Much at stake in Murray State’s potentially historic season

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source: AP

You may not know much about Murray State beyond its 20-0 start or its thrilling upset against Vandy in the 2010 NCAA tournament. (Maybe the Racers were in your bracket.)

But know this: Winning isn’t new to the Racers.

They’ve won the Ohio Valley 22 times (15 since 1988), been to the Big Dance 14 times and is in the middle of its 25 consecutive winning season. Only Syracuse, Arizona and Kansas have bested that.

It’s a place where coaches cultivate themselves into BCS names  – Mark Gottfried, Mick Cronin and Billy Kennedy all thrived there – and has a chance to do something only 1991 UNLV did in the last 30 years: enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten.

source: APTeams have come close (St. Joe’s came up three wins shy in 2004, losing in the A-10 tourney quarterfinals) and Murray State’s far from pulling it off. At least three games loom large before the Ohio Valley tournament begins, but the Racers remain one of the season’s best stories and will surely continue to be just that, even if they do lose a game or two.

So how have they done it?

When coach Steve Prohm took over for Billy Kennedy (now at Texas A&M) this season, he inherited an experienced team (three seniors, five juniors are regulars) and a star player in junior guard Isaiah Canaan who leads Murray State in scoring (18.7 ppg), assists and hits 47 percent of his 3s.

All that experience has paid off in crucial moments, too. Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis talked to Canaan and Prohm earlier this week, focusing on just that.

From Davis:

…  They needed two overtimes to beat Southern Miss in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout over Thanksgiving. They faced a 12-point deficit midway through the second half at UAB on Nov. 20 but rallied to win by seven. They had Memphis down 11 points on the road on Dec. 11, but they withstood a furious Tigers comeback in the last two minutes to win by four. “We can pretty much say we’ve been through every situation,” Canaan said. “That’s part of being upperclassmen. We understand what to do in certain situations in a game, how things are supposed to happen. We really know what it takes to win.”

Still, they have never been through the situation they are in right now. Besides the media glare that is only going to get hotter (especially since they have no mid-week game this week), the Racers know that every road arena they play in will be filled to capacity with fans lusting to witness history. They will also be subject of rabid debate — Will they get an at-large? Where should they be ranked? Where should they be seeded? — as well as speculation over whether they can reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. “We know the target on our back just grew a lot bigger,” Canaan said. “Each game is going to be somebody’s championship game. They’re going to give us their best shot.”

Right now, that’s for certain. And when the NCAA tournament rolls around, Murray State will be a known commodity and won’t be sneaking up on any big-name teams, much like Butler was in 2010. The Bulldogs were a five seed when they made their first Final Four run and were evidently talented and reliable.

Murray State will be cast in the same light. With any luck, it’ll have a similar NCAA tourney run, too.

It’s no secret mid-majors schools don’t operate with the same financial resources as BCS schools. An NCAA tournament victory amounts to roughly $225,000 for a conference, which pays out to the schools over a period of six years. That means victories mean more than pleasing a fan base. They mean money. (Not to mention the overall value of a small school reaching the Final Four.)

Murray State could use that money to bolster various aspects of its athletic department, including men’s hoops. Though the Racers are getting a boost soon.

From the N.Y. Times:

Despite its sustained success, Murray State remains very far from the highest levels of Division I basketball. A lawn and garden show took over the Racers’ home arena recently while the team was on the road. But things are looking up, mainly because of $3.3 million the local bank CFSB paid for the naming rights to the arena. That money is being directed toward the planned construction of a practice facility, which would allow the basketball offices to be moved out of the football stadium.

“We need to make sure our commitment matches up with the expectations around here,” Athletic Director Allen Ward said.

It makes for a potentially historic and lucrative season in Murray, Kent. Think about that the next time the Racers are out on the court.

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Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

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

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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

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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.