With Luka Garza back, it’s time to believe in Iowa as a national championship contender.
That was the headline of a story on ESPN.com Monday morning. From the Really, Really Obvious Department, a full and uninterrupted basketball season is really, really desired in Hawkeyeland.
Garza returning for his senior season fills in a deep, capable roster and gives Iowa men’s basketball all it could reasonably ask for as the 2020-21 season approaches. Except for one fairly important element:
A guarantee the season will happen.
“I’m certain there will be a college basketball season and an NCAA tournament,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Sunday. “It may not look like it has in the past, but I feel pretty confident that it’s going to happen.”
It would be the cruelest tease in Hawkeyes hoops history if a team projected to be a Big Ten title favorite with the preseason National Player of the Year favorite couldn’t show what it had. But college sports don’t have the bubbles that are working right now for the NBA, NHL and MLS, and universities have students soon to return to campuses to blend in with student-athletes.
So it’s a lot of pins and needles. We still have to see how successfully college and pro football roll out and maintain, and see if Major League Baseball can somehow get from today to the World Series.
The news three Iowa basketball players tested positive for COVID-19 last week was another reminder that this is all very tenuous. Hawkeye player Joe Wieskamp told reporters Sunday that all were doing well, by the way.
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All right, let’s get hopeful here. Let’s proceed as if McCaffery is right and some sort of season will happen. How it will be scheduled won’t be known for sure for probably at least another month.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Gavitt Games (Big Ten vs. Big East) aren’t firmed up and thus don’t seem likely to happen. The options for what will occur, however, are many and will surely require creativity.
Last week, NCAA senior vice president/director Dan Gavitt, who is the director of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, said the plan still is for the season to start on Nov. 10.
“We’ve got a high level of confidence,” Gavitt said. He isn’t speaking for everyone.
“We’re preparing for the season as if it will start normally,” McCaffery said. “I think we all have to agree that might not be the case. Maybe Jan. 1 is the magic date. Obviously, there’s a better chance of a vaccine by then.
“Will it be conference-only games? That’s a possibility. We’re all talking about a lot of different scenarios. We have the opportunity from Thanksgiving through the start of the second semester to maybe do a bubble-type event. Maybe that’s something we do.”
The Big Ten has gone to conference-only for fall sports, citing the flexibility that gives it to adjust its own operations during the season because of the pandemic.
A Jan. 1 start may not sound appealing to those eager to see college basketball for the first time since March 12, but who’s to say the season simply can’t stretch into next April or May?
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You have to think a 2021 NCAA tournament happens no matter how the regular season is configured. With the vast amount of money that thing generates for the NCAA and its members, there’s no way they can go two straight years without it, right?
“The conversations are ongoing,” McCaffery said. “Obviously, everything’s on the table. With regards to the NCAA tournament, moving it back, that was something that was discussed last (March), but there was too much uncertainty with regards to COVID.
“Now I think we have a better handle on it in terms of testing. So maybe ... the tournament is later.”
MLB didn’t start until July, and pro basketball and pro hockey didn’t resume until late July. Waiting for sports has become America’s pastime. If getting in a full Big Ten season and NCAA tourney means we don’t get Iowa’s home games against North Carolina Central or Chattanooga played, we’ll be fine with it.
But if ever there were a recent season when the Hawkeyes could have sold a lot of tickets for all their home games …
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