CHAMPAIGN — All it took was a single positive COVID-19 test from one player to send the Wright State men’s basketball program into shutdown mode Friday. Contact tracing did the rest, sidelining several more.
That left the Raiders with six players and coach Scott Nagy available with their 2020-21 season set to start Wednesday in Champaign in Illinois’ multi-team event. The six players might have been enough for one game. Not enough for three next week.
“We just couldn’t do three games in a row with six guys,” Nagy said during an appearance on ‘Illini Pella Saturday SportsTalk,’ on WDWS 1400-AM. “We just didn’t feel like that was possible or fair to those guys or even fair to the teams we were playing. … We just had to make a very tough decision. The players were incredibly disappointed — the ones that could play.”
It didn’t take long for No. 8 Illinois to find a replacement, though. Less than 24 hours after Wright State canceled its trip to Champaign, the Illini had lined up Chicago State to fill the spot.
The schedule for the round-robin event, then, remains the same. Illinois will face North Carolina A&T at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, play Chicago State at 11 a.m. on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) and finish the week with a noon game against Ohio on Friday. BTN will broadcast all three of the Illini’s games.
The team swap alters the dynamic of the MTE. Wright State would have arguably been Illinois’ toughest opponent. The Raiders went 25-7 last season and were picked to finish first in the Horizon League with 37 of 44 first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll behind reigning conference MVP Loudon Love.
Chicago State is coming off a 4-25 record last season. The Cougars beat just a single Division I team — an 89-81 road win at Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Chicago State coach Lance Irvin is 7-54 in two seasons.
Just six available players, though, made Wright State’s continued participation in Illinois’ MTE untenable. Those six players were available because all of them had already tested positive for COVID-19 in September. That group is in a 90-day window where they don’t have to test, and Nagy said it’s his understanding the NCAA is in discussions with the Centers for Disease Control about the possibility of extending that window to 120 or 150 days.
“That would get these guys through the season,” Nagy said. “Everybody believes they can’t catch it for a while. You’ve got to be careful how you talk about it because people feel so strongly about this thing. We know the young people handle it well, but teams that have gone through this and a bunch of their players have caught it are in a better position than the teams that have had nobody have it. When you’re testing three times a week, you’re going to catch somebody. When that happens, you’ve got to shut everybody down.”
Wright State’s current shutdown was disappointing on a level beyond just canceling its first three games of the season. The trip to Champaign had a little more meaning. Nagy is a Centennial graduate and also served as a graduate assistant at Illinois in the late 1980s under Lou Henson while working with his dad, Dick, a longtime Henson assistant. Champaign Central graduate Tim Finke is also on the Raiders’ roster and is eligible this season after sitting out last season following his transfer from Grand Canyon.
“It was a tough call to make to Illinois,” Nagy said. “There are all kinds of reasons for us with my history there in Champaign. Tim Finke was so looking forward to coming back over and playing and seeing his family. There’s all kinds of reasons why we’re frustrated and can’t play.”
With its MTE participation canceled, Wright State’s next scheduled game is a Dec. 2 home game against Marshall. Nagy intends for the Raiders to play if at all possible.
“On Dec. 2, we’ll still only have those six guys plus the player that caught it,” Nagy said. The player with the recent positive test is being held out 10 days, while the players hit by contact tracing are out 14 days because of the incubation period of the virus if they also contracted it.
“We’re going to play that game no matter,” Nagy continued. “I say no matter what, but Marshall’s players could catch it and there’d be no game. You need to get 13 games in to be eligible for the NCAA tournament. We’re kind of to that point of if we can play, we’re going to play.”