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Jeff Eisenberg

Scheduling is holding Morehead State, Murray State back

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He has the reigning conference player of the year at one forward spot, a former Tennessee Mr. Basketball at the other and a bevy of experienced guards, yet Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall knows his team has little chance to earn an at-large NCAA tourney bid next season.

Since the rest of Morehead State's teams rely on the men's basketball program to raise money for them via guarantee games, Tyndall cannot build the type of non-conference schedule likely to generate marquee wins or raise his team's RPI. As a result, the Eagles will accept lucrative financial guarantees to travel to Ohio State, Florida and Northern Iowa next season and won't shell out the $50,000 to $75,000 it would take to lure a marquee opponent to Morehead.

"An at-large bid is unrealistic for us because of our schedule, just being honest," Tyndall said. "You have to play those money games to help your department at our level. I'm not a guy who moans and groans about that. But on the flip side, that's probably what keeps our league continuing to be a one-bid league. Other mid-major conferences are buying home games for $60,000 to $70,000, but we're just not doing that in our league yet."

Scheduling is all that's preventing the Ohio Valley Conference from contending for multiple NCAA tournament berths next season because the league will feature maybe its strongest batch of contenders in years. Murray State brings back four of its top six scorers from last year's 31-win juggernaut, the return of NBA prospect Kenneth Faried and his supporting cast will keep Morehead State in contention and Eastern Illinois has the core of its 19-win team back as well.

Whereas a top West Coast Conference or Colonial Athletic Association team will face elite mid-majors or high-majors on a neutral floor or pay to bring decent mid-majors to its arena, OVC teams largely haven't scheduled in that manner. A 29-4 Murray State team entered last March's OVC tournament title game needing to beat Morehead to make the NCAA tournament because the Racers' No. 57 RPI and lack of quality wins gave them little chance at an at-large bid with a loss.

Of course, Murray State went on to upset Vanderbilt and push eventual national runner-up Butler to the wire, but it's unclear how much that run will elevate the league's status in the eyes of the selection committee. Tyndall fears this year's league champ will be in the same position as Murray State was last year entering the conference tournament because none of the top teams can afford to significantly upgrade their schedules.

"Our league is improving, we have a great commissioner and we have a plan laid out to improve the basketball programs in our league," Tyndall said. "I think eventually the Ohio Valley Conference could be an occasional two-bid league, but right now it's a one-bid league. We'd have to have one of those 34-2 type years and with the schedule we have to play with the guarantee games, that's just probably not a possibility."

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