Notes: Marquee hoops home game with No. 12 Tennessee in jeopardy for Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

On Sunday afternoon, Notre Dame announced that it had finally finalized specific game dates for its 2020-21 men’s basketball schedule.

By early Monday afternoon, one of those dates — a marquee non-conference one — was in serious jeopardy because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It remains to be seen if the Dec. 4 home game against No. 12 Tennessee ultimately is rescheduled or, as is possible a lot this winter, just outright canceled.

Early Monday afternoon, Tennessee announced that it was pausing all men’s basketball activities after several Tier One (coaches, student-athletes, managers, support staff) members tested positive Sunday for coronavirus. That included head coach Rick Barnes and athletic director Phillip Fulmer. Barnes called Irish coach Mike Brey last month with the idea of playing a non-league game at Purcell Pavilion in early December. Two days prior to the agreed-upon Dec. 4 date, Tennessee is scheduled to play Gonzaga in Indianapolis.

Under positive test protocols, the Volunteers aren’t targeted to return to basketball activities until Dec. 7.

Tennessee is the latest program to shut down for a minimum of two weeks following positive coronavirus tests. As of Monday afternoon, at least 35 men’s programs were in one phase or another of a shutdown. That included Delaware, coached by former Irish point guard and assistant coach Martin Ingelsby, which was on the back end of its pause. Ingelsby told the Tribune late last week that he hoped his team could return to practice early this week.

Only one men’s basketball program in the Atlantic Coast Conference — Syracuse — currently is in a virus holding pattern. The Orange are scheduled to return to basketball activities this week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

The regular season is scheduled to start Wednesday, though there’s likely nothing regular about it. How crazy was Monday? Second-ranked Baylor decided that it would not travel to Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., to participate in the four-team Empire Classic, one of several “bubbled” tournaments at the resort. Baylor coach Scott Drew tested positive over the weekend for coronavirus. The Bears had planned to play with Drew remaining on campus in Waco, Texas, before changing course.

Arizona State, which was scheduled Wednesday to play Baylor, was reportedly on a flight Monday afternoon from Phoenix when the Baylor news broke. The No. 18 Sun Devils didn’t know if it would even have an opponent once they landed in New England.

A Notre Dame spokesperson said the Irish have not had any issues (stoppages, positive tests, etc.) as they continue preparation for Saturday’s season opener at No. 13 Michigan State (8 p.m., BTN). Brey is scheduled to meet the media via Zoom on Tuesday morning to preview the opener.

Michigan State starts Wednesday at home against Eastern Michigan. Spartans coach Tom Izzo returned Monday after testing positive for coronavirus on Nov. 9.

“While some people who have tested positive have not been affected too much by it, I am here to tell you that this virus is no joke,” Izzo said in a university statement. “Everyone must take this seriously.”

Fan policy in place

There won’t be many fans in the Purcell Pavilion stands this winter for Notre Dame men’s basketball games.

And no chance for the student body, once it returns from an extended winter break, to rush the court if there’s a big Irish win.

At least, to start.

The university announced Monday afternoon that attendance at the 9,149-seat arena will be limited to only guests of student-athletes and coaches of competing teams. The policy also holds for women’s basketball games at Purcell Pavilion and hockey games at Compton Family Ice Arena.

The policy is in accordance with campus health and safety protocols and in consultation with local health officials.

Anyone attending basketball or hockey games at Notre Dame must wear a mask and practice social distancing. The university said it will “continue to monitor the conditions and evaluate the possibility of welcoming additional (larger) audiences.”

If that should happen, season ticket holders would receive priority to purchase single game tickets.

Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and No. 13 Michigan State will not have any fans in the Breslin Center stands.

Irish name captains

The next game that junior guard Cormac Ryan plays for Notre Dame will be his first, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the Stanford transfer to the program.

How much does Ryan mean to Notre Dame? On Monday, he was named one of four captains for the 2020-21 season.

“There’s a toughness about him,” Brey said earlier this month about Ryan.

Ryan, who’s expected to start and play major minutes, is joined by graduate students Nikola Djogo and Juwan Durham and junior guard Prentiss Hubb. All are first-time captains. Hubb and Ryan have been the team’s strongest voices.

“Two guards setting the tone and understanding how we play and leading,” Brey said.

It’s the first time that the Irish have had at least four captains to begin a season since 2017-18, when it also started with four (Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Martinas Geben, Austin Torres) before adding Rex Pflueger at midseason.

Tip times set

The Irish schedule may be done (if only in pencil) but the specific tip times and television designations have been slow to plug into place. What is known is that Notre Dame is scheduled to play its first home game Dec. 2 against Western Michigan. That game will start at 7 p.m.

According to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball web site, the Dec. 12 game against Notre Dame at Rupp Arena will begin at noon on CBS.

The rest of the times — maybe like the season itself — remain to be determined.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at TennesseeTennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes is one of several members of the Volunteers’ program who has tested positive for coronavirus, which jeopardizes next month’s game with Notre Dame.
Cormac Ryan has yet to play a game for Notre Dame but has been named one of four Irish captains.