Missouri men’s basketball digs into pandemic playbook for last-minute scheduling change

Cuonzo Martin pulled together Wednesday’s neutral site game against No. 21 Oregon at the 11th hour.

Just last week, coach Cuonzo Martin said the team’s participation in the Bubbleville tournament in Uncasville, Conn. was “up in the air.”

The Connecticut plan hit the ground three days later.

Missouri men’s basketball unofficially scheduled games against a ranked Oregon squad and Boston College, who nearly beat then-No. 3 Villanova, at the event. The Tigers pulled out of the event due to “several unknowns.” If the team did not schedule makeup games, Missouri would get an arbitrary 11-day break between its rout over Oral Roberts on Nov. 25 and the Dec. 6 matchup against Wichita State.

Martin moved quickly to fill the vacancy in a neutral-site game against Oregon in Omaha, Neb. With a significantly more manageable distance for both teams, the teams filled out the paperwork, agreed on details and finalized the game on Nov. 30.

“Dana [Altman, Oregon’s coach] worked behind the scenes and found an opportunity in Omaha. We just felt like,’ Let’s get teams, let's make it work,’” Martin said.

In their first taste of flexible scheduling, Missouri faces pros and cons. One pro is the chemistry and experience of the players. The team’s relationships and established bonds with each other help the team support one another amidst the confusion.

Junior guard Javon Pickett said the communication through the team group chat has helped the team work as a collective unit in preparing for newly scheduled games.

“In our group chats we’ve been trying to talk a lot on what we need to do and areas where we can improve,” Pickett said in Tuesday’s media availability. “When we find out who we’re playing next, just making sure we’re having conversations in the group chat.”

Missouri also has something that Oregon doesn’t: a game played. Since the Tigers faced Oral Roberts last Wednesday, Martin and his coaching staff were able to assess any issues, figure out player roles and gather a general sense of identity.

The constant state of limbo this season can induce stress for all parties involved on and off the court. Players have a shorter timespan to scout their new opponent and coaches need to be on the lookout for any potential replacement opponents at all times.

The Ducks will play their first game of the season after they lost three primary starters, including consensus first-team All-American Payton Pritchard. Missouri, however, retained most of its key players.

But there isn’t much Oregon tape to review. Martin praised Altman for his ability to fit players into his system, and this year’s Oregon squad could pick up where the Pac-12 regular season champions left off.

“The Oregon game came basically out of nowhere and we have to prepare for them, learn the scout and learn what they like to do,” sophomore forward Kobe Brown said. “It’s just being able to get all of that and focus on that in a short amount of time that’s the biggest part.”

Martin said scouting is different than it usually would be. Instead of visualizing what Oregon’s players can do, Missouri will have to review Altman’s concepts that have proven successful in his decade-long tenure in Eugene and rely on scouting the players’ individual strengths and weaknesses.

“We just go over some things that he's done over the course of time, but you know you'd probably see this, and then just prepare for personnel,” Martin said. “When you haven't seen a team, it's more of an individual scouting report on personnel and what this guy does well.”

Martin also has to be on the lookout for more rescheduling situations. He said the program has been in close contact with three or four teams as contingency plans in the event of a cancellation.

While coaches such as Martin and Altman have pulled games together through private negotiations, other coaches have used the power of social media to drum up some business. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey tweeted that his team would play anyone anywhere; They would even travel to whichever team answered his social media Bat-Signal.

Martin did not have to pull out that measure. He and Altman have connections dating back to Martin’s tenure in the Pac-12 as California’s coach. But Martin said that if another game fell through, drastic times would call for drastic measures.

While Martin said the schedule is set, the COVID-19 storm cloud looms ominously above every scheduled game this season. He said he knows there will be some metaphoric rainy days this season, but Missouri has some backup plans in place when that happens.

“I like to think we're done, but if COVID hit — and I think that means whatever time it is to sit out — but there are also teams that we have in the works if this happens,” Martin said.

Barring an outbreak, the sixth meeting between Missouri and Oregon looks like it is ready to go. It will take place at 8 p.m. CT on Fox Sports 1 from the CHI Health Center, where the Tigers’ shocking upset loss to No. 15 Norfolk State took place in 2012.

Missouri is 5-0 all-time against Oregon.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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