Sep 24, 2020 - Sports

Checking in on college hoops

Illustration of basketball wearing a face mask

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

No sport was impacted by the onset of COVID-19 more than college basketball, which saw the cancellation of March Madness. Now, we've come full circle, with details emerging about the upcoming campaign.

Where things stand: The season will begin a few weeks later than normal on Nov. 25, with the non-conference slate comprised mostly of multi-team events.

  • Tournament eligibility: Teams must play a minimum of 13 games to be NCAA tournament eligible (down from 25) and can play no more than 27.
  • Multi-team events: The Maui Invitational will be held in Asheville, North Carolina, instead of Hawaii, and eight of the 10 tournaments ESPN puts on each fall will be played at the same Disney venue currently hosting the NBA playoffs.
  • Conference play: Formatting and schedules are still undetermined for most leagues, but various options remain open, including bi-weekly "pods," where a handful of teams could gather to knock out a few games in a single weekend.
  • Ivy League and Pac-12: These two conferences previously stated they wouldn't play sports until 2021. They could still change their minds (as the Pac-12 is already considering for football), or they could play conference-only schedules starting in January.

The big picture: As with all sports conversations in 2020, the calculus must include safety measures, financial obstacles and oftentimes the intersection of the two.

  • Testing protocols: The NCAA has not released testing standards, but the expectation is they will do so soon (as opposed to leaving it up to conferences).
  • Resource disparity: Regular testing costs a lot of money, as do entry fees for bubble tournaments. This could serve to widen the gap between smaller and larger schools whose coffers were already vastly different sizes.
  • Lack of "buy games": Low- and mid-major schools can earn upwards of $600,000 per season through "buy games," in which high-majors pay them to play. But even the biggest schools are financially distressed right now, so those games could be infeasible.

What to watch: The non-conference picture will become clearer once conference schedules are released, because teams will know what dates are available. Thus far, only the MAAC has released its full schedule with actual dates.

Preseason snapshot:

  • Top 10 teams: 1. Gonzaga, 2. Baylor, 3. Villanova, 4. Illinois, 5. Iowa, 6. Wisconsin, 7. Virginia, 8. Kansas, 9. Kentucky, 10. Tennessee.
  • Top 5 upperclassmen: Luka Garza, C (Iowa, Sr.); Ayo Dosunmu, SG (Illinois, Jr.); Jared Butler, SG (Baylor, Jr.); Remy Martin, PG (ASU, Sr.); Marcus Garrett, PG (Kansas, Sr.).
  • Top 5 freshmen: Cade Cunningham, PG (Oklahoma St.); Evan Mobley, C (USC); B.J. Boston, SG (Kentucky); Ziaire Williams, SF (Stanford); Scottie Barnes, PF (FSU).
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