Possible postseason ban didn't deter Cowboys' Cunningham

March 18

Cade Cunningham always figured he’d get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament even after he enrolled at a school facing a postseason ban.

back in June stemming from a federal corruption investigation into college basketball. Those penalties included a one-year restriction from the postseason.


“To be completely honest with you, I knew that if we did what we had to in all the regular-season games, I know how this works,” Cunningham said. “They were going to put us in.”

The Cowboys (20-8) are playing because the sanctions remain under appeal, giving the likely No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft an NCAA Tournament showcase.

Oklahoma State, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, will try to earn its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2009 when it faces

“I think we have a team that can beat anybody in the field,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “Certainly there are a lot of factors that go into each game, but I’ll say this: There’s not anybody we could play that I wouldn’t go into the game thinking I have the best player in the game.”

Cunningham led Oklahoma State to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2017 while the Cowboys dealt with the distraction of the potential ban.

An NCAA infractions committee determined former assistant coach Lamont Evans accepted up to $22,000 in bribes intended to help steer athletes to specific financial advisers. Boynton wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing, and the events occurred years before Cunningham committed to Oklahoma State.

“Obviously with the ban, we feel like the school didn’t do anything wrong, but it was put in place,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham certainly did his part to make his team worth including.

The 6-foot-8 freshman guard is the first Oklahoma State player to earn first-team

Boynton said Cunningham has been a solid teammate who's deferred credit to others.

But he certainly realizes how good he is.

That was apparent this week when Cunningham was asked if he knew how Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a 2003 NCAA Tournament title as a freshman.

“I’ve been saying I wanted to have a Melo-type year since I got here,” Cunningham said. He later added that “Melo’s (are) big shoes to fill, but I’m up for the challenge.”

Cunningham has experienced the thrill of March Madness before. Cunningham said this week that he and a friend were working as ball boys for a 2013 regional semifinal when

“I’m right under the goal when he hits the 3,” Cunningham said. “It was just like one of the craziest moments of my life.”

Now he gets a chance to create his own March memories.

Here are some other Midwest Region story lines heading into Friday’s action:


Georgia Tech is playing its first NCAA Tournament game since 2010 but may have to do it without its best player.

Yellow Jackets coach Josh Pastner said this week that a member of his school’s traveling party had tested positive for the coronavirus and wouldn’t be available unless Georgia Tech (17-8) reached a regional semifinal.

Pastner didn’t identify the person, but


Former Indiana coach

Sampson was Indiana's coach from 2006-08. He received a five-year show cause order from the NCAA in 2008 due to violations involving impermissible calls he made to recruits while coaching at Oklahoma and Indiana.

in 2014 and has gone 163-63 in seven seasons.


Tennessee forward John Fulkerson’s availability is unclear after he took two elbows to his head from Florida’s Omar Payne in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, causing a

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has said Fulkerson is day to day as the fourth-seeded Volunteers get ready to meet No. 13 seed Oregon State.

Fulkerson averages 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds.


AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.


More AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and updated bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket

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