Home opener canceled, focus turns to Maui Invitational for men’s hoops

Alabama on deck with Utah Valley out due to COVID-19

By and

In a move all too familiar after the remainder of last season was canceled abruptly in response to coronavirus, the home opener for Stanford men’s basketball against Utah Valley has been called off. Originally set to tip off at 2 p.m. PT on Wednesday, Stanford announced Tuesday that the game would no longer be taking place in light of a positive COVID-19 test within the Utah Valley program. 

Per conference policy, the game will be declared a no contest.

The matchup would have marked the first time in over eight months that the teams had taken the floor for competition. The Wolverines’ final game of the 2019-20 regular season ended in a 51-61 loss to Kansas City before their Mar. 12 battle with Seattle University — and the rest of the WAC Conference tournament — was ultimately canceled. 

Though Stanford was able to compete in the first round of the 2020 Pac-12 tournament, the Cardinal’s season ended in similar fashion — a 51-63 loss to Bay-Area rival Cal on Mar. 11. Despite the less-than-favorable final game, 2019-20 marked the program’s first 20-win season since 2014-15. Stanford captured attention during its 11-2 record during non-conference play, which it stretched to 15-2 four games into conference play before hitting a rough patch and dropping three consecutive contests on three separate occasions.

Entering Wednesday’s matchup, the Cardinal was posed to challenge the Wolverines on both sides of the ball and from all spots on the court. Boasting an experienced roster, four of five starters from last year returned to the Farm this season: senior forward Oscar da Silva, senior guard Daejon Davis, sophomore forward Spencer Jones and junior guard Bryce Wills. The Cardinal also added an impressive freshman class to its ranks, including five-star recruit, forward Ziaire Williams.

Missing from Stanford’s lineup this year are guards Tyrell Terry and Isaac White, both of whom decided to test the waters professionally, with Terry being drafted to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the NBA Draft last week and White returning home to Australia and signing on with The Hawks.

Utah Valley, however, has faced a tougher transition from season to season.  Much of the team’s struggle could likely be attributed to the loss of head coach Mark Pope to BYU, who went on to lead the Cougars to a stellar 2019-20 campaign and a likely high seed in the NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled. Star point guard Brandon Averette — who recorded a respectable 12.8 points per game last season — took the same path as his former coach, deciding to transfer to BYU for his final season of eligibility. Averette was the glue of the team, and his departure could prove to be devastating for this Wolverines squad. 

Utah Valley also has to compensate for the loss of its leading scorer from last season, then-junior guard Isaiah White, who averaged an impressive 14.5 points and snagged 8.4 rebounds per game during the 2019-20 season. While White would not have faced the Cardinal on Wednesday with the Wolverines, he will square off with Stanford on Dec. 13 at USC, where he has decided to spend his final year of eligibility. The losses of Averette and White, coupled with the graduations of guard T.J Washington and forward Emmanuel Olojakpoke suggest that Wednesday’s canceled game was only the beginning of what may be another rough season for the Wolverines. 

That being said, the program does have some transfers and freshmen coming in, and the Cardinal could have faced significant challenges handling graduate student forward Evan Cole, who has become a Wolverine after three seasons at Georgia Tech. Cole is 6-foot-10, 230 pounds and could prove to be a massive threat in the WAC — a conference with much less athleticism and strength than his former conference, the ACC. Another transfer that could make some noise is sophomore guard Jordan Brinson, who headed to Orem from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Brinson has the ability to be a double-digit scorer in the WAC, and could have put Stanford’s defense, which was ranked No. 16 in the nation last season, to the test. 

Following the cancellation of Wednesday’s action, the Cardinal are looking for alternative options to replace the game, according to a press release from Stanford men’s basketball.

For the time being, the Cardinal now gears up to take on Alabama during the first round of the Maui Invitational on Nov. 30. Tip off is set for 6:30 p.m. PT in Asheville, North Carolina, where the tournament was relocated to in response to COVID-19 restrictions.

Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu and Teddy Solomon at tedsol ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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