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As tipoff nears, CU Buffs men’s basketball crossing fingers to reach opening night safely

Week begins with cancellations across country as Buffs eye opener against South Dakota

McKinley Wright IV and the CU men's basketball team are hoping they can avoid the problems leading up to Wednesday's season opener against South Dakota that have ravaged several programs.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
McKinley Wright IV and the CU men’s basketball team are hoping they can avoid the problems leading up to Wednesday’s season opener against South Dakota that have ravaged several programs.
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As the Colorado Buffaloes begin the first game week of a season they hope will continue to feature continuous game weeks until March, the goal is simple yet tenuous. A balance of anticipation and trepidation that might also continue through March.

CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle talked on a video media session Monday morning, roughly 56 hours before his squad is scheduled to open the 2020-21 season against South Dakota in Manhattan, Kansas. Reaching that seemingly innocuous goal of getting to tipoff won’t be as easy as simply checking the hours off the clock, as the coronavirus pandemic already has made a mess of college basketball’s scheduled opening night on Wednesday.

Boyle is crossing his fingers that the Buffs, who haven’t suffered a single positive test amongst its scholarship players since the bulk of the team reconvened on campus in June, can produce a safe and victorious two-game, season-opening trip to Kansas State.

“We have to get Wednesday at 7 p.m. (6 MT) in Manhattan, Kansas,” Boyle said. “If we can do that, it will be a hell of an accomplishment for these young men. You look at what’s going on through our state, it’s another testament to our guys and, knock on wood, people keep staying safe and healthy.”

On Friday, Colorado State announced it is suspending activities for its men’s basketball program through Dec. 2 due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program, casting at least a shadow of concern over the Rams’ scheduled Dec. 8 visit to the CU Events Center.

On Monday, the hits kept coming. The University of Denver, coached by former CU assistant Rodney Billups, announced the cancellation of its season-opener Wednesday against Colorado Christian due to positive tests within the Pioneers’ program. No. 11 Tennessee, with former CU assistant Kim English on staff, suspended all team activities after head coach Rick Barnes tested positive for COVID-19. No. 9 Duke was forced to cancel its opener against Gardner-Webb.

The opening week schedule-juggling has struck the Pac-12, as well. Arizona’s opener against Northern Arizona was canceled, as was No. 18 Arizona State’s highly-anticipated showdown against No. 2 Baylor in Connecticut. Instead, the Sun Devils will play Rhode Island.

Last week, the Pac-12 Conference loosened its previous football restrictions allowing for nonconference matchups if games are canceled. Basketball has no such conference-only mandate, yet given how Cal and UCLA were able to get paired in football at the 11th hour two weekends ago after their respective foes were forced to cancel, Boyle on Monday was asked if CU would have the flexibility to reschedule games on the fly in case any of the foes during a December run of four consecutive home games — Washington State (Dec. 5), CSU (Dec. 8), Northern Colorado (Dec. 14), and Omaha (Dec. 16 ) — are forced to bow out.

Boyle indicated those conversations already are happening.

“That’s the million dollar question,” Boyle said. “We’re certainly trying. We want those contingency plans in place. You have to stay nimble this year. I’ve had conversations with Jeff Linder at Wyoming. I talked to (CSU coach) Niko (Medved) after I saw what happened with the Colorado State program. We’ll be in constant contact between now and December the 8th. We’re hopeful that game can still go on. If not, Rodney Billups at DU, I know they’re on pause right now, but I’ve had conversations obviously with him. Joe Scott at Air Force. All the people along the Front Range we have been in contact with and we’re certainly open to that (rescheduling) scenario if in fact we lose games. And we very well may.

“We’re going to stay nimble and try to get in as many games as we can.”