Jay Wright thinks it’s the little things that can create some excitement as he and his fellow Big East basketball coaches try to prepare for an irregular regular season in the middle of a pandemic.
For the Villanova coach, it was the staging Wednesday of the conference’s virtual media day over Zoom and the subsequent release of the first month’s schedule of games that had him smiling.
“As much as we all have a lot of challenges, little things create so much excitement and positivity,” Wright said.
“I feel like every time our team gets on the court to have a practice and have guys out there being able to be together, we’re excited. So there’s little things like that, media day, getting it going. We know how sacred these all are now and how much we need to appreciate them. I think having that schedule partly in place is something that motivates us, too.”
The Wildcats will play nine games between Nov. 25 and Dec. 23, including four Big East contests. Two of their five nonconference games will be Big 5 battles at Finneran Pavilion – Nov. 30 against St. Joseph’s and Dec. 3 against Temple.
Wright said the Wildcats also had a Dec. 9 date against La Salle scheduled but had to give it up when the finalized Big East schedule showed a conference opener Dec. 11 at Georgetown.
“We owe a major apology to La Salle,” he said. “We asked for relief from the Big East, how important it was to us. The Big East was not able to give us relief. I was very disappointed about that, but we’ve got to deal with it, what it is at this time.”
Wright said the two sides will try to reschedule the game in the new year if possible. He said a meeting against Penn is “up in the air” because the Quakers currently are unable to schedule games. Villanova has only two more nonconference games left to schedule in a planned 27-game season that includes 20 Big East matchups.
The Wildcats, who have won or shared the Big East regular-season title in six of the last seven years, were named the preseason champs in the coaches' voting. Senior guard Collin Gillespie and sophomore forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl were named first-team All-Big East by the coaches, and sophomore guard Justin Moore earned second-team honors.
Villanova opens its season Nov. 25 with the 2K Empire Classic, a two-day event that will be played at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The field also includes Arizona State, Baylor and Boston College, with pairings for both games to be announced.
The Cats' fifth nonconference game is Dec. 19 at Madison Square Garden against Virginia in a meeting of the last two national champions.
In addition to Georgetown, Villanova’s other Big East games are Dec. 14 against DePaul, and Dec. 16 against Butler, both at Finneran Pavilion, and Dec. 23 at Marquette.
Of course, the threat of a COVID-19 postponement or cancellation always is lurking. Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said some flexibility is built into the schedule.
“If there are any games that we have to make up due to cancellations because of isolations or contact tracing quarantines, we’ll be in a position to do that,” she said.
Wright called it "difficult to complain or question anything about scheduling or much that we do this year.
“I think everybody’s trying to do the best they can,” he said.
The uncertainty is there for the players as well. The Wildcats had to pause workouts last month for 14 days after a few members of their program tested positive for COVID-19. Testing afterward kept them away from the court for almost another week.
“It was difficult for us at first when we found out because we had just gotten back in the swing of things, just got back to school,” Gillespie said. “It was a couple of weeks of rest trying to stay in shape as best we can, being outside running, lifting if you have weights. But now that we’re back, we’re taking it one day at a time just trying to follow all protocols and safety measures that we have to, to be able to play.”
Villanova has announced that games at Finneran Pavilion will be played at 15% of the capacity of 6,501 spectators as mandated by current COVID-19 guidelines for indoor venues in Pennsylvania. Fans will be restricted to families of the athletes, students, faculty and staff.