Fill it, or forget it? Virginia cancellation leaves Michigan State basketball with opening

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Well, that was a quick trip.

Just hours after Michigan State arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Tuesday for its matchup the next day with Virginia as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Spartans found out they made the journey for nothing. Not long before midnight, Virginia announced it had to cancel the game between the fourth-ranked Spartans and the 18th-ranked Cavaliers because of COVID-19 issues within the Virginia program.

Tom Izzo tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.

So, by late Wednesday morning, Michigan State was headed back home with its next game scheduled for Sunday when it hosts Oakland in what was supposed to be the final nonconference game.

We say “supposed to be” because there’s no clear plan yet on what to do with the lost game at Virginia. As of Wednesday morning, there had been no announcement about rescheduling the game nor any indication the Spartans might try and replace the game by scheduling another team.

Michigan State had seven nonconference games scheduled — the maximum number allowed — and could find another opponent. But assuming there is no last-minute addition to the schedule, the game against the Golden Grizzlies will be it before Big Ten play is set to start on Dec. 20 with a trip to Northwestern. 

It’s all part of life trying to play basketball — or any sport, really — in the middle of a global pandemic. By Tuesday night, at least 50 Division I college basketball games had been postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 with three of those affecting the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

First to fall was the Wisconsin-Louisville game scheduled for Wednesday followed by Michigan-N.C. State, also scheduled for Wednesday. The Badgers and Wolverines already have replaced those games with Wisconsin hosting Rhode Island and Michigan hosting Toledo, both being played on Wednesday.

The constant shifting in schedules and the essential isolation can be difficult for teams, especially the players. It’s something Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said his program is playing close attention to while they try and make their way through the schedule, doing whatever they can to keep players from sitting alone in their apartments.

“I think the biggest one is just spending time with him,” Izzo said. “You know, 40 years ago I don't know if I could have done what they're doing in college. They’re almost in prison. And I don't want to make light of it, but it's more difficult than we all think.

“But we’ve tried to do things with families, and we've tried to do things with a lot of texting, some Zoom calls with them, just to try to keep them from sitting in an apartment and not doing things. We even moved our study sessions in that they were on Zoom before and now we've done some things here in the arena. Again, it’s just to basically get them out of sitting around in an apartment or lying in bed looking at a computer.”

How long college basketball is willing to push it in this environment is questionable. Some have been critical of nonconference games being played at this point while others wonder if games should be played at all.

After his team lost to Illinois on Tuesday, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he wondered if it was wise to keep playing.

“I don’t think it feels right to anybody,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean everyone is concerned.

“You have 2,000 deaths a day. You have 200,000 cases. People are saying the next six weeks are going be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad. On the other side of it, there are these vaccines that are coming out. By the end of the month 20 million vaccine shots will be given. By the end of January or in February, another 100 million. Should we not reassess that? See just what would be best?

“Look, I just got my butt beat by a lot,” Krzyzewski added. “Anything I say, someone can say, ‘He’s saying that because he got his butt beat.’ Do I think things should be done a little bit different? I mean, yeah. A lot of kids aren’t going to be able to go home for Christmas. It’s probably a time when they should, for mental health. But we’re just plowing through this.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau