Women’s college basketball’s new norm in 2020: Scheduling via Twitter

Coaches tend to play coy at times, and not show all their cards. It’s part of being a competitor. But when it comes to scheduling for the 2020-21 women’s college basketball season, that isn’t going to work. Dozens of games already have been postponed or canceled because of COVID-19. And many more will be. With teams needing to play at least 13 games to qualify for the NCAA tournament, programs are going to have reschedule on the fly at times.

And if it means advertising for foes on social media, so be it. These are unprecedented times.

“Everybody’s going to have to come to an understanding that there’s not going to be any balanced schedule,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “If you want to be able to have a season … this scheduling is going to be chaotic. We have a text group here with about 20-something coaches within a five- or six-hour radius of us. If games get canceled, we’re going to call each other.”

Fifth-ranked Louisville was supposed to play No. 3 UConn on Friday in the Jimmy V Women’s Classic. But the Huskies are in a 14-day “pause” to start the season because of a positive COVID-19 test within their program. Louisville will now face No. 20 DePaul, a matchup that was announced Monday, on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.

But it took several phone calls and texts from Walz, who also had used Twitter — “TEAM NEEDED!” began one tweet — to seek out opponents. (And it meant DePaul has to reschedule its game against Villanova that was to be played Friday.)

“It’s been a little discouraging at times where you call people, they have open dates, but they only want to play a certain type of team,” Walz said. “I’m just like, ‘Guys, we’ve got to get out of that.’ If you want to play games, you got to play whoever you can.”

Walz, known as a savvy scout in preparing his team, said that coaches also have to be willing to go into games with far less preparation than they’re accustomed to. He has told his team to be ready for anything.

“When we have [time] to scout an opponent, we’re pretty darn good at putting the game plan together,” he said. “Now, you’ve got to be able to guard principles and actions, instead of trying to stop a certain player. I think we could have that much change as this year continues to go along.”

Mississippi State coach Nikki McCray-Penson, in her first season with the Bulldogs, echoed Walz. Her squad was scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge at Mohegan Sun this past weekend, but that event was canceled after UConn pulled out. A Dec. 12 game at Southern Miss also was canceled. McCray-Penson was able to schedule a game with in-state school Jackson State for Sunday.

“Everybody in America’s going through it,” McCray-Penson said. “You hope that teams that are regionally close can do it. It can be hard to travel; you have to take into account the costs when schools are not generating the revenue they usually do.

“And now with COVID-19, there’s that trust factor, too. You want to count on someone following protocols and being a disciplinarian with their team in staying safe. And then you just have to be flexible and know how to adjust. The more you do that as a head coach, the more your team is going to respond. One thing we talk about a lot is that we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but we have to roll with it.”

McCray-Penson, who played at Tennessee for Pat Summitt, said all of this reminds her of Summitt’s emphasis on relationship building and the need to be ready to play anyone anywhere. Summitt was well known for her fearlessness in scheduling.

“Pat was big on basic fundamentals. She would say, ‘Just get your team to stay in the moment. Don’t complain; this is how things are,'” McCray-Penson said. “We’re very fortunate to be in this situation where we’re able to play at all. It may not look like what it usually looks like, but that’s OK. It’s still about how you compete.”

Team of the Week: Texas A&M Aggies

No. 12 Texas A&M could be an intriguing team this season, but the Aggies have a big question to answer.

“Who’s going to be the primary point guard?” coach Gary Blair said. “It’s going to depend … every game, it’s going to be a different challenge.”

Chennedy Carter was one of the top scorers in the country last season, averaging 21.3 points per game for the Aggies before she left for the WNBA after her junior year. But Texas A&M might miss her playmaking talent even more than her scoring. And the Aggies will also miss a senior from last season: Shambria Washington was Texas A&M’s top playmaker in 2019-20, with 153 assists; Carter was second with 80.

The Aggies won 93-91 at DePaul on Saturday, shooting 61.1% from the field. Guard Kayla Wells had 22 points, and post N’dea Jones, a fellow senior, scored 17. Destiny Pitts, a transfer from Minnesota, senior Aaliyah Wilson and sophomore Jordan Nixon all added 12 points, and all three guards are likely to be consistent scoring threats this season.

The ugly stat, though, was Texas A&M’s 10 assists to 27 turnovers.

“I think we will get pressed for quite a while,” Blair said.

The Aggies should expect that from the Texas Longhorns, whom they face Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App) in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game in Austin, Texas.

Player of the Week: Charli Collier, Texas Longhorns

After opening with victories against SMU and North Texas, the Longhorns moved into the rankings Monday at No. 25. And post player Charli Collier, who to the irritation of Texas fans wasn’t on our ESPN preseason top-25 player list, had the splashiest season debut of anyone, with games of 25 points and 12 rebounds, and 44 points and 16 rebounds.

The 6-foot-5 junior is 22-of-30 from the field and 23-of-24 from the foul line thus far. Hey, lists are made to change, right?

Coach of the Week: Mike Carey, West Virginia Mountaineers

Stanford‘s Tara VanDerveer is three victories away from tying Tennessee’s Summitt at 1,098 for most wins in Division I women’s basketball. UConn’s Geno Auriemma is seven victories from that mark. Right now, it’s hard to say who might get there first.

Stanford has played one game, a 108-40 victory over Cal Poly, and now is in a holding pattern because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County, California, that are scheduled to run through at least Dec. 21. The Cardinal’s game Monday against San Diego was postponed, but no official announcement has been made about Stanford’s other six scheduled games — five against Pac-12 foes — through Dec. 21.

UConn, as mentioned, hasn’t played yet because of the COVID-19 pause and won’t be in action again until at least Dec. 15.

So let’s look instead at another coaching milestone as West Virginia’s Mike Carey picked up his 700th career victory in the Mountaineers’ 62-42 victory over LSU on Saturday in Las Vegas. Carey, who is in his 33rd year of college head coaching overall, has 412 victories for West Virginia’s women’s program, where he has been since 2001. Before that, he coached 13 seasons for the men’s team at Salem College in West Virginia, his alma mater.

Win of the Week

We’ll make it a tie: Ohio spoiled Niele Ivey’s debut as Notre Dame coach with an 86-85 victory Friday, although transfer Dara Mabrey made her presence known with 34 points, adding to the Irish’s Mabrey family legacy. Yes, Notre Dame was without three returning starters and two freshman post players, but let’s give credit to the Bobcats (2-0).

Then another perennial power was knocked off Saturday when then-No. 12 Maryland fell 81-72 to No. 24 Missouri State, as Brice Calip powered the Lady Bears with 26 points. Unfortunately for Missouri State, there seemed to be a little hangover in a loss Sunday to Wake Forest, while Maryland bounced back by beating Arkansas.

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