Photo courtesy PC Athletics
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Over the last week the first signs of a college basketball season have begun to spring.
First we heard from Providence College coach Ed Cooley. Then we Zoomed (is that the new verb du jour or what?) with UConn’s Dan Hurley. Finally Big East titan Jay Wright held a video conference with some media peeps.
Throw in a few 401 Podcasts and it’s starting to feel as if a night at the Dunk or the Ryan Center doesn’t seem that far away.
Well hold your horses, Bunky. Relax basketball boy.
This is the 2020-21 season. Nothing will feel normal.
We write these words with fingers crossed and simply hope that there will be a college basketball season this winter. College kids will be able to juggle the coronavirus and frat parties, masking up and getting down.
Right? We sure hope so, but no one can speak with any certainty right now.
Consider the answer ‘Nova’s Wright gave when asked the chances of his team playing its full, scheduled season.
“I’d say 50/50,” Wright said.
Wright – and Cooley – can appreciate what may lie ahead. Both the Wildcats and Friars had to cope with outbreaks on their campuses in the last two months. Marquette’s program is shut down until early November because of one positive test result in the men’s basketball program and one on the women’s side.
“You have to try to anticipate what it’s going to look like,” Wright said, “but you have to realize you could be wrong.”
Villanova did not bring its players to campus for most of the summer. When everyone did return in late August it only took a few weeks before Wright had to shut everything down for 14 days when an undisclosed number of members of the program tested positive for the virus.
“Initially the whole team is shut down (and) we all have to be prepared for that during the season,” Wright said.
Fans don’t want to read the next paragraph but here is the home run section of the NCAA’s recently released `Resocialization of College Basketball’ principles.
A typical basketball team has 15 players, all of whom typically train on a single basketball court at the same time in an enclosed space. Generally speaking, it is expected that the total number of Tier 1 individuals within a team would approximate 25-30. If any Tier 1 individual becomes infected, schools should consider quarantining the entire team, including coaching staff and other essential personnel who are part of Tier 1, for 14 days, provided determinations around who must be quarantined are ultimately the jurisdiction of applicable public health officials. At present, there is not a recommendation for consideration of testing out of quarantine.
So if a third string point guard tests positive, the entire program is shuttered for two weeks. Everyone else can test negative for three or four days in a row and it doesn’t matter.
This standard needs to own some fluidity, some leeway. Maybe the NCAA will provide that and maybe each state will impose its own restrictions. It’s a moving target but the reason why no one is confident about getting a full schedule in this season.
** Wright confirmed that the Big East will try to play four or more games in December. A tentative schedule should be released sometime next week, according to sources. We’ve also heard that if December does not yield very many games due to pandemic restrictions, the possibility of pods (or bubbles) does exist in early January.
Wright pointed out the obvious, however, when asked why the Big East won’t bubble its entire conference schedule.
“The costs are exorbitant,” Wright said. “These are college kids. They’re not professionals. You really can’t demand they go into a bubble. And if you do it for men, you’ve got to do it for women’s and that doubles the cost.”
** Pretty cool to see that Villanova’s Collin Gillespie and Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski are both potential All-Americans. I get it. Gillespie picked up where Ryan Arcidiacono left off and has been at the controls for waves of Wildcat wins over the last three years. Zegarowski was a breakout performer as a sophomore, a Massachusetts kid who somehow escaped the East Coast to run-and-gun in Omaha.
The thing is they are far from locks to be the top two guards in the Big East. David Duke of Providence dropped 36 points at Creighton a year ago and is the top defensive guard in the conference. James Bouknight averaged nearly 18 points over his last 10 games as a freshman at UConn. He’s another All-America candidate. We’ve seen Bryce Aiken at Harvard. Now he’s at Seton Hall. He’s good.
The Big East gave us Markus Howard and Myles Powell last year. This year it promises to be more of the same. It’s a guards league, always has been, always will be.
** Wright on Cole Swider, the junior forward from Portsmouth who appears ready to take on a much larger role at Villanova.
“Cole, of all the guys, probably did one of the best jobs working out on his own,” Wright said. “In terms of his strength and his confidence I am impressed.”
Swider averaged 18.5 minutes per game as a sophomore with 15 starts and posted 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds a game. Known as a dead-eye shooter in his prep career at St. Andrew’s and EYBL run with BABC, Swider shot just 35 percent from the 3-point line and 66 percent from the foul stripe. If those numbers perk up, as expected, the 6-9 wing could blossom.
*The best line of Hurley’s interview will resonate with URI fans. Hurley was, well, excitable when he coached in Kingston. But that was nothing compared to his act during his collegiate head coaching debut at Wagner back in the fall of 2010. Spurred on by his brother, Bobby, on the staff the coach was ready to explode when it came time to run his first college practice.
“Butterflies, man, I was nervous,” he said. “I was hyperventilating on the way down to the court. Then you knock down a Red Bull, and all hell broke loose.”