By Harry Allison
Last Wednesday the NCAA Division 1 Council decreed that college hoops could start Nov. 25 with the traditional Midnight Madness start of practice set for Oct. 14.
For Jay Wright, coach of the projected No. 1 in the country Villanova Wildcats, that meant dealing with the schedule.
“We know what our limited number of games are,” Wright said during a remote video news conference.
“We know what the minimum is we have to play to play in the NCAA Tournament. And so now, we have to start with our conference. We had a conference call at 8 a.m. this morning with the Big East, and we’re trying to, first, put together our conference schedule given these new parameters.”
Programs can schedule 24 regular-season games and participate in one multiple-team event that includes up to three games, schedule 25 regular-season games and participate in one multiple-team event that includes up to two games, or schedule 25 regular-season games with no multiple-team event.
A couple of Villanova’s Big 5 games come to mind.
“The Temple game is already outside of the new schedule,” Wright said. “Penn, we don’t know what they’re doing. Honestly, we’re probably not going to be able to look at it like the Big 5 this year. We’re probably going to have to look at it like, ‘Can we schedule a Penn game? And can we fit the Temple game in?’ Right now, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s are good because they fit within the timeframe of the schedule.”
“I do think we all understand that this year everybody might not play the same number of games for a lot of reasons,” Wright said.
Wright said the Big East had discussed a number of places where conference games would be played, including different sites for a bubble, but he doesn’t think it’s leaning toward that option at this point. Still, all scenarios are on the table, he said.
From Sept. 21 to Oct. 13, teams can begin strength and conditioning training, conduct team meetings and have skill-work sessions for up to 12 hours a week. Players are required by the NCAA to have two days off per week during the transition period. On Oct. 14, teams can begin preseason practices, with a maximum of 42 sessions over a 30-day span. Players will be allowed to work out up to four hours per day and 20 hours per week, and they’re required to have at least one off day per week.
“We haven’t practiced as a team yet and a lot of teams have,” Wright said. “We want to start the transition into that and what that means is more testing.”
Since arriving back on campus a few weeks ago, Wright said that practices have been “strange” as Villanova worked under new safety protocols. Players have been practicing in “pods” — groups of four. One pod hasn’t been able to practice with the other two.
“They’ve had no contact with them at all on the court since Aug. 10, I believe,” Wright said. “And then you have certain guys that are just beating each other up every day — it’s wild. Team meetings, when we have them, we all have masks on. We’re spread out throughout the Pavilion. It’s very strange.”
Wright and his staff have challenged players to “dare to be different,” and they have tried to create their own bubble on campus. Players are living in small groups at the end of hallways in dormitories to limit contact with other students. They’re not permitted to have guests in their rooms and have been encouraged to spend as much time as they can inside the Davis Center, even for online classes.
“We know if someone tests positive (for COVID-19), then everyone gets quarantined, so it’s a lot of pressure on them,” Wright said. “But so far, so good.”
According to Wright, no one on staff has tested positive. Whether Villanova practices as a team for the first time next week will depend on test results. He said players, coaches and staff will be tested at least three times per week.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Villanova still found ways to improve this offseason.
“All of our guys have done an amazing job when they weren’t with us coming back. Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Justin Moore and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl worked out to the point that they were better without us than if they would’ve been here with us,” Wright said. “Those guys all looked really good. But since we’ve been back working out, Brandon Slater has just had a really good fall. He’s really looked good. Cole Swider looks good. Those two have had really good Augusts, Septembers.”