The first game for the Mountaineer men’s basketball team is less than two weeks away, as WVU will open its 2020-21 campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 25 when it faces Texas A&M in the first round of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Two more games will follow over the course of the next two days in the tournament at the Sanford Pentagon, setting the stage year to come.
The season ahead is almost certainly going to be unlike any in the history of college basketball, as teams will not only battle each other but also COVID-19.
Just like college football, where nearly 15% of scheduled games this fall have had to be cancelled or postponed because of coronavirus outbreaks, basketball is very likely to face similar issues this winter.
“Our message has been, more than ever, that you’re going to have to be careful when you are away from here,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins when asked what he tells his player about trying to avoid COVID-19. “You don’t know. You go to shake hands with a guy, who is a good guy, and two days later you find out he has the virus. All the sudden, through contact tracing, you’re at best 14 days in quarantine. That’s missing two weeks of practice, which certainly puts you behind. Our guys understand that.
“I’m sure before the season is over something will happen, but they’re doing their best to make sure it doesn’t.”
The Big 12 has built in an 10-day open window at the end of the 27-game regular season to allow for make-ups of any postponements. WVU’s final regular season contest is currently slated for Saturday, Feb. 27 against Kansas State, and the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City doesn’t begin until Wednesday, March 10, so there is room for a couple make-ups in between.
The league has also determined what will be the minimum number of players who must be available to play a game. Though the coaches’ push had been for more, the Big 12 settled on seven scholarship players. The availability of anything less will result in a postponement.
“We’ve had extensive conversations, both at the (National Association of Basketball Coaches) board level and within our conference,” explained Huggins. “The number that was bantered around for quite a while was eight, but then it came down to the minimum that you can use (which is seven).”
Huggins also pointed out that referees could be affected by the coronavirus as well. By rule a game, which normally has a three-person crew, has to have at least two officials on the court at both the start and at the conclusion, otherwise the contest can’t go on.
“Who is going to officiate?” questioned Huggins. “If two guys ride in together and one guy tests positive, the other guy is out through contact tracing.
“You can’t start a game with one official, and you can’t end a game with one official. We’re trying to amend the rule so at least you can finish the game (with one).
“It’s been crazy. There have been things brought up that have never been thought about before.”
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Huggins has been focused not only on the 2020-21 season but also seasons beyond this one, as his program inked two high school prospects – Seth Wilson and Kobe Johnson – to National Letters of Intent this week.
“These are the two best guards in Ohio,” stated West Virginia’s veteran head coach. “We’re going to need guards. We’re going to lose Taz (Sherman, a senior), we’re going to lose Jordan (McCabe, a junior) and we’re going to lose Sean (McNeil, a junior). We need some people who can step in.”
Huggins added that his class of 2021 is now filled, though recruiting never stops, as the prospects for the classes of 2022, ’23 and beyond now are under the microscope.
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One player who could have been part of this Mountaineer signing class was Seny Ndiaye, but the 6-foot-10 center from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep reclassified in order to enroll at WVU a year earlier than initially planned.
“The original idea was to put him in Beckley (W.Va.) Prep and let him get another year of prep,” explained Huggins. “The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought it was best to redshirt him (at WVU). He would get a lot more out of practicing against Derek (Culver) and Oscar (Tshiebwe) and Isaiah (Cottrell) than some 6-foot-3 guy at Beckley. That’s not a knock against Beckley Prep, but they just don’t have a lot of 6-foot-10 guys down there.
“So, we decided to bring him here. He’s gotten better, better and better,” added Huggins. “When you look at what could happen, this year is basically a free year (in terms of eligibility). We could conceivably redshirt him next year, provided Derek and Oscar are still around, and then he still would have four more. He could be a six-year guy, possibly the first in college basketball history.”
The first of those six potential Mountaineer seasons starts for Ndiaye in less than two weeks.