The Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic is set to begin Wednesday, even though the current tournament field looks vastly different from the one that was announced in October.
Still, head coach Bob Huggins thinks his Mountaineers are ready for whatever comes their way as they embark on a new campaign.
“We’re looking forward to playing,” Huggins said. “It’s been a long time.”
The Mountaineers have been impacted by a revolving door of programs exiting the Crossover Classic field. Their original opponent, Texas A&M, dropped out, leaving the Mountaineers paired with Northern Iowa in the bracket. But it’s South Dakota State that will serve as West Virginia’s opponent in Wednesday’s opener after yet another change, which was announced late Sunday.
Huggins, though, believes the Mountaineers have benefitted from the uncertainty because they prepared for numerous different opponents in practices.
“I think we can guard anybody now,” Huggins said. “We’ve gone through, I think, four teams now that we’ve looked at on film, broken down on film with our guys, and really actually guarded them in practice, broke down what they do. I think in some ways, it was good for our guys.”
The players, Huggins added, have also been resilient through their ever-changing preseason.
“Our guys have been great. They’ve been great in listening and trying to do what they’re asked to do. We’ve certainly thrown a lot of things at them,” Huggins said. “I can’t say enough about the mentality of our guys during this whole thing. They’re so looking forward to playing.”
The Mountaineers won’t have to wait much longer to see just how they’ll fare in their opener. They’ll face off against a talented South Dakota State team that won a share of the Summit League regular season title last season.
Focus on season opener
While WVU is touted as one of the most talented teams in the nation this year, SDSU is no slouch, either.
The Jacks have won at least a share of their league’s regular season title in each of the last three seasons. They went 22-10 overall last season under first-year head coach Eric Henderson.
“They’re very well-coached, I think. They do a great job of spacing and running their offense. They’ve got multiple guys who can make shots,” Huggins said. “I think they’re really a difficult team to guard in that they space the floor so well and that they’ve got so many guys that, if you leave them open, they’re gonna make shots.”
The Jacks are led on the floor by senior forward Doug Wilson, the 2019-20 Summit League Player of the Year. He averaged 18.6 points per game last season.
The matchup between WVU and SDSU will tip off Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET and air on ESPN2.
The rest of the Crossover Classic field
Six other squads appear in the field for the Crossover Classic. Along with WVU and SDSU, Utah State and VCU appear in the bottom half of the bracket. VCU replaced Wichita State Monday after several Shockers reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to South Dakota.
Memphis, Saint Mary’s, Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky are in the top half of the bracket and will play afternoon games Wednesday to launch the event.
West Virginia and Memphis are the only remaining members of the original Crossover Classic field, which was announced last month.
For a short period of time after Texas A&M dropped out, Northern Iowa was scheduled to be West Virginia’s first opponent. The Mountaineers beat the Panthers last season in the Cancun Challenge.
Second and third round scenarios
WVU will definitely play a game on Thanksgiving, but it won’t know its opponent until late Wednesday night — or even early Thursday morning.
The Mountaineers will either play Utah State or VCU Thursday. If WVU wins its opening game, it will play the winner of that nightcap matchup at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday. If it loses, it will play the loser of the nightcap contest at 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday.
In its third game, WVU will play one of the following four teams: Memphis, Saint Mary’s, Northern Iowa or Western Kentucky. Should the Mountaineers win their first two games, they’ll play in Friday’s championship game, which is scheduled to tip at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Tournament safety measures and change in attendance policy
Tournament officials, along with officials from Sanford Health in South Dakota, announced Monday that spectators will not be permitted to attend games at the Crossover Classic.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 tracker, South Dakota has the third-highest seven-day average of new COVID cases in the United States, with 124.4 cases per 100,000 over the last week.
“The situation involving COVID-19 continues to change, and at this point the safest thing we can do for the fans is to allow them to watch the Sanford Pentagon games from home. We believe the bubble atmosphere can keep the players and coaches safe, but the situation with COVID-19 in the community requires keeping people apart,” said Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, senior vice president of clinic quality at Sanford Health. “We realize that many people who were planning to make the trip to Sioux Falls will be disappointed, but we believe this is the right decision for all involved.”
Prior to Monday’s announcement, the Sanford Pentagon was expected to operate at about 25 percent capacity for these games. Tournament organizers said Monday that all tickets will be refunded.
Event officials have also outlined the following list of safety measures that remain in place for participating players, coaches and staff members:
- All members of each team’s traveling party must have a negative COVID-19 test within two days of traveling to Sioux Falls.
- Each member will be tested immediately upon arrival in Sioux Falls, 24 hours before their first competition and once more before the final day of play.
- All members will enter the building using a separate entrance and will only have access to the lower level of the facility.
- All members will remain in a controlled environment throughout their stay. If any member of the traveling party tests positive for COVID-19, the team will be removed from the event.
Huggins said he feels safe, and that he believes everyone is taking the proper precautions.
“It’s been great here,” Huggins said. “It’s exactly what we were told it would be.”