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Meet Texas Tech’s Mark Adams, the architect of the best defense in all of college basketball

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MINNEAPOLIS — The architect of the best defense in college basketball knows better than anyone: You don’t make a lot of money playing minor league hockey.

That’s why Mark Adams turned a blind eye when his players would get paid $200 to drop their gloves on the ice and throw hands. The fans loved it and the players could use the money, and as a former Golden Gloves boxer himself, Adams knew a thing or two about fighting. “That’s one of the best things about the sport,” the Texas basketball lifer said, “they are so physical.”

Adams was a college basketball player turned college basketball coach that spent the first two decades of his professional life going from small school to small school in rugged West Texas before he ultimately found himself getting fired by UT Pan American. He wanted to be closer to his family in Lubbock, but he wasn’t sure if the coaching grind was still something that he wanted to do. So he and his twin brother, Matt, went in on a minor league hockey team.

And that’s how the Adams family became the proud owners of the Lubbock Cotton Kings.

“I knew not a thing about hockey when I got into it,” Adams said. “The first time I met our hocket coach, we were talking hockey and I drew the rink and he started laughing at me. ‘Coach, you can’t make it like a basketball court. The puck will be stuck in the corner.'”

It took Adams four or five years before the coaching itch kicked back in and another two years before he was able to get back into the game, and this is when the story of how Texas Tech’s defense was built begins. Adams was named head coach at Howard College, a JuCo in Big Spring, Tx., in 2004, and over the course of the next nine seasons, he won 223 games, three conference titles and, in 2006, a school-record 36 games thanks to the JuCo National Player of the Year, Charles Burgess. Burgess was recruited by Chris Beard, then an assistant coach with Texas Tech, and eventually became a Red Raider, but Beard was just as impressed with Adams and the teams that he consistently put on the floor as he was the players themselves despite the fact that he took a seven-year hiatus from the sport.

“Mark Adams isn’t a national name, but those of us in Texas and especially in small college, junior college, Division II circles, recognize Coach as one of the best guys that ever did it in our part of the country,” Beard said. He knew, early on in their friendship, that if there was ever a situation where he was given a chance to take over a Division I program, he would be hiring Adams.

What he might not have known was just how influential that decision would have on his program.


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Mark Adams has always prided himself on the way his teams defend.

“He wants to win games 31-30,” his son, Luke, a former Texas Tech player and a current head coach in the JuCo ranks, said, and in this program, it is Adams that is in control of the defense. He is, for lack of a better term, the defensive coordinator, and the benefits for Texas Tech have been enormous.

The Red Raiders boast the nation’s best defense. Better than Virginia, according to the defensive efficiency metrics at KenPom. Better than Auburn, who leads the nation in forcing turnovers. And like the Wahoos and the Tigers, the concepts that Adams uses to build his defense are not all that unique. The execution is.

Everything Texas Tech does on that end of the floor is designed to do two things: They want to lock you into one side of the floor, preventing the ball from rotating, and they want to keep you from having any chance to run the offense you want to run.

“I’ve always preached keeping the ball out of the middle, but it’s evolved,” Adams said. “We’re now much more aggressive. My belief is that offense has so many advantages over the defense, and we don’t want to be a victim. So we try to be as aggressive as we can, and try to make them uncomfortable and attack and push them to the sideline and baseline.”

But talk to people around the Tech program, and they will, to a man, tell you that the strength of this Red Raider defense lies in two things: Adams’ unique ability to not only identify the thing that that a defense needs to do to take an opponent out of their flow, but the ability to communicate high-level concepts in a way that is easy to understand and digest, and the fact that he is abnormally prepared for every game and every opponent.

“The way they game-plan is unique,” Luke said. “The original game-plan may be to switch ball-screens, but they’ll have like back-up plans. If that doesn’t work, they’re going to side everything. Then they might trap it, and then they’ll go zone, all based on the adjustment that the other team makes.”

“And they are so well prepared. They know what the other team is going to do.”

Mark Adams says that his process for preparing for an opponent involves watching 20-30 hours of tape. He’ll pour over anywhere between seven and 15 games that their opponent has played, and he will know them as well as their own coaching staff does.

“Every day, he’ll come in and break down how he wants us to guard the post, the side, and it’s like, ‘Coach, we’ve been doing it all year,'” said Tariq Owens, the 6-foot-11 center that is the anchor of this Tech defense. “But if you have one play where you don’t do it right, he’ll stop everyone and break it all down again.”

The next step in the process is to bring this all to Beard, who has watched just as much film as Adams has, and that’s when the pushback starts.

“One good thing about Coach Beard is that he’ll question me about what I want to do, so I have to defend it,” Adams said, chuckling. “Sometimes it feels like it’s me against the whole staff. I pout quite a bit, so usually I’ll win them over. I have a strong will.”

Having the No. 1 defense in the country should be enough to get him some respect, right?

“You’d think so, but I have to remind those guys some times.”


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Everyone seems to have a Mark Adams story, and getting one that can be put into the public realm is not always the easiest thing to do.

Take, for example, Texas Tech assistant coach Brian Burg, who will never forget the first day that he met Adams. It was the day that he got to Little Rock after accepting a spot on Beard’s staff back in 2015, and the first thing they were going to do was go recruit some West Texas JuCos. Because of course.

Beard, for whatever reason, couldn’t make the trip, so he linked Burg up with Adams, who would become colleagues for the first time that day.

“He’s like, ‘I have two errands to run, but I’ll make it quick,'” Burg recalled, huge smile creeping across his face. “I’m thinking this is no problem, I can ride along and we’ll talk and I get to know him. I didn’t realize I needed three seatbelts, because he started driving about 95 mph with a diet coke in one hand, a cell phone in the other while driving with his knee.”

“He was a mile-a-minute, excited and just wanted to talk about basketball, and we got those errands done in about nine minutes.”

Then there is the controversy surrounding the trips to the movie theaters.

Beard, Adams and the rest of the Texas Tech staff are night-owls. They study film deep into the night — when NBC Sports visited their hotel during Final Four week, it was 1 a.m., the second round of coffees had just arrived and they were diving into their yet another Michigan State film session — which has led to quite a few late-night trips to the Cinemark 16 for a late-night movie. There was even one trip where ‘Sex and the City’ was the only movie showing, which resulted in Beard and Adams watching Carrie Fisher on the big screen together well after midnight.

“That was the only time that we didn’t sit right next to each other at the 10:35 movie,” Beard said.

The problem?

Adams has a bit of a habit of forgetting his wallet in the car for those movies.

“He usually does,” Burg says.

But to really understand Adams and what he means to this Texas Tech program, you need to know the story of Sugarfoot.

Adams is in charge of telling a pregame story to the team, and the one that has become particularly popular of late is about Sugarfoot. According to Adams, Sugarfoot is the name of the pitbull that he had growing up, and Sugarfoot was the nicest dog that you’ll ever meet … until another dog crossed her path.

One time, Sugarfoot jumped the fence in the backyard and chased down a dog that happened to walk by, clamping down on its neck and, eventually, killing it.

“You gotta understand, this is 15 minutes before the Buffalo game,” said Max Leferve, another Tech staff member.

“Sugarfoot reminds me of you guys,” Adams told the team. “We’re nice guys, but when it’s time to go fight, we fight. Let’s go grab them by the neck!!!” And with that, the entire locker room erupted, with everyone barking and woofing and working themselves into a frenzy.

“He’s kinda cheesy,” Leferve said, “but the guys buy into it.”

And it now has the Red Raiders two wins away from winning a national title.

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

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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.