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Missouri Valley Preview: Wichita State once again in the driver’s seat

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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 Missouri Valley Conference.

The Missouri Valley Conference became a multi-bid league last season as Wichita State was joined by Northern Iowa as winners of at least one NCAA tournament game in 2015. While it’s hard to say if that will be the case again this season, Wichita State certainly looks dangerous once again, as the Shockers return potential all-americans Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker from a team that made the Sweet 16. That duo, which has reached the 2013 Final Four and led the 20113-14 version of the Shockers to a 35-0 record, is as good as any back court in the country.

Head coach Gregg Marshall has to replace two very good players in former starters Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter, but the transfers of former Kansas guard Connor Frankamp, who will be eligible in December, and former Cleveland State forward Anton Grady should alleviate that burden. The Shockers don’t make mistakes and harass you on the defensive end, two traits they hope help lead them to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last four years.

There isn’t a second team in the Valley as strong as the Panthers last season, but Illinois State is riding some nice momentum after ending last season strong with an Arch Madness win over Wichita State before pushing Northern Iowa to the limit. Former starters Daishon Knight and Reggie Lynch (transfer to Minnesota) will be tough to replace but versatile wing DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell returns along with junior guard and defensive dynamo Paris Lee and forward Deontae Hawkins. If New Mexico transfer Nick Banyard can help replace Lynch, the Redbirds should be tough.

Evansville brings the Valley’s most potent one-two punch in high-scoring senior guard D.J. Balentine and center Egidijus Mockevicius and the Purple Aces return all five starters from a 24-win team that won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Head coach Marty Simmons is hoping that his roster — which returns 91 percent of the scoring and 94 percent of the rebounding — can make an additional leap this season.

It’s not likely that Northern Iowa wins another 31 games now that Valley Player of the Year Seth Tuttle has exhausted his eligibility, but you can’t count out this new-look Panther team. Starters Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan return and Northern Iowa also has some key reserves like wing Paul Jesperson and guards Wes Washpun and Wyatt Lohaus returning.

One of the league’s most intriguing teams will be Loyola, who won 24 games and the CBI last season despite 11 missed conference games from star guard Milton Doyle. When healthy, Doyle is a potential first-team All-Valley player and he’s flanked by a talented and productive group that returns four starters. Indiana State boasts one of the league’s best backcourts as starters Devonte Brown, Brenton Scott and Khristian Smith return, but the frontcourt is a very big question mark. The Citadel transfer Matt Van Scyoc should help up front after sitting out a redshirt season.

Drake is beginning to put together a talented roster after back-to-back solid recruiting classes. Sophomore guard Reed Timmer looks like a future all-league candidate and the Bulldogs brought in a lot of size this recruiting class to bolster their overall depth. Missouri State returns a decent amount of experience, but they finished last season losing 14 of their final 17 games and need to make a major leap this season. Among the returnees, seniors Camryn Boone and Austin Ruder are the most productive players.

It was a tough offseason for Southern Illinois as the program lost five transfers, including some promising younger players. But the Salukis will move on with senior guard Anthony Beane, who should put up big numbers like he did last season. Head coach Barry Hinson needs junior forward Sean O’Brien to be consistent while he’s hoping a recruiting class of some junior college players and late signees can get up to speed quickly. New head coach Brian Wardle is essentially starting from scratch at Bradley as the Braves return one starter from a team that was 3-15 in the conference last season. It will be a year of seeing which newcomers can be important pieces for the future, but Wardle was successful at Green Bay and is hoping to turn it around in Peoria.

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

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “As long as VanVleet and Baker are roaming the backcourt, you can write the Shockers as the favorites with a pen. They rarely make mistakes and they always step up in the clutch.
  • Sleeper: “You look at Loyola winning eight conference games last season without [Milton] Doyle [for some of that time] and that’s an impressive feat. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them have another nice season.”
  • Star to watch: “Just sit back and enjoy the ride when it comes to Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker. That’s one of finest backcourts that this game has seen in the last few years and, while I won’t miss playing them, I will miss what they brought to this league.”

PRESEASON MVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

It’s a toss-up for this award between Baker and Van Vleet, but Van Vleet gets the slight edge for the way he stepped up at the end of last season. One of the country’s most experienced floor leaders, Van Vleet has already earned 95 wins during his career and he’s coming off of a balanced season. The 6-foot-0 senior averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game and he’s a player that isn’t afraid to play in big games and take big shots.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MVC TEAM:

  • Ron Baker, Wichita State: The better long-term prospect of the Shocker senior duo, Baker is a versatile guard who also brings an absurd amount of big-game experience. Baker has shot 38 percent from 3-point range the last two seasons and he cut his turnovers significantly last season despite playing more minutes.
  • D.J. Balentine, Evansville: One of the best scorers in the country, the senior is coming off back-to-back 20-point seasons and figures to put up big numbers. If Balentine can continue to improve his assist-to-turnover ratio he’ll be tough to stop.
  • DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois State: The versatile forward was Illinois State’s leading rebounder last year while being named the Valley’s Newcomer of the Year. The Redbirds are hoping for even more production in extended minutes.
  • Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: The interior running mate to Balentine, Mockevicius finished top 20 in the nation in both field-goal percentage (59%; 16th) and rebounding (9.9 rpg; 19th) as a junior.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW:

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Wichita State
2. Illinois State
3. Evansville
4. Northern Iowa
5. Loyola
6. Indiana State
7. Drake
8. Missouri State
9. Southern Illinois
10. Bradley

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.”