Missouri basketball takes lessons from football’s COVID-19 cancellations

Coach Cuonzo Martin understands that one positive case can cost his team up to four games at a time.

Missouri football — along with more than half of the Southeastern Conference — canceled its game this week due to COVID-19, and Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin has noticed.

“It’s real,” Martin said in a press conference on Wednesday. “COVID is real.”

Martin’s Tigers are set to begin their season in less than two weeks, when they’re scheduled to take on Oral Roberts on Nov. 25. That game is one of 27 that Missouri is tentatively scheduled to play, and they need 13 to be NCAA tournament-eligible.

“You just have to take the necessary precautions, whatever those are, every day,” Martin said. “I don’t know if necessarily you hope for the best, because again, it is what it is. You practice, you prepare and it’s one thing to tell your guys to stay out of harm’s way.”

The press conference came hours after the SEC announced the cancellation of Missouri’s game against Georgia, which stemmed from two confirmed COVID-19 cases that led to subsequent contact tracing on its defensive line. Conference guidelines state that teams must have four scholarship defensive linemen available to play a game, and the Tigers did not.

Missouri doesn’t know where those cases came from, but coach Eli Drinkwitz does know that even if a team takes all the necessary precautions, it still doesn’t completely protect it — or anyone else, for that matter — from the virus.

“If you wear a mask, it’s 77% effective,” Drinkwitz said. “If you social distance, it’s 82% effective. If you’re [in contact with an infected person for] less than 15 minutes, it’s like 67% effective. So I’m sitting here wondering, ‘What’s 100% effective?’ I think these guys can do every single thing right and still come in contact and contract the virus.”

Drinkwitz’s team went one month, from its win over LSU on Oct. 10 to this week, without a positive case. However, it’s incredibly difficult to prevent a group of 60-plus people from contracting the virus.

The NBA and NHL have done it but only with strict one or two-city bubbles, which are impossible for college sports.

Martin pointed out that while two positive cases on the football team took out an entire position group this week, Missouri and other teams have been able to play despite small numbers of positive tests in the past. Basketball, with a much smaller roster, won’t have that luxury.

“I think the difference in football and basketball is if we drop one [player due to a positive COVID-19 test], we’re probably gonna drop two or three games, possibly four,” Martin said. “That’s tough, and you talk about the time you’re out, you still have to have reps amongst the team to get prepared for the next time you get back on the floor..”

Martin’s players, including center Parker Braun, recognize that their role in preventing the spread of the virus will be critical in allowing Missouri to play out the season.

“On the court, we all try to hold each other accountable, and we just try to bring that off the court,” Braun said. “You know, to kind of try to stay away from each other, but still trying to build relationships.”

Building team chemistry could prove to be an additional challenge for the Tigers.

“Not trying to go out to eat, go out to party together,” Braun said. “Maybe staying in and watching TV, trying to do stuff to keep those relationships up, keep the chemistry up, but at the same time, stay safe.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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