The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, November 25, 2020

'I'm trying not to expect too much out of 2020' — Geno Auriemma talks UConn pause — Must-click women's basketball links

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‘I’m trying not to expect too much out of 2020’

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Geno Auriemma, head coach of the Connecticut women’s basketball team, wanted to take some responsibility for the experience of his players.

The group had worked tirelessly to both prepare for the season at the level the Huskies always do, while incorporating the COVID-19 protocols required of the moment.

On the cusp of the season, neither players nor coaches tested positive for COVID-19, but an unidentified person in the Tier 1 group did. And so: no games, no practices, no get-togethers of any kind for two weeks. The kind of emotional whiplash that is so common to 2020, sure, but still demoralizing.

Geno wants to take responsibility. It’s what leaders do. It’s what OUR leaders in 2020, writ large, have run screaming from at every turn. And that’s why the UConn women are locked in their rooms on Thanksgiving.

“We’ve all tried to make it, as best as we can, to put them in an environment that seems comfortable for them and can be safe,” Auriemma told the media gathered on Zoom Tuesday, a time we should have been talking about basketball in a normal year. “But I have to tell you, being in it — I have tremendous empathy for my for my players… I felt really guilty that it was that it was happening to them, I felt like I had an hand in this. And they, they came back at me with: Coach — these things are out of our control. And we’ll come back from this and we’ll deal with it, and we’re going to be even better than we were before going into it. So as far as kids being resilient. Yeah. They want this so bad, that they understand.”

Ultimately, that’s what we’re seeing today, with basketball set to tip in a matter of moments. Players and coaches who have devoted their lives to the sport are trying to find their way into continuing, even at a moment when nobody knows whether that’s even possible. Something I appreciate about the current moment is that we’re not seeing these programs — at least yet — bending safety rules to get games in. When everyone is, as Auriemma put it, “flying without instruments”, I don’t mind the collective group setting safety rules, and if there are games that can happen within the confines of those rules, playing them.

It is not, however, realistic to expect anything like a season out of that setup. I don’t begin to know how an NCAA tournament selection committee does something like seeding teams, when there are unlikely to be any real common opponents or the ability to know whether the basketball in one conference is better, worse or the same as the basketball in another conference. And that minimum games played rule? 13? Yeah, that’s going to disappear pretty quickly, too, or else almost no one is likely to qualify for the tournament at all.

Still, in a moment when pleasures are at a premium, my best advice is to enjoy a game, if it happens, when it happens. Don’t feel guilty about it. These programs aren’t playing for you. They’re playing for each other, for a love of this sport that they only get in most cases for a fleeting moment, and even that moment has been defined down, smaller, by this horrible virus.

Chloe Bibby, a player who would be impressing WNBA talent evaluators and college observers alike in a normal season, gets it on a visceral level. She’s done everything she can to prepare for her season at Maryland after transferring from Mississippi State. But for her expectations? Well, I’ll let her explain it.

“Well, for me, I’m taking every moment as a comes,” Bibby told me last week. “And I’m just so excited to play the game of basketball again. I think it’s just been so long… And, you know, if, if it comes out of it, and we get five games, it sucks, but that’s the reality of 2020, as you said. But I’m just trying to have fun, from game-to-game and put in as much as I can and whatever comes out of that, comes out of it. Because I’m trying not to expect too much out of 2020.”

A wise 2020 policy, indeed. And now I’m off to go watch some Rutgers vs. Monmouth. Hopefully.

UPDATE JUST AS I WAS ABOUT TO HIT SEND: now hearing that game may be getting cancelled…. AND IT IS.

Don’t expect too much out of 2020, friends.

This week in women’s basketball

“We’re playing in a week and we don’t have an opponent,” Adia Barnes summarizes this crazy season well.

Dylan Manfre gets you ready for MAAC season.

Malury Bates is intriguing, Brandon Sudge writes.

Megan Gauer breaks down the best returning NCAAW players by win shares.

And the HerHoopStats trio of Gauer, Jenn Hatfield and Calvin Wetzel did a podcast preview of the season.

Renee Montgomery discusses female allyship.

Mike Jensen helps you get to know La Salle’s Kayla Spruill.

This is the best WNBA Cats and Dogs site you’ll ever visit.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo caught up with Brianna Turner.

Jenna Staiti is one to watch at Georgia.

And Arizona has far more than Aari McDonald on this team.

But… they ALSO have Aari McDonald.

Get ready for Iona women’s hoops!

Don’t miss Cynthia Cooper-Dyke on her own place in women’s basketball history.

Danielle Lerner profiles Memphis’ Madison Griggs.

Love this video look at “The Shot” by Kristi Toliver.

Jenn Hatfield identifies seven big breakout candidates for 2020-21.

Sure glad you’re back, Raegan Pebley.

Christy Winters Scott and Debbie Antonelli on one podcast? YES PLEASE.

Chantel Jennings has a weekly power rankings feature, I am pleased to report.

Christine M. Hopkins has your mid-major conferences covered. Like, ALL OF THEM.

And at FiveThirtyEight I wrote about Bibby and some other WNBA prospects.

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Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Geno Auriemma

Click on Geno’s picture to hear his full media remarks from Tuesday.

Geno Auriemma. (Photo courtesy of UConn Athletics)

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
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By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
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By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.