COVID-related cancellations, adjustments wreaking havoc on start of college basketball season

The college basketball season starts on Wednesday. That much we know for sure. 

But, folks, questions abound. How many games will actually be played, though, as the sport is reeling from a rash of COVID-related cancellations, adjustments and postponements? That’s an excellent question. What will those matchups be? Another great query. If nothing else, many are different now than they were on Monday, and others will certainly change again before tip-off time. 

Oh, and what the heck does MTE stand for? 

That one, friends, is a 2020 special — it stands for Multiple Team Event, where a host location (sometimes a place, sometimes a school/team) invites several schools/teams to their place for multiple days of games. For the most part, they’re not tournaments or true round-robins, but just a chance to hopefully — that’s a key word this year — play a couple of games in a safe, monitored environment. The beauty of an MTE is the flexibility, which is another key word for college hoops in 2020, because it’s not about who you’re scheduled to play as much as it is who is available to play. 

Let’s start the madness with the biggest MTE, at the Mohegan Sun casino in southeastern Connecticut. The plan was, as outlined here by CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, was for nearly 40 teams to play 45 games over an 11-day span.

Baylor, the team ranked No. 2 in the preseason AP poll, was one of the headliners, as part of the Empire Classic, a four-team mini-event at Mohegan Sun that included Villanova, Arizona State and Boston College. 

Well, Baylor’s out. Head coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID, but the Bears — featuring Jared Butler, a member of SN’s First-Team Preseason All-America squad — initially planned to come and play anyway because nobody else tested positive. That idea didn’t last long, and Baylor opted not to make the trip. 

The Bears were supposed to play No. 18 Arizona State on Wednesday in the marquee matchup of the opening day at Mohegan Sun. For Baylor, Rhode Island was subbed in. Simple enough because Rhode Island was already on site. Flexibility like we’ve never seen with college basketball scheduling. The Sun Devils and Rams are scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Y’know, at least for now. 

Stephen F. Austin made it to Connecticut, with everyone testing negative before leaving Texas, but all teams and traveling parties are tested immediately upon arrival and one member of the traveling party — not a player, coach or trainer, as Norlander reported — tested positive. So much for that Texas-to-Connecticut trip. 

Maine was supposed to play Virginia on Wednesday, but a positive test in the Maine program scrapped that game, and the Black Bears went back home. Now, Virginia will play Towson, and San Francisco — originally scheduled to play SFA — will face UMass-Lowell. Sheesh. 

The incubation period for COVID is a real thing, folks. 

And, of course, it’s not just a Mohegan Sun issue. 

It’s been a tumultuous offseason for Wichita State, with reports surfacing over the summer of the reprehensible behavior — allegations of physical and verbal abuse of players and coaches — of longtime head coach Gregg Marshall, reports that led to the two sides parting ways and the Shockers naming assistant coach Isaac Brown as interim head coach. They were finally going to turn the page with a season-opening tournament in South Dakota, the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic (no, really, that’s the actual name). 

Well, the Shockers traveled to South Dakota — everyone passing coronavirus tests before leaving home — only to have multiple positive results after tests were administered upon arrival. So an awful offseason turned into a delayed start to the actual season. Those test results happened long enough before the games were to start that the Bad Boy powers-that-be were able to bring in another team, so VCU is replacing Wichita State. 

Utah State coach Craig Smith learned of the opponents swap — VCU for Wichita State — when his plane landed in South Dakota. Good times. 

And it’s not just MTEs and tournaments that are being impacted. Gardner-Webb, a plucky squad from the Big South that earned the league’s auto bid for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, was supposed to start its season with road games against ACC powers Duke and Florida State. But COVID-related issues within the program led to Duke canceling Wednesday’s game, and a couple of days later, FSU canceling Friday’s game. 

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes tested positive for COVID, and the Volunteers canceled their first two games of the season. Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak tested positive, and his Utes canceled their opener against New Orleans. Tennessee Tech coach John Pelphry also tested positive for COVID, but his game — at Indiana — is still on; Pelphry will just stay home and assistant Marcus King will take over. Arizona was supposed to open against Northern Arizona, but COVID issues for NAU forced the cancellation of that one, too. Fellow Pac-12 team Stanford was supposed to play Utah Valley in its opener, but a UVU issue stopped that one, too. 

This, hoops fans, is far from a thorough, exhaustive list. It is, hopefully, a glimpse into the madness and uncertainty that college hoops programs are dealing with as everyone involved in the sport attempts to get this season started. 

Wear your masks. Stay home whenever possible. And mind the incubation period. 

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