Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter expects the 2020-21 college basketball season to start on time.
Beyond the Nov. 25 start date will be the hard part in trying to play through a global pandemic.
“There will be hiccups,” Painter said.
Painter said Major League Baseball should serve as a guide as to how it handled COVID-19 player and team outbreaks in August and September.
“They had a couple of teams that had to have stoppages and a couple of other teams that had individual games, but the one thing they kept doing is they kept going,” Painter said. “I think that’s what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to keep going.
“It’s not going to be fair across the board. It’s going to be one of these things where you’re going to try to make it fair. But as everything unfolds, then you’re going to have a lot of different plays out there.”
Painter doesn’t know whether the same daily testing for COVID-19 proposed for football will be available for basketball, but he’s hopeful it will be. For now, he’s preaching for his players to hold themselves accountable as far as exposing themselves to parties or large groups that can cause them to catch and spread the virus.
“In terms of the social piece, don’t do it,” Painter said. “Don’t go to a party, don’t go to a bar, don’t go to a frat, don’t go to a sorority. Stay away from anything that has masses of people, and then we have protocols within our classrooms, the social distances. We feel comfortable about those guys attending classes because we have it set up to be safe in those environments.”
Scheduling, Painter said, remains tricky. He’s still working to formulate a revised schedule. Under Wednesday’s ruling from the NCAA Division I council, teams can play a maximum of 27 regular-season games, with either 24 of 25 scheduled games, and two or three more coming from a mid-level tournament exception. That means Purdue may have to shave four non-conference games off its current schedule of 31 regular-season games. There is no word yet from the Big Ten as to whether it will reduce its current schedule of 20 conference games.
“Everybody (is) kind of figuring out when they are going to play. The Big Ten-ACC Challenge, does it stay? Or do they move that?” Painter said. “So I think once you can kind of get a couple of things concrete, now you can move in the direction of what you want to do with the rest of your non-conference stuff, and a lot — some of it can get determined for you, if they don’t want to play or they can’t. There’s just so much uncertainty in each state, in each school. There’s a lot of similarities in their protocol, but there are different restrictions across the board.”
Painter said Purdue would like to stay in the Cancun Classic, which has moved to Melbourne, Florida. That would give Purdue at least two MTE games, and possibly three, depending on how the Thanksgiving week tournament gets re-organized.
“There’s just a lot of fluctuation right now,” Painter said.
On the court, Painter is encouraged about his team’s progress during summer and fall workouts. The return of junior 6-foot-9, All-Big Ten forward Trevion Williams gives the Boilermakers an important frontcourt piece, but other frontcourt players will need to emerge to make up for the loss of 7-3 center Matt Haarms and 6-7 forward Nojel Eastern, who both transferred during the offseason.
“Our youth shows up, our lack of experience shows up, and I think that’s normal,” Painter said. “We have two redshirt freshmen. We have three true freshmen. We have two walk-ons that are freshmen.”
Painter said one of his freshmen, 6-6 swingman Ethan Morton, could see time guarding frontcourt players in three- or four-guard lineups as well. Morton, a Butler, Pennsylvania, native who earned 2020 Mr. Basketball honors in his home state, has flashed the similar passing ability that allowed him to dish 682 assists in his high school career.
“As Ethan Morton kind of finds himself defensively, we could go small, into him guarding some fours and having the ball in his hands,” Painter said. “Whether he’s bringing it up the court or running plays to get it in his hands.”
In the backcourt, Painter said returning junior starters Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic have picked up where they left off last season. Overall, Purdue returns three starters from a team that finished 16-15 in 2019-20.
“I like our ability,” Painter said. “We just have to make some strides here in September and October and November. Like, this is going to be really, really important not just for our team but for all teams. We went through a lot of things, but we’re really young. We have no seniors, and we really need those guys that are juniors to lead and to help us through that.”