HBO’s ‘Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV’ a treat, even for non-hoopheads

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Everyone’s favorite Rebels are back in a new HBO documentary, “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV.”

The hour-long movie, which premieres March 12, has everything you’d expect in a show about one of college basketball’s most talked about teams: highlights, hilarious anecdotes, shots of the strip and an overwhelming feeling of fun.

That’s what those teams were about, right? Fun. Well, and the Amoeba defense, but that doesn’t really translate into good TV.

Let’s take a peek at the fun.

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Anyone who saw any college basketball in the late ’70s, late ’80s or early ‘90s has some picture of UNLV basketball in their head. Even if you weren’t a huge fan. It was one of those programs that elevated beyond the sport.

Whether it’s Reggie Theus streaking to the hoop when the team burst onto the scene as the original Runnin’ Rebs in 1977 – all the way to the Final Four – or Larry Johnson and crew beating Duke by 30 points in the 1990 championship game, the picture’s usually the same — dynamic players winning games and their coach, Jerry Tarkanian, on the sideline, usually chewing a towel.

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The movie is Tark’s show as much as it’s UNLV’s. Nearly 20 years after he left the school because of NCAA violations, he remains the face of the program, a beloved coach who brought it from nothing to the greatest show on the strip.

He’s now 80, has been out of college basketball for nine years and speaks fondly of those teams, though much of has a lingering bitterness toward the NCAA, which he thought got off lightly in the documentary. I liked the balance. The producers didn’t shy away from any of the issues surrounding UNLV – Lloyd Daniels’ arrest, the now infamous “fixer” photo, among them – and had enough of both sides to suit me.

Besides, that was decades ago. What I wanted to see most — the highlights, and people reflecting on those times – the documentary delivers, and then some. Dunks, defense, shooting, it’s all there from UNLV’s heyday, including those mind-boggling years of seemingly invincible teams. Hey, even Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s on there talking about how good those Rebels were.

But, like any good documentary, it thrives when relevant parties relate their feelings about the team.

Most every player’s there to share their memories (sadly, no Larry Johnson) as well as some notable fans. ABC late night host Jimmel Kimmel makes for an rather entertaining guest, complete with a story about how he and friends once ran across Tark in L.A. during a tournament, and the coach asked if they could give his wife, Lois, a ride back to the hotel. Smiles ensued, both on Jimmy’s face and mine.

Also impressive were the things I’d forgotten about the team. Like how point guard Greg Anthony broke his jaw during a fall in the 1989-90 season, the year they won it all.

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And, of course, there’s the 1990-91 season, in which UNLV nearly pulled off an unbeaten season, only to lose to Duke in the Final Four, serving as a showcase for what I consider to be the greatest game of the ‘90s. No fewer than seven future pros were on the court, playing in a game that would end the Rebels’ reign as college basketball’s dominant team and usher in back-to-back seasons of Duke taking over.

It’s TV diehards fans will love, and non-diehards will enjoy. What better way to spend the night before Selection Sunday?

Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV airs at 9:30 p.m. ET on March 12.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.