The college basketball season officially began Wednesday as teams across the country could officially start regular season practices ahead of the November 25th season opener. Teams are allowed to start practicing 42 days ahead of their first regular season contest.
The NCAA made the decision last month to move the start of the season – including games and practices – back by two weeks from November 11th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The delay was to push the start of the season to where a vast majority of college campuses will be on Thanksgiving break meaning no students will be on campus to help limit potential exposure to the virus. Many universities (not including UW-Green Bay) will be switching to all virtual learning for the remainder of the semester following the Thanksgiving break allowing for nearly two full months of games to be played without the general student population being on-campus.
The delay to the season – along with increased hesitation to travel due to the pandemic – has caused chaos on the college basketball schedule, particularly non-conference games. Teams may now play a maximum of 25 regular season games this season or a maximum of 27 games if participating in a multi team event (MTE). Teams must play at least 13 games against Division I opponents to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament this season.
The Horizon League has not publicly announced the conference schedule or even the league’s plan for how many games each team will play but multiple reports say the conference is planning on playing a 20-game schedule. Commissioner Jon LeCrone said back in August that the league office was considering several options for its schedule and that the usual home-and-home type schedule that we see in normal years was likely not going to happen.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports was the first to report that the Horizon League will be playing a 20-game conference schedule while noting that the conference plans to have its teams play the same opponent twice on the same weekend in the same location. For example, Green Bay would travel to Cleveland and play Cleveland State twice in the same weekend instead of playing one game at CSU on a Friday and one game at Youngstown State on a Sunday as in years past.
The format is still up in the air though apparently as far as how many conference opponents teams will face. Will Green Bay be playing five opponents at home (twice) and five opponents on the road (twice) meaning only one team won’t be on the schedule? Will the conference split into two 6-team divisions and only play the teams in their division home and home for a total of four games per opponent to save on travel? Or will it be something completely different that allows each team to play every conference opponent at least once?
It will be interesting to see if the conference can pull off this type of schedule in an equitable way. With 12-teams now in the conference after the additions of Robert Morris and Purdue Fort Wayne, a 20-game schedule makes it impossible for a team to face each conference foe twice or maybe even at all given the potential “two games against one opponent in the same location” approach the league appears to be planning. It could be a huge advantage to get two home games against Wright State and not have to play at WSU this season, or to avoid the Raiders all together.
As for the non-conference slate, a 20-game Horizon League schedule leaves room for up to five non-conference games to be scheduled. The Phoenix were originally scheduled to participate in the Gotham Classic this season but those plans have been scrapped meaning road games at Syracuse, LSU, and Jacksonville State along with a home game against Mercer will not be happening. It also appears that the Phoenix are not planning to join a different MTE as things currently stand.
Green Bay’s games that were scheduled for prior to November 25th against Oklahoma State (November 11th) and Montana State (November 14th) are also not happening this season, though they may be rescheduled for next season. The game at OSU is a one-off buy game that the Phoenix were scheduled to earn $87,500 according to the contract signed between the two schools this past March and the Montana State game is the return leg of a home-and-home series. Green Bay won the first meeting 98-72 in Bozeman last season.
The Horizon League / Summit League Challenge, originally scheduled for November 17th and 21st, also will not be happening this season.
The Phoenix are scheduled to open the season at Minnesota on November 25th according to Rocco Miller of Bracketeer.org and had signed contracts to play games at Wisconsin and home against Northern Illinois (December 2nd) and Eastern Illinois (December 5th) this season, though the status and dates of those games appear to be up in the air. Those four games, should they all come to fruition, would leave one more game to fill if Green Bay wants to play a full 25-game schedule.
One potential opponent could be Marquette according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Wednesday. The paper notes that the Golden Eagles are “hoping to schedule a matchup with UW-Green Bay,” which would be the first time Marquette and Green Bay have squared off since December 19, 2012 – a 49-47 Phoenix victory at the Resch Center.
Should things play out that way, the Phoenix non-conference schedule would feature two home games against regional mid-major opponents and three road games against name-brand power conference teams within driving distance, a solid schedule given the delayed start to the season and the scheduling headaches that came with it.
When the games do tip off a few weeks from now it is unclear how many, if any, fans will be allowed to be in attendance for games this season. “The department will follow the guidance of local and state health regulations along with any Horizon League and NCAA decisions on attendance and capacity,” Green Bay Athletics said in a release on September 30th.
In the same release, the program announced that all early season games will take place at the Kress Center on the UWGB campus but that “the department and University will reevaluate as the regular season takes place regarding future home games scheduled after December 31, 2020.”
Photo via Julia Kostopoulos / Green Bay Athletics