There are four games remaining in the UNLV basketball season. Or are there?
UNLV has had six contests impacted by COVID-19 this season. Two non-conference games (vs. Eastern Washington on Dec. 9 and vs. Pepperdine on Dec. 14) were canceled outright, while four consecutive Mountain West games against Wyoming and San Diego State from Dec. 20-Jan. 4 were officially postponed.
“Postponed” has become a nebulous term as the season has rolled on, and with the finish line approaching there has still been no announcement from the conference as to whether postponed games will in fact be played.
The league did foresee the need for makeup games, and they built in a 12-day break between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the conference tournament on March 10. But with more than 20 MWC games having been nixed along the way, the question is whether it would be worth it to make up those contests. And if so, which ones?
At this point, UNLV head coach T.J. Otzelberger doesn’t know more than anyone else when it comes to makeup dates. Teams have not been kept abreast of the league’s decision-making process, so for now Otzelberger and UNLV will play the games ahead of them on the schedule.
If given a choice, however, it sounds like Otzelberger would rather forget about adding in games at the end of the schedule and jump straight to the Mountain West tournament.
“There are a lot of challenges [to makeup games],” Otzelberger said. “There have been a lot of games missed, so how do you determine which ones to make up? Are you going to make teams travel multiple times in the week before the conference tournament? You also have to consider the health risks. What if a team plays that week and someone gets COVID? Does that hold you out of the conference tournament? At this point I want to think the conference tournament is the top priority, but I’m not sure. We’re kind of waiting on information from the conference.”
The reasons for making up postponed games are mostly clerical. The Mountain West has to meet its contracted allotment of televised games, and the more complete that teams’ schedules are, the more accurate the final standings will be.
Is that worth it, considering all the risk that comes with playing games during a pandemic? Even with a team that could probably use more live-game reps, Otzelberger doesn’t see a lot of value in playing the makeups.
The downside, however, could be steep.
“One concern I definitely have is running the risk of COVID and contact tracing a week in front of the conference tournament,” Otzelberger said. “We’re fortunate that the tournament happens to be played in the Thomas & Mack Center, and I believe especially on our own court we have an opportunity to beat anyone in the league. Where we stand right now, I’m looking out for our guys and our best interests and what gives us the best chance in the conference tournament.”
San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher has echoed similar sentiments. In speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dutcher prioritized his team’s NCAA Tournament hopes over playing a couple of additional games for the sake of the regular-season conference standings.
“I hope the league makes a decision that allows the Mountain West to get the most teams in the NCAA Tournament,” Dutcher said. “If that means we don’t play those games, then that’s what I’m in favor of. If (they) feel it’s better to play those games, then that’s what we’ll end up having to do. But in my opinion, we’d be better off not running the risk of playing those games for the teams that are already in solid positions.”
There doesn’t seem to be much support among the coaching ranks for the makeup games to be played. We’ll find out shortly whether the Mountain West agrees.