By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — If the 2020-21 college basketball season truly is in jeopardy, particularly the non-conference portion of games that would be first on the chopping block due to the coronavirus pandemic, you wouldn’t know it by the recent joint baloon-release by the MGM Resorts Main Event planners and Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman.
“All 4 (participating teams) are on-board and actively planning / promoting it right now,” said Jon Albaugh, tournament director for the 7th annual Main Event, a four-team and two-game-guarantee tournament scheduled to be played Nov. 20-22 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with a field that includes Arkansas, Louisville, San Francisco, and Colorado State.
Musselman said he’s looking forward to having his Hoop Hogs take part in the competitive desert event.
“We are excited to playing in this premier event versus elite programs on a national stage,” Musselman said. “These are the types of games we look forward to competing in each year. This will be a great opportunity and learning experience for our student-athletes both culturally and athletically. We are also honored to be affiliated with Coaches vs. Cancer and all that great organization represents.”
Although official matchups have not been announced, a source told Hogville.net that Arkansas is “expected to play USF (San Francisco)” in the Friday, Nov. 20, opening-round game with the winner taking on the Louisville-Colorado State winner on Sunday, Nov. 22, for the tournament championship. The losing teams from the first-round games will play each other in the consolation game on Nov. 22.
The potential for a title-game meeting between Arkansas and Louisville is a flirtatiously cute (if not all-out sexy) national-stage matchup. The Hogs and Cards have had nationally relevant games in the past — Louisville leads the all-time series 3-4 — and for Arkansas fans it was U.S. Reed’s 49-foot, halfcourt heave at the buzzer in the 1981 NCAA tournament to upend the defending national champion Cardinals, 74-73, that will forever be part of Razorbacks’ basketball lore. Arkansas is 2-0 all-time against San Francisco and 2-0 all-time against Colorado State.
The last time Arkansas played in a regular-season, non-conference event with a true win-and-advance tournament format was during the inaugural PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore., in late November 2017. The Hogs finished that tournament 2-1 with wins over Oklahoma and UConn sandwiched around a semifinals loss against North Carolina.
With so many unknowns due to the pandemic that shut down competitive college basketball play indefinitely in mid-March and threatens to do the same to some if not all of the ’20-21 season, there are strong possibilities that the NCAA and / or SEC will eventually rule out non-conference play during the fall semester. But the MGM Resorts’ event planning staff has stepped up efforts to prove its Main Event can offer a safe environment for players, fans, and others involved in helping put on the tourney.
Albaugh said the planning for carrying out the games and hosting the teams is ongoing but that certain protocols are already being executed.
“MGM Resorts has implemented its Seven Point Safety Plan for its resorts and entertainment venues (click the link here for seven-point safety details … https://www.mgmresorts.com/en/covid-19/seven-point-safety-plan.html),” Albaugh explained. “We are promoting that as it relates to fans and the hotel environment.
“These measures will be in effect at the arena, too, since MGM runs the building. May be some different language and protocols but basically the same stuff.”
Among several details announced in the MGM Resorts Main Event promotional piece released on Tuesday, tickets have gone on sale with plans to keep capacity at 25% of the arena’s available 20,000 seats (click the link here for more Main Event details … https://bdglobalsports.com/?p=5291).
If the Main Event is able to actually host the tournament with Arkansas taking part, it could potentially serve as a model for future events, including postseason play in college basketball. There are other ideas being floated on how to create non-conference bubble events for college basketball in the late-November-through-December window that typically precedes the start of conference play, and there have been suggestions that the postseason NCAA tournament could be scaled down from its 68-team field to 32 teams.