Fatts Russell and the URI Rams will play at Wisconsin Wednesday (Naismith Hall of Fame)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Who needs a schedule in this crazy, COVID world?
That’s the mantra around college basketball right now as positive COVID tests pop up from coast to coast. Teams lose an opponent one day, add another the next. Where it all ends is a race to get in as many healthy, virus-free contests as possible.
The latest beneficiary is the University of Rhode Island. The Rams were left without any games until a trip to Western Kentucky on Sunday, Dec. 13 after Boston College dropped URI last week. But after shakeups at other schools, Rhody and the University of Wisconsin have agreed to play in Madison to take on the No. 13 Badgers at 4:30 p.m. EST on the Big 10 Network.
“We lost a game (BC) we were supposed to play therefore we were calling around to anybody and everybody,” said URI coach David Cox. “We didn’t want any game, we wanted the right game.”
The Badgers (3-1) were left without a home game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Louisville this week due to a COVID-19 program pause by the Cardinals. Rhode Island (3-2) was looking for a game after its contest at BC for Dec. 5 was called off after the Eagles chose to play Florida instead.
“We knew going into the year that this season would be unlike any other,” Rhode Island Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn said in a sschool release. “This is a fantastic opportunity that came together quickly, and we are grateful to Wisconsin for its willingness to work together to make it happen. Our basketball and administrative staffs are continuing to work tirelessly to explore every possibility, and it shows in the strength of our schedule.”
URI coach David Cox clearly wants to test his team and the opportunity to play at a nationally ranked Big Ten team was too good to pass up. He described the schedule scramble as “a free-for-all” and once Wisconsin’s opening became public, calls were instantly made. The Rams not only needed to line up transportation they also had to satisfy Wisconsin’s Big Ten coronavirus testing protocols.
“The Big 10 has big money so they were able to secure us flights out to Madison,” Cox said, “but you have to sell them on your particular (testing) protocols and who we are as a program.”
URI has been testing its players, coaches and support staff three times per week but the Big Ten guidelines will dictate testing Tuesday in Rhode Island, Tuesday night in Wisconsin and again before game time Wednesday.
“It’s a daily thing,” Cox said. “I’ll be honest every night that’s the number two, number three prayer. Can we just have everybody test negative so we can have another day. It’s just another day, another practice, another day of fil, another game. We’re day-by-day with this but we follow the protocol as best we can but you’ve got to be lucky, too. We’ve been fortunate thus far.”
URI has won three straight games, including a victory over Seton Hall last Wednesday. Wisconsin is coming off a buzzer-beating loss to in-state rival Marquette, 67-65, Friday night. The Badgers are currently 8th in Kempom.com and are one of the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten. The Badgers (3-1) fell nine spots following their loss at Marquette.
“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Cox said, “but that being said we have to take a significant step in order to win at Wisconsin. They are big and they are old.”
With the Badgers on the schedule, three of Rhode Island’s first six opponents (Arizona State, San Francisco and Wisconsin) were not on the URI schedule less than a week before the season began. URI said it is still shopping for a late December non-conference game to go along with its 18-game Atlantic 10 schedule.