You ask a local college basketball coach about whether a specific player will be in his starting lineup.
“Minus a positive COVID test, yes,” comes the answer.
Never mind getting the Division I basketball season to the finish line. Right now, most teams are hoping to get to the starting line.
The St. Joseph’s women won’t get there. The school announced Saturday the women’s basketball team’s first four games will be postponed, including those scheduled against Villanova, Rider, Drexel, and Monmouth. The team is in a 14-day quarantine “due to a positive COVID-19 test among the program’s ‘Tier 1 personnel.”
Temple finally released its men’s schedule Friday, since the American Athletic Conference finally released its schedule. If that doesn’t sound like a 2020 thing, this will: The Owls had been planning to start the season with a home game against NJIT. That game is gone now. The official start -- the hoped-for start -- is Nov. 28, against Virginia Tech, a two-game tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasvillle, Conn.
Mohegan Sun is the official bubble home of early-season college hoops in the Northeast. Villanova also gets started there, on Nov. 25 against Boston College.
That NJIT game? Temple announced it was off “due to COVID-related issues,” to be rescheduled. Temple-related Covid-issues. The guess: They’re still counting days to the end of quarantine issues.
Asked Thursday about the opening game, Owls coach Aaron McKie had made it clear that NJIT game was very much in doubt.
“It’s been tough for us,” McKie said. “We’ve only practiced really six times as a team in three weeks. So we’ve been in and out of COVID protocol, I want to say four times, dating back to the summer.”
McKie said his program has had four cases this fall. “It’s been start, stop, start, stop for us.”
Jay Wright also had a Zoom media call Thursday, and talked about heading for Mohegan Sun a little early.
“We’re leaving Monday for a Wednesday game, which we wouldn’t normally do,” Wright said. “We’d usually go up Tuesday night. But we have to test here. Then we have to get up there in time to test Monday night. Then we have to quarantine in our rooms, and only eat meals in our rooms that night.”
But the excitement level to start is higher than any season he’s experienced, Wright said, because of all the obstacles, the absence of normalcy.
“I swear to you, I don’t know,” Wright said of the number of games he thinks is reasonable to expect to play this season. “We’re hoping that our guys stay disciplined, and we pull through this, and we get all our games in.”
Wright said he thinks December is really important, to get early Big East games in by the end of the year.
“Getting to that number of 13 is an important goal,” Wright said, referring to the minimum number of Division I games set to qualify for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. “I think every program, when they get to 13, is going to breathe a sigh of relief.”
Big East commissioner Val Ackerman told the New York Post on Thursday that the league is talking about adding some additional conference games before Dec. 11 if teams lose non-conference games because of COVID-19.
“We’re planning that if some of our games get canceled, we’re communicating with other schools so that we have backups,” Wright said.
Ackerman didn’t rule out a Big East bubble still happening later in the season, although she added that’s not the top option on the table.
This obviously isn’t just dealing with hypotheticals. Delaware already announced it was forced to call off its first two games and pause practice because of positive COVID cases.
Feel bad for Delaware? Penn would take that. The Quakers already have had their whole season canceled. McKie said he tries to tell his players that a whole lot of people in society have it worse right now.
Wright said he is in favor of having the NCAA Tournament in a quasi-bubble, with negotiations right now to have it in Indianapolis.
“I think they’re thinking about no fans or possibly parents right now,’' Wright said. “But they’re hoping, if things get better, being able to adjust and add. I really believe it’s the only way you’re going to be able to do that.”
Wright figures that with only 15 full practices, the whole team, they’ve had to keep things simple. He looks at college football – because he also likes college football, he said – to see what challenges they’ve faced.
“I’m a Penn State football fan, so I watch Penn State,’' Wright said, picking out a striking example of a team struggling on the field, now 0-4. “I watch Michigan. You can see there’s just something different. You don’t know what they’re going through. … I think every team is going through that. There are going to be hidden variables that nobody is going to be able to explain, and certain things you don’t want to know about.”
Wright said he felt guilty about injuries suffered early on after a forced quarantine period due to COVID-19 positives, that they’d tried to go as easy as possible.
“We planned this out and still had injuries,’' Wright said. “I felt terrible. … There are going to be things like that all year with teams.”
McKie said he tries to provide some balance, how when he looks at some of his players’ faces, knowing some also have family issues they’re worried about, “it’s just a puzzled look. I say, ‘Look guys, everything is going to be OK.’’'