Jay Wright noticed a little more pep in his players’ steps on Thursday. He and his staff felt a little bit of a motivational boost as well.
On Wednesday night, the NCAA Division I council approved a start date of Nov. 25. There’s still much more to be done, but it’s an important step forward for the 2020-21 college basketball season.
“It’s really important,” Wright said. “It’s the same thing with our Big East schedule, that’s going to give us a starting point (when it’s done), then we can start working on our non-conference schedule. Some players, it’s their senior year, they didn’t know if we were going to have a season. It really wasn’t confirmed. Hearing that (Nov. 25 announcement), I just sensed a little more relief from the guys today and a little more motivation.
“It’s given us some clarity to move forward with. It’s taken a little bit of a workload off of us, because we were all preparing for anything.”
The Big East hasn’t finalized its schedule or plans for the 2020-21 season, but Wright notes that meetings and calls have already begun.
Teams will be allowed to officially practice on Oct. 14. The minimum number of regular season games is set to 13, while the maximum is 27.
“Our first priority now is getting a Big East schedule set as quickly as possible,” he said. “It’s not like how it used to be, where the league would wait for availability of buildings. There’s so many more variables now, but we want to do that first, then get as many non-conference games as we can to the limit. I do think we all understand this year, everybody might not play the same amount of games for a lot of reasons.”
With the maximum number of games reduced to 27, versus the usual 31 games, some cuts and changes might be made.
Villanova was originally slated to play a non-conference schedule that included Virginia and the Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden, the Gavitt Games, Texas, Howard, and the Philadelphia Big 5.
The longstanding tradition of the Big 5 round robin might be on hold this season.
“We’re probably not going to look at it like the Big 5 this year, we probably have to look at it like, ‘Can we schedule a Penn game and can we fit the Temple game in?’“ Wright said. “Right now, La Salle and St. Joe’s are good, because they’re scheduled within the timeframe of the (new) schedule.”
However, Wright and his staff can’t look too deeply into the non-conference schedule yet, until the Big East one is finalized. According to Wright, there are more Big East meetings to figure out the schedule on Friday.
The conference is also exploring the possibility of holding games on campus, or if it will look into a centralized bubble somewhere for a portion of games.
“Just from hearing, (the bubble) is an option, but I don’t think it’s one we’re leaning towards,” Wright said.
As for home games, fan attendance is still undetermined. In the event that Pennsylvania OKs limited capacity, Villanova may host more games at the bigger Wells Fargo Center, so more fans have an opportunity to attend and be socially distanced. However, if fans aren’t allowed, then it’ll just host games at the on-campus Finneran Pavilion.
While many of the fine details remain up in the air, remaining flexible and ready to adapt continues to be key traits for the Wildcats and other sports teams during this time.
Summer’s ever-changing timeline and state restrictions were something to get used to. Wright’s practice plans drawn up months in advance were scrapped for more dynamic, loose, week-by-week scheduling.
“We’ve got our way of doing things, and it’s really been thrown out the window here with the COVID protocols,” Wright said. “I think what we’re trying to do is make our decisions on the run and become comfortable like that. We’re preparing like everybody can go, but we always know if we have to change something, everybody’s ready to do that.”
Wright is happy to report that none of his players or staff tested positive for COVID-19. They continue to take precautions and remain vigilant.
His players are situated across three dorms at the end of a hallway, close to the building entrance and exit, so they don’t have to pass other students. They’ve been told to not have guests in their on-campus apartments, and when they’re not in their rooms, they mostly stay in the Davis Center or Finneran Pavilion as much as possible. They can log into their Zoom classes and do homework there.
Wright and his staff are looking into different COVID-19 testing procedures for the season.
The Wildcats practice in small training pods of four at a time, and some players haven’t even faced off against each other on the court yet. Meetings and team meals are socially distanced and spaced out.
“We all have masks on, we’re all spread out throughout the Pavilion,” Wright said. “It’s all very strange. We love the closeness of our family here, spending time together, and hanging out together, and this doesn’t lend itself to that. It’s very strange for us, but we do feel very grateful to be together and be able to play given what everyone else has been going through. So, in that sense, it’s been a positive.”
According to Wright, the players did a great job of staying in shape during the time apart in the offseason, but highlighted Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Justin Moore, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
“Maybe they would’ve been better without us than they would have been here with us,” Wright joked.
Since resuming training on-campus, Wright has been pleased with the performance of Swider and Brandon Slater, but also noted that not everyone has faced each other yet due to the training pods.
The hype is high for the Wildcats, who bring back almost every player from last season, with exception to Saddiq Bey, who entered the 2020 NBA Draft.
More will be decided and become clearer for the college basketball season in the coming days and weeks, but while the ‘Cats reload, they aren’t looking too deeply into preseason praise.
“I think they were all very humbled last year in the beginning of the year in a good way,” Wright said. “We got beat up pretty good, which was good for all of us. Then, we battled back and we started to get really good, and we felt really good at the end of the year. But in the end, we felt like we still had to prove ourselves and we didn’t get a chance to do it. So, it’s a group that kind of feels like they’re not proven yet. Whatever accolades get put on them early, they’re not really going to buy into it, because they as a group feel like they haven’t done anything yet.”
One thing’s for sure, Nov. 25 can’t come soon enough.