Gonzaga coach Mark Few has believed “since the jump” there will be a college basketball season, with the understanding nearly everything – fans in the stands, the Zags’ schedule, game locations and possibly the NCAA Tournament – could look a lot different.
Few applauded the NCAA’s announcement Wednesday – opening day for games Nov. 25, maximum of 27 games including a multiteam event (MTE) – as another positive step.
“We’ve worked really hard for the last three months just getting to this point,” Few said. “I thought (Wednesday) was a really good day for college basketball. Everyone has some direction now.”
Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule will require adjustments with five games prior to the Nov. 25 starting date. Few said it’s likely several marquee games – at Texas on Nov. 13, home vs. Arizona (Dec. 5) and Washington (Dec. 12) – will be moved to the 2021-22 schedule.
The Texas game was the first of a home-and-home series. Gonzaga has had an extended series with both Arizona and Washington, but the Pac-12 announced last month its basketball teams wouldn’t play games until at least Jan. 1. Pac-12 football appears to be planning for a late-October return, making it seem possible the conference revisits its basketball decision.
The Zags beat Arizona in front of nearly 15,000 fans in Tucson last season and edged Washington with a full house of 9,268 inside Alaska Airlines Arena. No decisions have been made on fan attendance this season, but it’s likely there will be a limited number of spectators, if any, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That also presents financial considerations.
“We’ve had talks with everybody,” Few said. “We’re in the process of deferring most of those games (to next season) because there’s not going to be anybody here. The hardest thing about the Pac-12 is they still haven’t made an announcement if they’re playing.
“We’ve been working on this schedule for a long time. We’ve been spending 20 hours a day on the phone setting up all kinds of stuff up. You just have to move on with some of your plans.”
The Gonzaga-USC game, scheduled for Nov. 17 at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, seems unlikely with the Pac-12’s uncertainty and it doesn’t appear the tournament will be joining eight ESPN-operated tournaments/events expected to be played in Orlando, Florida.
Few anticipates Gonzaga’s season opener will be at the Orlando Invitational, which figures to retain its original Nov. 26 date for first-round games. After the three-game tournament, Few said the Zags could remain in Orlando for the relocated Jimmy V Classic matchup versus Tennessee.
Baylor-Rutgers is the other half of the Jimmy V doubleheader. The Zags and Bears have agreed to play this season, and Few noted, “that’s an easy thing if we wanted to (play in Orlando) or somewhere else to fit TV. I see that happening in some way, shape or form.”
The Zags’ Dec. 19 date with Texas Tech in Phoenix is in question.
“We’re trying to work it out,” Few said. “The issue is that game is meant to make some money for the (Naismith Memorial) Hall of Fame and it doesn’t seem like having it with no fans in Phoenix is the most prudent thing to do if it’s a fundraiser.”
Few expects GU will play a full schedule of 27 games, including 16 in the West Coast Conference.
“I think it’s going to be possibly tougher (than the original schedule), quite frankly,” he said. “The hard thing is it’s not going to have the same feel with the big-time crowds and obviously the Kennel’s going to be different.
“You just have to make the best of the situation, that’s definitely what we’re going to do. TV has been very bullish in getting us on, so we’ll continue to try to play as many of those big-time games as we can to stay in the national spotlight.”
The Zags’ 2021-22 schedule is already looking formidable, particularly with the probable addition of Arizona and UW. Texas was already on the schedule for the second of the two-game series.
Gonzaga is expected to play in the Empire Classic (four teams, two games) at Madison Square Garden. The 2020 field includes Villanova, Michigan, Baylor and North Carolina State. Duke, Cal, Texas and Georgetown played in the 2019 tournament, which benefits the Wounded Warrior Project.
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