The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, November 18, 2020
Are we excited yet? — Paige Bueckers talks UConn, Azzi Fudd — Must-click women's basketball links
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Are we excited yet?
I have been trying, friends, to understand my own emotional response to the upcoming NCAA season, which is scheduled to begin on November 25. That I couch that date in such tentative terms is probably a habit I’ll struggle to break once this global pandemic is over.
I think the easiest way to explain it is that in my role covering the sport, I am exposed to everything going on right now to both prepare for the season and navigate the worst spike yet in our country’s relentlessly idiotic response to COVID-19. It has produced an existential whiplash for me — one moment, diving into the stats of Aliyah Boston and dreaming about what her future looks like, the next moment, trying to figure out how to even cover the programs that press pause on their season preparation due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
The latter is so common now, so many in each day, that it’s somehow both beyond the ability of everyone to comprehend — Rudy Gobert getting COVID-19 in March we could all understand, it was one person, but the numbers are so large they’ve ceased to carry humanity within them to many people — and somehow, as a result, less newsworthy.
I don’t see it as less so as much as simply beyond our capacity to cover, for instance, at The Next. A program pausing due to COVID-19 is not news for the reason that a team holding practice isn’t, itself, news: it is par for the course, it is inevitable, it is just what is.
All of which means that when the next moment, I read about Rhyne Howard winning SEC preseason player of the year and want to consider her potential to lead Kentucky to the Final Four, it isn’t long until I’m hit with another round of bad COVID-19 news that could be geographic (and my mind turns to which nonconference tournaments are affected) or a conference gets nixed altogether.
Who, in all seriousness, can see the Ivy League’s decision to cancel basketball within the context of our current national illness and think the league made the wrong decision? And if so, why are all the other conferences playing?
That the country as a whole, even the supposedly careful people, has embraced a reactive rather than proactive approach to this outbreak is a significant problem in fighting it. Choosing, again and again, to do things we know are risky and only pulling back on them once people get sick, rather than preemptively avoiding those activities in the first place — well, it’s not as responsible for how we got here as the millions of folks walking around ignoring the pandemic altogether, but it didn’t help. Those in public life pursuing this reactive path expect, I’d imagine, some credit, for seeing to it that the population at large… died slower.
And there is value to that, I suppose, when a vaccine seems closer than ever, when the federal government won’t lift a finger to deficit spend at a time when states and municipalities cannot do so, when so many face the question: more risk and pay the rent, or less risk and face loss of the home that should serve as protection from the elements and the illness.
But basketball, for all that we love about it: the stakes simply aren’t that high for it. They’re just not. And I don’t know whether it’s possible to pull off anything resembling a basketball season in this deeply dangerous period of time without a bubble. Neither does anybody else. We’re reactive, not proactive, though, so we’re all going to find out.
So instead of excitement over basketball or grim resignation, we get the dichotomy of one then the other, back and forth we go. I can’t wait for basketball and I am absolutely concerned I’m going to have to wait for basketball. It’s about to happen and people I cover, people I care about, are going to suffer as a result, whether by contracting COVID-19 or when, in response to COVID-19, games are cancelled, seasons ended early.
That vaccine can’t come soon enough. It won’t be here in time to make this basketball season feel anything like normal.
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This week in women’s basketball
Katie Barnes takes you inside Azzi Fudd’s decision to attend UConn.
Anonymous Eagle does a great job covering women’s basketball. Here are their team-by-team Big East previews.
Jacqueline LeBlanc tells you everything we know about the NCAA schedule (so far).
My latest at FiveThirtyEight is on the great Tiana Mangakahia, and how we shouldn’t overlook just how monumental her return is for Syracuse.
Five at The IX: Paige Bueckers, UConn
Paige joined the media on Zoom to discuss Azzi Fudd choosing Connecticut and other topics. Listen by clicking on her photo.