LOUISVILLE — 15 basketball coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference held the first of their weekly zoom media calls Monday and you would have to be living in a cave to not be able to correctly guess the hottest topic of discussion.
Yes, the coronavirus pandemic that is creating havoc with college basketball programs throughout the country.
And it turned out to be a very timely subject for Louisville because just two days later coach Chris Mack learned that his team’s game against Georgia Tech on Saturday had been postponed due to COVID-related issues. That was the Cardinals’ third postponement or cancelation of the season, following the Dec. 4 game against UNC Greensboro in the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic and the Dec. 16 ACC opener against NC State. Neither the NC State or Georgia Tech game has been rescheduled yet.
Despite those snafus, though, Mack remains unwavering in his belief that the season can reach the finish line in Indianapolis for March Madness and that the games are in the best interests of the players.
“I always felt like it was doable, I guess that’s the optimistic side in me,” Mack said. “You’re always going to have opinions, especially in 2021, on what’s right or wrong. I think the other sports have shown that you’re not going to get through the season unscathed, you’re not gonna get through without cancelations.
“But I’ve always been comfortable and the players always wanted to play. Those that don’t, there has been some kids around the country that have opted out, they’re gonna get support from their coaches and their teammates. With that in mind, the majority of players want to play; that’s what they’ve worked really hard to put themselves into position to do.”
No one expected it to be smooth sailing, of course. “It’s just part of it,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said. “If there’s ever a time you better roll with the punches, this is it.”
The virus has affected almost every ACC men’s basketball program since the season began on Nov. 25, including at least two coaches — Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel. Coach K is currently in quarantine after being exposed to a family member who was infected. He missed the a game against BC Wednesday, but could return Saturday against Wake Forest. Nevertheless, even with the ongoing problems, the league has managed to play 101 of 123 scheduled games (82.1%).
Most other ACC coaches seem to be just as determined as Mack to continue playing and finish the regular season and the tournament, while also recognizing the risks and uncertainty.
Before the BC game Wednesday, the Blue Devils hadn’t played since Dec. 16.
“There’s really no template for this,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s difficult for everybody. I’m glad so many teams have been able to get in games and I feel bad for our guys. It’s nobody’s fault. We have no control over it, but we do have control over how we react and we’re just trying to react in a very positive way.”
At 73, Krzyzewski is one of five ACC coaches who are in the high-risk age group for suffering the most serious affects from the virus if they catch it. The league’s other elder statesmen are Jim Boeheim, Syracuse, 76; Leonard Hamilton, Florida State, 72; Jim Larrannaga, Miami, 71; and Roy Williams. North Carolina, 70.
Larannaga expressed the most concern about his health, given the consequences he could face at his age.
“I’m a team player. I want to play games. I want to stay safe,” he said. “I think we do all those things and don’t get COVID, I feel like that’s a win. Right now I love being around my players and reminding them how important it is to follow the protocols. . .but if I get COVID, I’m probably going to say I should have opted out.”
Hamilton said, “There’s no doubt it should concern everybody. It’s been documented that older poeple are challenged more by it. I’ve gotten into my bubble, my routine, and I feel good about what I’m doing. So far, so good. But this is a challenge. You don’t know where it is or how it’s coming. . .but my concern only motivates me to keep trying to be as focused and diligent to see that we can avoid any negative issues.”
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey wasn’t quite as optimistic as Mack and some others about teams being able to finish the season, although he strongly supports the effort.
“I go back and forth every day,” Brey said. “I’m thoroughly confused on whether we can get to the end line. But I want to keep trying. We’re getting kind of good at this, with shutting down, delaying, coming back later. It’s crazy, but the opportunity for these kids to compete and play some games, I think that’s really important. But I’m not so sure we can make it.”
Among the coaches, the Tar Heels’ Williams was by far the most pessimistic and sounded an alarm that he thinks it’s going to get worse as the season progresses. Ironically, UNC is the only team in the ACC that has been able to avoid postponement or cancelation of a game.
“I’m scared to death about the spike that we see all around the country right now, and some people just think they’re invincible and some people still think it’s a hoax, Williams said. “I wake up every morning and think, ‘OK, what’s going to happen to college basketball today?’ I haven’t been comfortable a single moment with everything we’re doing.”
FIRST FOUR TO BE LATER, PROTOCOLS SET
In the latest development regarding the NCAA Tournament NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt announced Thursday that, unlike in previous seasons, the First Four will not begin two days after Selection Sunday.
Gavitt said there will be more time between selections and the first games as teams must travel to Indianapolis. This will be the first time in its 10-year history that the First Four is not held in Dayton, Ohio.
Among the health and safety procedures the NCAA has announced for the tourney, the most significant involves testing. All Tier 1 travel party participants — which includes student-athletes, coaches, trainers, physical therapists, medical and equipment staff, and officials — will have to show seven consecutive negative COVID tests before arriving in Indianapolis.They will then undergo daily PCR testing throughout the event. Individuals who are at least two weeks removed from receiving the COVID vaccine will be exempted from daily testing.
The NCAA will announce its final attendance policy after Feb.1, but said Wednesday that up to six family members per Tier 1 participant will be allowed in each venue per game, capping the attendance number at 420.
Indiana reported 69 deaths and 6,199 additional cases on Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 8,521 deaths and 552,594 cases.
JONES ADDED TO WOODEN LIST
Louisville guard Carlik Jones has been added to the Midseason Top 25 Wooden Award Watch list, along with two other newcomers, West Virginia’s Derek Culver and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs.
Jones is one of five ACC players on the list of front-runners for the prestigious award, joining Florida State’s Scottie Barnes, North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks, Virginia’s Sam Hauser and Duke’s Matthew Hurt.
Jones, a grad transfer from Radford, is the only player in the ACC to rank among the top 17 in scoring (T7th, 16.5 ppg), rebounding (17th, 6.1 rpg) and assists (second, 4.88 apg).
Players from the Big Ten lead all conferences with six on the list, followed by the ACC’s five; Big East, four; Big 12 and West Coast Conference, three; Pac-12, two; C-USA and SEC, one. Three teams have multiple players on the list, led by Gonzaga (Corey Kispert, Suggs and Drew Timme), followed by Illinois (Kafi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunamu) and Villanova (Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl).