paragraph letter released Wednesday, the board urged Newsom not to sign the legislation known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names, likenesses and images. The move comes two days after approval of the measure by the California Assembly, with the state Senate expected to consider the measure later this week.

The board warned that California schools may be declared ineligible for NCAA competition if the bill becomes law because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage.

“We’ve explored how it might impact the association and what it might do. We believe it would inappropriately affect interstate commerce,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, told The Associated Press. “It is not intended to be a threat at all. It’s a reflection about the way California is going about this.

“I’m not saying there will never be a day we would consider that (legal action), but it is not meant to be a threat,” Remy said.

The NCAA said the measure would affect more than 24,000 athletes in the nation’s most populous state.

Should the bill pass, Newsom would have 30 days to sign or veto it. If he does nothing, the bill would become law. It would be the first measure of its kind and the outcome is being closely watched as one of the biggest challenges in years to the NCAA’s longstanding and far-reaching model of amateur sports. Over the past decade, that model has come under increasing pressure – and attacks in court – as critics push for big-time college athletics to clear the way for the athletes themselves to benefit financially.

NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting off their athletic skills. The organization, however, has recently begun considering rules changes to loosen those restrictions, though NCAA President Mark Emmert – and the board again on Wednesday – insist that players cannot be paid or become the equivalent of a university employee. Formal recommendations are expected to be made at the board’s October meeting.

It appears there is an appetite for significant changes.

Board members met with the working group studying these issues in August but neither Remy nor board member Denis McDonough would discuss specific proposals.

“The rules that we operate under, many of which date to 1975, may not be suitable for us in 2021 with the challenges and opportunities student-athletes face,” said McDonough, the White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. “So we are and have been taking a very close look at how we can modernize those rules. We’re hoping the state of California would recognize that modernizing those rules for student-athletes across the country is the best way to do that.”

Supporters think those changes are already overdue and believe California’s elected officials should act now.

“The NCAA’s assertions are purposefully misleading,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “The 9th Circuit upheld a ruling concluding that the NCAA’s ban on player name, image, and likeness compensation does not bring forth a level playing field. The Big 12 commissioner stated competitive equity is `largely an illusion.’

“NCAA amateurism is a fraud. It’s a $14 billion a year industry with millionaire coaches. An NCAA ban on California colleges would amount to an illegal group boycott that would violate federal and California antitrust laws.”

The NCAA believes the California measure would violate the federal Commerce Clause and may not withstand a legal challenge; Remy cited a previous case in California in which the state tried to inhibit the NCAA from enforcing its rules. The NCAA won that case.

Should the measure pass, Remy said, the NCAA would penalize the schools, not individual athletes.

“There are two parts to this and part of this is the membership and that includes the California schools,” Remy said. “Schools and universities agree to comply with the rules of (NCAA) membership and there are a set of eligibility criteria that go along with being member institution. The California schools have consented to that criterion. So in that context it would be the schools that would directly impacted.”