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Pandemic continues messing up college basketball schedules

Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall, left, and assistant coach Isaac Brown react during a game on Jan. 12 in Hartford, Conn. (AP file photo)

Wichita State landed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Monday afternoon, masked up and looked forward to tipping off the season in the Crossover Classic.

A few hours later, the Shockers announced they were out of the tournament after multiple positive COVID-19 tests. Event organizers said the tests came from two players who were retested before the final decision was made.

“The kids were excited because they were going to get to compete against someone,” said Wichita State interim coach Isaac Brown, whose team had been practicing since June. “Just to get here and find out that we’re not able to play in the tournament — they were disappointed.”

Eight months after the coronavirus shut down college basketball at tournament time, the sport returns this week with dozens of teams opening their seasons as early as today and the pandemic still raging. It has already forced cancellations and postponements across the country, leading to a chaotic scramble to schedule opponents willing to drop everything to play.

No. 2 Baylor, 9 Duke and the No. 3 UConn women have all canceled games because of COVID-19.

Houston guard Quentin Grimes, right, drives past Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis during the second half on Feb. 9 in Houston. (AP file photo)

The Shockers were the sixth team to pull out of the South Dakota tournament alone — only West Virginia and Memphis are left from the original slate — though the event is going ahead with replacement teams and without fans.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said Lea Miller-Tooley, the tournament director. “We’ve learned a lot, but we’ve really been able to hang in there.”

Texas A&M, Creighton and Wichita State are the most recent programs to drop out or be removed from the Crossover Classic field. Utah, Ohio State and Dayton already had backed out. South Dakota State, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky and Virginia Commonwealth have stepped in as replacement teams. VCU was quickly added after Wichita State was removed. The Rams had been scheduled to play in the Volunteer Classic this week, but that event was canceled.

A day after UConn announced it was pausing its women’s season for 14 days following a positive coronavirus test, organizers of the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge tournament canceled this weekend’s event, which was to feature the Huskies and No. 6 Mississippi State.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he was not sure his program can make up those games or a scheduled Dec. 4 showdown with No. 5 Louisville that also has been canceled. He said he has been spending a lot of time reassuring players that things are going to be fine.

“I’m sure there was a guy on the Titanic who was in charge of saying that,” he said. “I just hope I’m not that guy.”

Jeff Walz, the coach of the No. 5 Louisville women’s team, saw the issues coming. He set up a group chat that has grown to 25 coaches to help them work through schedule changes. It came in handy when several of his team’s early games were canceled.

Walz even used Twitter to ask coaches to contact him. Through his various efforts, his Cardinals set up a game at Southeast Missouri State for today. He said several games have been scheduled through the group chat, including Eastern Kentucky’s trip to play Indiana on Wednesday.

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