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The impact of game cancelations on Northwestern men’s and women’s basketball

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These past couple of weeks have been a doozy, to say the least.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

If Northwestern men’s basketball takes on No. 10 Michigan State on January 2 as scheduled, it will be just the fourth game that the Wildcats have played in 33 days.

Meanwhile, Northwestern women’s basketball was supposed to take on conference foe Minnesota today. That game isn’t being played, however. The Wildcats’ Solstice Showdown against Oregon, which was meant to be played on December 21, never happened. Both of these cancelations came after multiple members of the NU program tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the unfortunate reality that many college basketball teams around the country are currently facing as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 runs rampant. While the men’s team seemingly hasn’t had any players test positive for COVID yet, it’s very possible that a team-wide outbreak could happen soon, especially with what case rates look like at both a local and national level.

That isn’t meant to be pessimistic, more so realistic. Even while the men’s team remains clear of COVID cases, they had two games canceled against DePaul and Prairie View A&M due to cases within both of those programs, which is what has led to Michigan State being the Wildcats’ fourth game in just over a calendar month.

The issue with this, of course, is rust. Northwestern men’s basketball last played against Illinois-Springfield, a Division II team. That game was played 11 days ago. By the time the ‘Cats take on Sparty, they’ll have gone two weeks without playing. Who knows what product we’ll see on the floor after their extended break.

When it comes to the women’s team, the primary hope is that players are able to recover as quickly as possible. It’s unknown just how many cases are present within the program at the moment, so we’re not sure when they’ll be able to take the floor again (the hope is they’ll return against Michigan State as well, but on January 3).

There are positives are negatives to the situation being faced by the women’s program. When it comes to the future of their season, missing out on the potential for a quality win against Oregon could hurt their tournament chances. On the other hand, if the Wildcats perform well in conference play and end up making March Madness regardless, they may not need to worry as much about COVID impacting their chances in the postseason.

That may be a cause of significant concern for the men’s team, though. Once again, the hope is that everyone is able to stay safe and healthy. However, with the way things are trending, it’s difficult to remain so optimistic. If an outbreak does reach Northwestern men’s basketball, the hope is that games are able to be rescheduled, especially considering the non-conference slate has come and gone. With the men’s team now widely being considered a bubble team for 2022 March Madness, they need every win they can get.

Of course, we haven’t even considered how the Big Ten’s new COVID-19 Forfeiture Policy could impact Northwestern men’s and women’s teams going forward. According to the new policy, if a game cannot be played on its intended date due to COVID-19 issues in a certain program, the game isn’t automatically considered a forfeit. Instead, both programs, as well as Big Ten Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Borchers, will be consulted, and the decision on whether the game should be rescheduled, declared a no contest or declared a forfeiture will be made from there.

Overall, it’s a pretty vague policy, but a few things are clear: no forfeiture is automatic and games can be rescheduled in accordance with the Big Ten. While game cancelations may have an immediate impact for both Northwestern men’s and women’s hoops, the ultimate hope is that, despite the missed games, both teams should still be in a decent position to play in March. While men’s basketball has yet to publicly announce a COVID-19 case, if there is an outbreak amongst the team, games should be able to be rescheduled while players rest up and get healthy.