The Towson men’s basketball program will kick off the 2020-21 season facing three opponents in a round-robin format over the Thanksgiving holiday at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, the team announced Monday evening.
The Tigers will open against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, Nov. 25, Rhode Island on Thursday, Nov. 26, and Stephen F. Austin on Friday, Nov. 27 at the casino, which will host several other teams at different times and has been dubbed “Bubbleville” as college basketball programs have sought to play games in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Times of the games will be announced later.
The games are being staged by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Gazelle Group at “Bubbleville,” which will host several other college basketball tournaments this winter.
Towson coach Pat Skerry said he has been looking for nine nonconference games to add to a schedule that includes a cap of 27 total and 18 reserved for Colonial Athletic Association opponents.
“It made sense,” he said Tuesday morning. “I think the thing we were sold on was the organization. They’re trying to isolate it, and the positivity rates are low in Connecticut. They’ve got a good program set up with testing, eating, how they’re housing everyone. So it just made sense.”
Skerry, whose team had been initially scheduled to participate in a similar tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, said the program must submit results of testing for COVID-19 within 48 hours of their planned arrival at Mohegan Sun on Nov. 23. Players, coaches and staff will be tested frequently during their stay, teams will be sequestered to certain floors with their own meeting spaces and meals will be delivered to the teams.
Skerry said teams will be permitted to practice on one of three practice courts, but will be escorted by tournament officials to and from the courts and their floors. The resort’s 125,000-square-foot exposition center will be converted into a practice facility.
“You eat, and you play games,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good game plan. Now it’s about executing it. It’s a different season, that’s for sure.”
The organizers plan to use a pool of about 25 officials, who also will be housed at the resort, according to the Associated Press. The casino had already installed safety devices as part of its reopening in June, including ultraviolet lighting and special filters in its HVAC system.
The Tigers have been practicing for several weeks, but concerns about the coronavirus forced them to cancel planned scrimmages with Rutgers and George Mason, and they have not been permitted to hire basketball referees living in the area to officiate practices or intrasquad scrimmages. Their game against St. Bonaventure will be their first with an officiating crew, which will be a challenge, Skerry said.
“I like our team, but you don’t have a good feel,” he said. “Without scrimmages and bringing refs in, it’s a little bit different. … I think what magnifies it for me is that the guys will be pretty excited. Guys will play hard and be excited to play, but you’re not kind of wading into it. Bonaventure and Rhode Island are two teams that can win the Atlantic 10, and Stephen F. Austin won 28 games last year, and they won at Duke. So you’re going to find out where you’re at.”
Towson’s game against Rhode Island will take place on the Thanksgiving holiday, and Skerry joked that he might have to request for a preliminary look at what will be served for the players' meal.
“I guess we’ll have to monitor how much gravy and stuffing they throw down on the plates,” he quipped. “We have to make sure they’re portion-sized. No desserts until after the games. But it’s one of those deals where the guys are excited to play. This what they’ve practiced for. This is not an easy opportunity because of the level of teams, but it became an opportunity to get to play.”