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With start date set, Weber State men’s basketball waiting on conference schedule, testing capabilities

By Brett Hein Standard-Examiner - | Sep 29, 2020

The last few months have been a series of phone calls and check-ins between Weber State men’s basketball coaches and the teams they’re contracted to play in the 2020 nonconference season, trying to make scheduling plans, then having to adjust as more decisions impact what the upcoming season will look like.

But, after the coronavirus pandemic shut down college basketball on March 11 — before the 2020 NCAA Tournament began — there’s one sure thing head coach Randy Rahe and many others have expressed: there will be college basketball in the 2020-21 season.

“Everybody’s motivated to make it happen,” Rahe said. “Financially, everybody’s in the same position losing NCAA Tournament money last year. If you use another year of NCAA Tournament money, it’s going to get really, really difficult for a lot of schools to maintain. So people are motivated to have the tournament for the normalcy of everything, and financially it’s critical for almost every school in the country.”

Sept. 16 brought the first step of clarity when the NCAA moved the start date of basketball season from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25.

Every school, Weber State included, had agreements to play games before Nov. 25, of course, so that began a series of conversations between coaches and administrators across the Big Sky and beyond on how they can reshuffle the deck and be ready to play on Thanksgiving week.

The next step is the finalization of the Big Sky Conference plan. The conference previously cut the number of league games from 20 to 16 for this season only but is now revisiting that decision, Rahe says — while also figuring out when to start those games and what scheduling format will best facilitate a successful season.

Rahe declined to provide details about what formats are being considered, but the conference schedule could look different, perhaps drastically, than what is customary.

How many games make up a team’s Big Sky schedule will inform where teams go from there because, due to the delayed start, the NCAA reduced the maximum number of games to 25 for a team not playing in a multi-team event — down from the usual 29-31 games per season.

That includes Weber State, which will not participate in the Paradise Jam, Rahe told the Standard-Examiner.

That event was originally scheduled from Nov. 20-23 in the U.S. Virgin Islands where WSU was to join Bradley, Buffalo, Cleveland State, FIU, Little Rock, Long Beach State and St. Bonaventure. Jon Rothstein of CBS reported the organizers planned to reschedule the dates and move the event to Washington D.C., but WSU has joined at least half the field in pulling out.

If the Big Sky returns to 20 games, that might necessitate league games in December and would leave WSU just five nonconference matchups to complete. Aside from six lost games originally scheduled between the original start date of Nov. 10 and the new Nov. 25 start, WSU has eight more games under contract.

So everything awaits a Big Sky schedule. In Weber State’s nonconference slate, the sure bets seem to be a home contest against Utah State and a game against BYU currently set for Salt Lake City, with a likely trip to Dixie State, according to contracts obtained via an open records request.

Testing is a key component to basketball, and every college sport, being played this school year. Some conferences like the Pac-12 have made agreements with rapid COVID testing providers to meet the NCAA’s recommendation that players and coaches be tested three times per week once the season starts.

With about two months to go, developments in that area loom large.

“Testing is going to be huge to make the season go off. There’s got to be adequate testing, we’ve got to be able to test during the week,” Rahe said.

REVISITING THE OFFSEASONUnlike in the fall sports of football, soccer and volleyball, the basketball calendar has not been upset by pandemic restrictions, except for delaying the of the season by two weeks — at least at Weber State. Some programs, especially in Washington, Oregon and California, have only started basketball workouts in the past week or two.

But at WSU, many players started arriving on campus in June for voluntary workouts and, as is customary, began a small load of required workouts and development on July 1. That’s been key for WSU, which brought in nine new players.

“We spent that time easing them in on conditioning, weight room and player development. You just don’t want to get anybody hurt when they’re out of shape and you push them too hard,” Rahe said. “Most of the guys couldn’t do hardly anything for almost three months except go for a run outside.

“We did have a few guys who were able to find a gym during the main shutdowns and you could tell a difference with those guys, if they could work out or shoot. But at least half the guys didn’t have access to a gym, couldn’t shoot at an outdoor court because they took off the rims, so they barely touched a ball except for doing ball-handling stuff at their house.”

By the time school started in August, the maximum number of people allowed in a workout by the university increased, which meant starting team workouts.

“We’re not where we’d normally be this time of year, for sure, but we’re getting closer. That’s to be expected, we were ready for it,” Rahe said.

For nearly a month, the Wildcats stuck with half-court work and continued individual development for a long transition period into full basketball readiness, due to the odd offseason. They’re now slowly mixing in short periods of pickup ball.

On Sept. 21, NCAA rules allowed WSU to transition from four required, coach-involved hours of practice per week to 12 hours per week. That goes until Oct. 14 when preseason camp can begin, which brings up to 42 days to complete 30 practices.

Rahe says his roster, which is now considerably older and more experienced in the college game than it was last season, has handled it well.

“It’s evident these kids have been around, they’ve had the experience, they’re used to the weightlifting and the conditioning. It’s not a shock to them,” he said. “There’s a certain maturity about our team that I feel like you can tell a difference. From that standpoint, obviously that’s what we were looking for and we accomplished that.”

Two months from now, WSU will take the floor and look to make last year’s 12-20 campaign a distant memory.

“We’re longer, we have a few bigger guards now,” Rahe said. “I do feel comfortable that we’ve got good talent, I’m not overly concerned about that. I just want to see how we perform once we get our systems in. We wanted to take our time because we wanted to make sure we knew what we had so we can match our personnel to a system.

“But I do feel good about them. We’re a bit more athletic, longer, older. And we’ve got guys with a good feel for how to play basketball.”

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