This basketball season, Golden Grizzlies fans will get the conference play they’re used to, but the schedules will be completely different.
Despite moving forward with the season, the Horizon League announced on Wednesday, Nov. 4 that the 2020-2021 conference schedule will be in pairs this season.
Each matchup will feature two games on consecutive days at the same venue to limit travel and potential spread of COVID-19.
Both men’s and women’s basketball will feature the back-to-back style of basketball that is reminiscent of the NBA regular season schedule, where sometimes teams will face each other on back-to-back days at different venues.
The only difference is here: whoever is the home team will host both games, and until January it will be without fans. No fans, special guests or complimentary tickets are allowed at least until January.
The tournament for both men’s and women’s basketball, if it still takes place, will be held at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, the home of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Jaguars.
Men’s basketball Head Coach Greg Kampe felt that while the team does not particularly like the format, they know it’s for the best.
“I don’t think anybody likes the format, but I think we all understand why we’re doing it and we agree this is the way to do it,” Kampe said.
The men’s team opens the season on the road in Chicago against the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Flames on Dec. 19-20. Their home opener is the following weekend, Dec. 26-27, against the Northern Kentucky University (NKU) Norse.
For Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies, their home games are against familiar foes. They play the preseason No. 1-3 teams and their rival Detroit Mercy on their home court.
While home court still provides an advantage even without fans, Kampe is most concerned about the absence of the Grizz Gang, OU’s student section.
“Of all the fans in the stands … I care if the Grizz Gang is there,” Kampe said. “That’s my biggest thing and why I want the ability to have fans, and the way it looks there’s a good possibility we might not have fans all year.”
The Golden Grizzlies face both newcomers to the Horizon League — Robert Morris University and Purdue University Fort Wayne — on the road this year. Their regular season ends on Feb. 20, with a series in Milwaukee against the Panthers.
In contrast to Kampe, women’s basketball Head Coach Jeff Tungate likes the new format and believes it lends to his team’s strength — depth.
“Now that it’s here, I actually like it,” Tungate said. “I think it’s going to reward a team that’s got good depth, which I think we have this year.”
The women’s team opens their season against UIC, just like the men’s team, on Dec. 12. Last season, UIC finished last in the Horizon League.
For Tungate, while the rest and preparation schedule might be different, the weekend series schedule means less road trips.
“Instead of being on the road Wednesday through Sunday we get to be on the road for basically 2.5 days,” he said. “Considering what’s going on with COVID[-19], I think it’s good.”
Unlike the men’s basketball team, the women’s team does not get their rival at home.
Missing the home Detroit game is not ideal, according to Tungate, but it something the team is “… more than willing to do.”
“The whole thing this year with our team is we just take whatever is presented to us and roll with it, because at the end of the day we just want to play,” Tungate said.
Having back-to-back games is something that Tungate and his team are not used to so adjustments to training and rest will take place.
“I’m a big believer that sometimes rest is conditioning,” he said. “During the season instead of maybe one day off, we’ll take two days off and we’ll lighten up practices quite a bit.”
However, Tungate believes the biggest strength of this team is the depth. Typically, he would have around eight or nine players receiving significant minutes, but this year he is looking at a potential 10 or 11 player rotation.
Having a deeper rotation was the plan even before the schedule was released, which according to Tungate was “perfect.”
“I love the work ethic of our team,” Tungate said. “We’ve had really good practices and their effort has been outstanding. Their commitment to getting in extra work and spending extra time to do what it takes has been really good.”