More than eight months ago, I was sitting courtside at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis preparing to watch Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament opener against Rutgers.
Media members were sitting shoulder to shoulder on press row. Nobody was wearing masks. We knew about this thing called the coronavirus — the disease had put a halt to the NBA season the night before — but not nearly enough.
Big Ten officials, though, decided to cancel the entire tournament with just minutes left in pregame warmups. The Wolverines and Scarlet Knights returned to their locker rooms. Little did they know they wouldn’t emerge until today.
The 2020-21 men’s college basketball season starts Wednesday.
In some ways, the sport is picking up where it left off. Gonzaga, Baylor, Kansas, and Villanova are among the preseason favorites — SportsBettingDime has ever-updating NCAA Tournament odds — just as they were frontrunners by the end of last season.
Other schools, like Dayton and San Diego State, can only imagine what March Madness would have been like their eventual first-round draft picks.
Michigan, meanwhile, brings back three starters from a team that was good but not great last year. Juwan Howard enters his second season as head coach. Franz Wagner could become a star as a sophomore.
Most importantly, the Wolverines haven’t had any pauses in preseason practice and are scheduled to take the court today (4:00 ET, ESPN2). Not every team is so lucky.
In the days leading up to the start of the season, programs all over the country canceled games or pulled out of tournaments due to positive COVID-19 tests inside their program or their scheduled opponents’. Among them: No. 2 Baylor, No. 9 Duke, and No. 12 Tennessee.
Expect more of that this season. Make no mistake about college basketball’s ultimate goal: the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, the sport has its starting line, but more importantly it has a finish line. What happens on the way there? Here’s how one NCAA official put it:
“The season starts today. Think of it as taking a flight. There will be screenings, delays and cancellations. Sometimes it will feel like you’re in the middle seat between 2 large men and behind the person who fully reclines their seat. But eventually we’ll reach our destination.”
The NCAA already announced its plan to host the entire NCAA Tournament in one place (Indianapolis) as opposed to early rounds in different sites all over the country. March Madness is a cash cow that the NCAA and its member schools will do almost anything to protect, especially after missing out on the marquee event last season.
So here we are, Nov. 25, ready for some basketball. The Final Four and championship are scheduled for Apr. 3 and 5.
What exactly happens in between is anybody’s guess. To quote Samuel L. Jackson’s Jurassic Park character: Hold on to your butts.