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Jay Wright and his fellow Big East coaches know it will take a huge effort from everyone to make the college basketball season work this year and actually stage an NCAA Tournament.
Only a few weeks into the start of practice, there already have been some bumps due to the coronavirus. Many more are expected.
Big East coaches got on Zoom calls Wednesday for their annual media day and — while still talking about basketball and the return of UConn — outlined a stark reality facing all of college basketball this season: Coronavirus testing, COVID-19 protocols and the lack of confirmed schedules are dominant features of preparing to play.
“This year, as we’ve all learned, anything can happen,” said Wright, whose Villanova team was the coaches’ pick to win the league. “We’ve been shut down and we all learn is, it’s not 14 days. It’s guys get shut down in different increments. Then (they) have to get heart tests and it could affect your team for 21,23 days. That’s just part of it. How do you handle all the challenges? There are more than any season in the history of college basketball.”
The Big East announced that its Gavitt Tip-Off games, the annual challenge with the Big Ten, has been postponed a year. They are still trying to have matchups against the Big 12.
Dozens of preseason tournament games have already been canceled and a few teams have had to push the pause button because of positive COVID-19 tests.
Marquette has already had a setback, having to quarantine for two weeks because of a positive test and can’t get back on the court until Nov. 4. Creighton coach Greg McDermott said while it is normally a coaching cliche to say teams are taking it day by day, it is more fitting this season than any other.
“When practice is over we talk about the things that allowed us to practice today, wearing masks, practice social distancing, make sure you’re not in a group setting, protect yourself and teammates,” he said. “The message has been: assume the person you’re talking to has COVID. What steps are you taking to protect yourself?”
Commissioner Val Ackerman said the league will follow NCAA guidelines and teams will be testing three times a week leading up to play.
“We will do our best where disruptions are kept to a minimum and a number of Big East schools are able to compete for a national championship next spring,” Ackerman said.
Wright’s team is the preseason pick to win the conference for the sixth time in seven years, receiving nine of the 11 first-place votes from league coaches.
“I hope we live out the predictions,” Wright said. “As we all know, we got a lot of work to do.”
HONORING BIG JOHN
The Big East will establish an award named for former Georgetown coach John Thompson that will recognize his efforts to fight prejudice, discrimination and advance positive social change. The award will be given annually to an individual, team or athletic department. Thompson died in August.
“It’s great. He was an important part of my life when he first started recruiting me to the day he died,” Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said. “He was always a person I could pick up the phone and talk to. Give any advice I might need and shaping my coaching career. It’s a great honor for the Big East to have the award in his name, the things he fought for over the course of his life.”
Five of the 11 Big East coaches are Black, which is one of the highest percentages across college basketball. That fact is not lost on them.
“The Big East is at the forefront of having minority coaches at the helm,” Ewing said. “They took a chance on a high school coach (Thompson) and he proved he was up to the task. Even when we won the championship he was given an opportunity that a lot of people who looked like him weren’t given the opportunity. great to be sitting here as a head coach at Georgetown.”
Ackerman announced that players will be wearing Black Lives Matter patches this year on their uniforms.
The Big East announced its conference schedule through the month of December with play beginning Dec. 11 with three games. Ackerman hopes to have the rest of the schedule out within a month.
“We broke our schedule into two pieces to take more time to see what makes sense for us in January or February,” Ackerman said “There are models on the table that best suit our needs and provide the safest environment.”
Marcus Zegarowski of Creighton was picked as the conference’s preseason player of the year.
Zegarowski’s season ended before the start of the Big East Tournament last March as he was sidelined with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
“He’s in a great spot. body looks great,” McDermott said. “Now it’s a matter of getting timing back from being out three to four months.”
REST OF THE RANKINGS
Creighton received the other two first-place votes from league coaches. It’s the highest preseason position for the Bluejays since they joined the conference for the 2013-14 season. Providence was picked third. … UConn, which returns to the conference after a seven-year absence, was predicted to come in fourth, just ahead of Seton Hall. The Pirates have to replace Big East Player of the Year Myles Powell. Marquette, Xavier and Butler were the next three, with St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown rounding out the preseason poll.