Schedule shuffling prompted by COVID hits college basketball

National Sports

An empty Pauley Pavilion is seen before an NCAA college basketball game between UCLA and Alabama State Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. The game will not be played due to COVID-19 protocols. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

No. 21 Kentucky will now face North Carolina on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas after each of their opponents had to drop out due to COVID-19 issues, while No. 16 Seton Hall’s second cancellation in as many days will lead to a forfeit in the Big East Conference standings.

The worsening coronavirus situation in the U.S. forced another schedule scramble across college basketball Friday. The new matchup was announced after fourth-ranked UCLA canceled its game against the Tar Heels. The Bruins have paused team-related activities, and the status of their future games is undetermined. They had called off a home game against Alabama State set for this week.

The other game that was part of the Vegas event, a matchup between No. 15 Ohio State and Kentucky, was canceled because of positive COVID-19 results within the Buckeyes program.

At Seton Hall, the Pirates’ game Monday against St. John’s has been canceled. In a release from the school, that will result in a conference-only forfeit per Big East policy when a team cannot begin or complete a game due to an insufficient number of players.

It will not affect Seton Hall’s overall record and will go down as a “no contest” per NCAA policy.

The announcement came a day after the cancellation of Seton Hall’s Saturday game against Iona at Madison Square Garden.

At least 20 men’s basketball games and 36 women’s basketball games have been canceled or postponed this season due to COVID-19 protocols as of Friday afternoon. It is a number that seems sure to grow as the nation grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Second-ranked Duke announced Friday afternoon that it would play Elon on Saturday after having a second opponent cancel due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Blue Devils were originally slated to play Cleveland State before that program had to cancel and pause team activities. Duke then scheduled Loyola Maryland, only to say that game was off as well due to positive tests within the Greyhounds program.

Duke ended up bringing in Elon, located about 40 miles west of Durham. Elon is coached by Mike Schrage, who worked nine seasons under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

Syracuse also announced it is canceling its next two games due to COVID-19 protocols. The school will determine whether Saturday’s scheduled game against Lehigh and next Tuesday’s scheduled game against Cornell can be made up later.

“Our top priority is safeguarding the health and well-being of our student-athletes, athletics staff, fans and the campus and central New York communities,” Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said. “While it is disappointing to have to postpone any athletic event, this is the right decision given the increasingly difficult public health landscape.”

Meanwhile, one team that had been locked down is starting back up. Washington paused play after an outbreak of cases following its game on Nov. 27. Washington had a game at No. 5 Gonzaga canceled, a road game at No. 8 Arizona rescheduled for January, and a home game against No. 4 UCLA wiped out and recorded in the Pac-12 standings as a forfeit during that stretch.

Washington coach Mike Hopkins declined to say how many players and coaches tested positive. He said the team finally started having full practices Monday and he expects to have everyone available when it returns to the floor Saturday against Seattle, 21 days after last playing.

“Having those opportunities against some of the best teams in the country you always learn so much about your team and yourself and your program, and we were really looking for those opportunities,” Hopkins said Friday. “But as we all know, this thing is serious and it’s real. And we’re just lucky that no one was really affected on a personal side and just grateful that we were able to get through it.”

Citing public health recommendations and COVID-19 concerns for the team, No. 23 Colorado State canceled a game Saturday against Tulsa at the Hoops Hype XL Collegiate Basketball Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas, and later pulled out of a game Tuesday night against No. 6 Alabama in the C.M. Newton Classic in Birmingham.

“By making the decision now, it affords Alabama an opportunity to find another opponent for next week,” athletic director Joe Parker said.

Schedule changes also include Hampton withdrawing from the Legacy Classic matchup against North Carolina Central on Saturday, with Hampton pausing team activities due to protocols. Delaware State is replacing Hampton in the event featuring HBCUs.

On the women’s side, Middle Tennessee’s game at Belmont on Sunday is off due to issues within the Belmont program. No makeup date has been scheduled.

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