Pandemic leaves opening week of college hoops in disarray

Wichita State landed Monday afternoon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, masked and looking forward to kicking off the season in the Crossover Classic.

A few hours later, the Shockers announced they were out of the tournament after multiple positive COVID-19 tests. Event organizers said the tests came from two players who were retested before the final decision was made.

“The kids were excited because they were going to be up against someone,” said Wichita State interim coach Isaac Brown, whose team had been training since June. “Just to come here and find out that we can’t play in the tournament – they were disappointed.”

Eight months after the coronavirus halted college basketball from tournaments, the sport returns this week with dozens of teams already opening their seasons on Wednesday and the pandemic is still raging. It’s already triggered forced cancellations and postponements across the country, sparking a chaotic battle to plan opponents willing to drop anything to play.

No. 2 Baylor, 9 Duke and the No. 3 UConn women have all canceled matches due to COVID-19.

The Shockers were the sixth team to withdraw from the South Dakota tournament alone – only West Virginia and Memphis are left from the original slate – though the event continues with replacement teams and no fans.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said Lea Miller-Tooley, the tournament director. “We learned a lot, but we really managed to hold on.”

Texas A&M, Creighton and Wichita State are the most recent programs to drop out or have been removed from the Crossover Classic field. Utah, Ohio State and Dayton had already withdrawn. South Dakota State, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky and Virginia Commonwealth have acted as replacement teams. VCU was added soon after Wichita State was removed. The Rams were scheduled to play in the Volunteer Classic this week, but that event was canceled.

A day after UConn announced it was halting its women’s season for 14 days after a positive coronavirus test, organizers of the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge tournament canceled this weekend’s event, featuring the Huskies and Mississippi State’s No. 6.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he was not sure his schedule could make up for those games or a scheduled December 4 showdown with No. 5 Louisville, which has also been canceled. He said he has spent a lot of time reassuring players that things will be okay.

“I’m sure there was a man on the Titanic who said that,” he said. “I just hope I’m not that guy.”

Jeff Walz, the coach of the No. 5 Louisville women’s team, saw the trouble coming. He set up a group chat that has grown to 25 coaches to help them go through schedule changes. It came in handy when several of his team’s early games were canceled.

Walz even used Twitter to ask coaches to contact him. Through his various efforts, his cardinals set up a game in the state of Southeast Missouri on Wednesday. He said several games are scheduled through the group chat, including the trip from Eastern Kentucky to Indiana on Wednesday.

Tennessee canceled the three-team Volunteer Classic after coach Rick Barnes was one of the people on the men’s program who tested positive for COVID-19. The 12th-ranked volunteers will also not be going to Indianapolis to play No. 1 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic on December 2, and will not be playing at Notre Dame on December 4.

Baylor’s men were set to play No. 18 Arizona State in the Empire Classic on Wednesday, but things changed after coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID-19.

“When you look at how the Big-12 tests and how we test, it’s different, and we can’t take that risk and put our student athletes at risk,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said on Arizona Sports 98.7.

The Florida men will not play this week’s scheduled games against UMass Lowell and No. 4 Virginia in a tournament at the Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut due to positive COVID-19 testing and contact tracking protocols.

The Nebraska men were supposed to host an eight-team Golden Window Classic tournament, but it’s been cut to a three-team round robin with Nevada and North Dakota State. Cal’s men scheduled fellow Pac-12 member Oregon State on Wednesday – as a non-conference game.

The Chicago state men’s team was scheduled to open the season at home against IUPUI on Wednesday-evening, but the Cougars seized the opportunity to fill a gap in a mini-tournament in Champaign. Get rid of IUPUI and DePaul this week, in with a road trip and games against Ohio, No. 8 Illinois and North Carolina AT&T.

Memphis coach Penny Hardaway is happy that his team is still playing this week.

“We were just nine months ago canceling the conference tournament and canceling the NCAA tournament and didn’t know if we were going to get a season,” he said. “So to be here now, to play a game, especially when tournaments around the country are canceled due to COVID situations – we are absolutely lucky to be here.”

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