Five of the top 20 teams in women’s bracketology this week are either on or coming out of a COVID-19 break. These breaks in schedule have resulted in 16 postponed games for some of the best women’s college basketball teams. Tennessee, Oregon and Michigan all missed games for the past week. Across the country, more than 200 conference games have been postponed without a new date.
At this point in the season, these games are unlikely to be invented. There is just not enough time. And the large number of games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 will result in an unbalanced selection process for NCAA tournaments. For example, there’s a big discrepancy in the valuation of bubble teams like Rutgers, who only played 10 games as of Thursday, versus Clemson and BYU, who played 18 and 15 games respectively.
Because of this, this season it may make most sense to skip conference tournaments in 2021 to give teams the time to better balance the currently very different résumés.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma recently said he wouldn’t mind if the Big East tournament was canceled. Much of the conversation revolved around potential COVID-19 risks right before the NCAA tournament began. The NCAA announced last week that the 64-man field would be revealed on Pick Monday, March 15th. All games are played in the San Antonio area. The first round will take place on Sunday, March 21st. Up to 34 people may need seven days of negative COVID-19 tests before leaving for San Antonio.
However, if conference tournaments are played as planned, some teams have less than three weeks left in the regular season. If conference tournaments were canceled, the leagues could use that extra week – or two extra weeks at conferences like ACC, Big East, Pac-12, and SEC – to play some of those games that have been postponed. Of course, every game doesn’t have to be invented, but teams like Rutgers and Michigan, who played for the first time on Thursday since Jan. 21, would benefit if they had two weeks left to potentially four more regular season games Playing against travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament where only one game is guaranteed.
The additional regular season games would better align any comparison data points that go into the NCAA tournament selection process. More games would add more weight to the strength of the schedule leaderboards and allow for better scoring in a season when “eye testing” will play a prominent role.
Would the conference’s auto-bid for regular season champions mean we might miss the Cinderella runs for an NCAA auto-bid that’s part of what makes college basketball great? Two years ago, coaches Kellie Harper and Missouri State were a bubble team, and there was no guarantee the Missouri Valley Conference would get two offers. But the Lady Bears pissed off Drake in the MVC championship game and scored two more surprises to hit the Sweet 16.
The truth is, these magical conference tournament runs don’t happen as often as you think they do. Only once in the last two full seasons has a team lower than a conference # 4 won the league’s tournament (George Washington ranked # 5 in Atlantic 10 in 2018). A better record of the NCAA tournament resume would be better for the selection process than the small chance of a Cinderella story during the conference tournament.
Here’s a look at the teams that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 breaks.
Rutgers (Seed # 10): The Scarlet Knights (7-3) played Sunday for the first time in five weeks. Eight games were postponed. Rutgers is 18th in the NET and drifted down before returning to the S-curve. Winning their two games this week, including a big one on Thursday night in the Northwest, has stabilized the Scarlet Knights’ place in the field for now, but the resume remains thin. There just wasn’t enough to rate. The rest of the teams near the cutting line played significantly more games. We don’t know how the committee will look at these discrepancies, but it makes sense to give more consideration to teams that have played more games. If Rutgers were to make up any of the missed games, it could really benefit the Scarlet Knights as the current remaining schedule only includes two games against teams with a winning record.
To complete his schedule, Rutgers would have to play 15 games (eight postponed and seven pending) in four weeks. Another COVID-19 hiatus and the Scarlet Knights may not hit the 13-game minimum to qualify for an NCAA tournament (although teams can request a waiver until February 20).
Syracuse (seed # 7): The orange (11-5) had to take a three-week hiatus that began in late December. Syracuse then played nine games in three weeks, a tricky schedule. The Orange went 3-6 on that stretch but one of Syracuse’s defeats was a road game on Tuesday after a home game on Sunday. This loss injured the seed of the orange. And while the Seed will remain number 7 after Thursday’s defeat in the state of Florida, the orange looked tired, as if the schedule had begun to take a toll. With the home games against the top names Louisville and NC State and the upcoming trips to Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, the past three weeks won’t get any easier.
Oregon (Seed # 4): The Ducks (12-4) have played 16 games, are safe on the field, and don’t have the same concerns as Rutgers. However, they haven’t played well in their two games since their last break. After a narrow win against UC Davis on Saturday, Oregon lost 20 points to Arizona on Monday. Oregon is slipping as it has three games to play.
Michigan (# 4): The Wolverines (10-1) haven’t played since January 21 – their only loss this season – and missed four games. You’re in no danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament like Rutgers could do, but Michigan could be in a planning crisis and stay tired for the postseason trying to play those postponed games.
South Florida (Seed # 4): The bulls (10-1) are in a similar situation to Michigan. South Florida, who hasn’t played since January 13, could soon get out of hand. The Bulls’ résumé, with a narrow loss to Baylor and a win over the state of Mississippi, remains solid, but the lack of games and wins has left them vulnerable to other teams who overtake them.