When it seemed like the whole sports world was shutting down in March, basketball was at the forefront of getting ahead of the pandemic. First the NBA announced it was suspending their season on March 11. At that point it didn't seem like any league was going to cancel their games. But the rest of the sports world followed suit when such a big league set an example and postponed their season with so much uncertainty.
The very next day the NCAA announced that all remaining winter and spring sports would officially be cancelled due to COVID-19. That left many teams up in limbo as they were just about to play in their respective Conference Tournaments with the Big Dance right around the corner. It was the first ever cancellation of the Men's Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. For most sports fan in America, it was likely the news that made the pandemic very real.
Now the 2020-21 season has already been affected. The season was supposed to start on November 10 but was pushed back to November 25. In the first week alone and counting, there are 26 games that are postponed or cancelled. This may be something we have to get used to until a vaccine is widely available.
Much like a majority of the games played in sports this year, there will be no fans in the stands if the games are played. Of course, there may be some as the attendance will vary state by state. Hopefully there is a widely distributed vaccine by the time March Madness rolls around again and that more teams are allowed into the tournament because of the crazy nature of this upcoming season.
These kids deserve a chance to prove themselves and more safely played games in a tournament setting will go a long way to do that. At least we have some basketball back and these are a few of the games we are looking forward to this opening week.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #6 Kansas
11/26 on FOX - 1:30 p.m. ET
Gonzaga is the pre-season No.1 team and Kansas was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament. Kansas only lost one player in the 2020 draft in Udoka Azubuike drafted by the Utah Jazz. It will be a huge loss though as the senior brought a tremendous veteran presence and he was named BIG 12 Player of the Year averaging 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
The Jayhawks are going to have to find a way to create momentum on the defensive side of the floor to stop this loaded Gonzaga team. The Bulldogs finished the season ranked No. 2 right behind the Jayhawks last year. This could have been the title game last year and we hope they both go far in this year's tournament.
The Bulldogs have many returning players from that tremendous team earning them the top spot. Those returning are led by Corey Kispert. He is the first-team preseason AP All-America wing. He averaged 13.9 ppg last year and is just nine points away from 1,000 for his career. Hopefully this game is just a preview of what is to come this season.
#17 Houston at #14 Texas Tech
11/29 on ESPN - 5:30 p.m. ET
Usually the state of Texas is all about football. But the way the Cowboys and how most of the Big 12 Texas teams are playing that feels like a misleading claim. This year Texas is all about basketball. Baylor is the best team in the state ranked as pre-season No.2, Texas Tech is No. 14, Houston is No.17 and the Texas Longhorns are ranked No. 19 in the preseason Top 25 rankings. Two of those Texas teams collide this Sunday when Houston visits Lubbock and the Red Raiders.
The Cougars bring back all of their big players from a team that went 23-8 last season. Sophomore Caleb Mills is their best player and should only grow after he averaged more than 13 points per game last season. As for Texas Tech, SB Nation stated that this is the best lineup that coach Chris Beard has had at the school. That's quite the statement since the Red Raiders were the runners up in the 2019 Championship game. Can they make it back all the way this year?
#2 Baylor vs. #18 Arizona State - CANCELLED
While this game is cancelled, it's important to highlight these two great teams. It also might be a microcosm of what we are to expect this upcoming season. First the Sun Devils dropped out of the Empire Classic Tournament where they would have played Baylor. Less than 24 hours later, they opted back into the tournament. The problem was that Baylor by then had also dropped out of the tournament. Who knows if this game will ever be played, and that just might be the uncertainty we are looking at across many matchups this season.
The Bear's also just got their game with Seton Hall cancelled and Baylor's coach recently tested positive for COVID-19. This has started their season in chaos when there was so much expectation going into this season. They only lost four games last year and were ranked No. 5, only behind No. 1 Kansas in the BIG 12. They were USA Today's pre-season favorite even over Gonzaga with four starters returning from last year. This group is led by national player of the year candidate Jared Butler, who thankfully for the Bears withdrew from the NBA Draft . He averaged 16 points his sophomore year in which the Bears certainly would have been a No. 1 seed in the tournament. A deep run in the tournament probably would have put him in the NBA today. Hopefully him and many others will get that chance they didn't have last year due to the cancellation of the season.
For a complete schedule for opening week in College Basketball, click here.