Men’s Basketball Schedule Undergoes Drastic Changes

Basketball season has been strange this year. Trying to fit nine teams into a conference schedule during COVID-19 isn’t easy – add in snow days to the mix, and it becomes nearly impossible. 

With the ASUN tournament coming up March 3-7, the Flames are still trying to fit in their last four games of the season, and with snow keeping UNA stuck at home this past weekend, the Flames last two home games of the season were postponed to Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 22 and 23. 

After Liberty’s games Feb. 5 and 6 were postponed due to COVID-19 cases in UNF’s squad, the UNA postponements meant Liberty has had four games rescheduled in the span of a month. 

“There’s just none of that (certainty) this year when it comes to when you’re going to play,” Head Coach Ritchie McKay said in a press conference Friday, per the News & Advance. “The reward of staying safe, being bubbled or being in isolation or limiting your freedom of movement seemingly has no rewards sometimes because you’re so dependent upon things that are outside of your control. It’s been taxing, real talk.” 

The Flames remain at No. 2 in the ASUN with an 8-2 conference record, with their last games of the season slated to be played Feb. 26 and 27 away at Bellarmine. The Bellarmine Knights, promoted from DII this season, stand at 10-2 currently atop the ASUN, and that matchup could prove to be crucial in determining seeding ahead of the ASUN tournament in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Initially, the two teams would have met in Lynchburg, but a series of complex scheduling decisions by the ASUN led to the series being scheduled to take place at Bellarmine. Questions around the league about the ASUN’s decision-making process led to Commissioner Ted Gumbart holding a Zoom conference call Feb. 18 to explain the conference’s rationale. In its coverage of the call, A Sea of Red explained that the ASUN currently has a travel rule that no team can play three away series in a row, and COVID cases among UNA and FGCU’s squads ultimately led to a reworking of the schedule with Liberty finishing the season away instead of home. 

However, Bellarmine announced Feb. 18 that it had paused its games against UNF for the weekend due to potential COVID-19 cases among its squad. 

“Bellarmine’s games slated for the final week of February versus Liberty are still on at this point,” the press release said. 

If Liberty’s series against Bellarmine goes ahead, the ASUN regular season title could also be at stake – with serious consequences for a potential March Madness run. Due to the fact that Bellarmine and UNA cannot play in the NCAA Tournament because of their recent transitions from DII, if either of those teams wins the ASUN tournament, the regular season winner will move on to March Madness, according to A Sea of Red. 

That reality means that assuming the Liberty-Bellarmine series goes ahead, the Flames will have it all to play for when they travel to Kentucky. 

“It’s definitely key because it’s the most important time of the year,” senior Chris Parker said, per The News & Advance. “We need to be hitting on all cylinders. … I think we’ve had a good year and stuff, but like everybody said, once you get to that tournament, it’s a whole new year.”

After some scheduling uncertainty, Liberty started its home series against UNA Monday with a dominant 74-54 Senior Day win. Darius McGhee lit up the court with 29 points, both his personal best  and a single-game record for the new Liberty Arena. 

Liberty will return to action Tuesday at 12 p.m. for the second game of the doubleheader against UNA. 

John Nekrasov is the Sports Editor. Follow him on Twitter at @john_nekrasov.

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