Changes to the season
The NCAA announced Wednesday that teams would be able to play a total of 27 games, with a two or three game tournament-style event included if desired. As of now, the Big Ten conference season will consist of 20 games per team.
"I'd like to play all of our games," men's basketball head coach Matt Painter said via Zoom on Friday, "however we can get to that.
"I really don't have a preference as long as we can play a season and get to the NCAA tournament."
Painter said he would prefer to schedule less games in February than in December and January to leave room for rescheduling if earlier games are canceled.
If basketball follows football's lead, games could be played without fans. In an arena notorious for loud crowds, the Boilermakers may be playing in relative silence.
"I think you're gonna have to bring your own energy," Painter said. "You're gonna have to have people on the bench — or behind the bench or whatever the protocol is — to have energy.
"Because I think that's what a home crowd does for you."
COVID-19 risks and protocols
Painter also discussed the possibility of losing players who may contract the virus throughout the season. The Nov. 25 date was decided because most universities will have sent their students home by that point, meaning less chance for the virus to spread from players to other students and vice versa.
While the NCAA has not made any announcement on its testing protocol, Painter believes that basketball will have access to the same testing that Big Ten football players and staff members will receive. Nevertheless, it is unclear if the same protocols will be extended to other sports.
"That's a tough one," Painter said. "The 21 days is something that we really have to understand. It'll set you back more than 21 days if you have one player that has to sit out.
"On day 22, his conditioning is not gonna be very good, especially if he's someone of size."
Painter said there has been a level of concern among the team up until now if the season would take place at all, but that it's not something that has been directly discussed.
How the Boilermakers are shaping out
The Boilermakers were able to practice together over the summer, and have had four five-on-five practice settings over the past two weeks. Painter said the the team still has to make large strides in order to be a competing force during the season.
"Our lack of experience shows up (in those practices)," he said. "I like our ability, (but) we're really young."
The team has three redshirt-freshmen and two true freshmen on its roster, and not a single senior.
Would-be seniors Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms transferred to Howard College and BYU, respectively, at the end of last season, leaving a plethora of space in the Boilers' roster.
"Where we get affected most from losing those two guys in particular is on the defensive end," Painter said. "They both are really good defenders."
Following the loss of Haarms to the transfer portal, the battle for the center position is now between sophomore Emmanuel Dowuona and true freshman Zach Edey.
Edey stands at 7-foot-3 inches and 290 pounds.
"Both of those guys are making strides," Painter said. "Zach takes up a lot of space. Getting him to play to his strengths, we (are) trying to give him some basic rules, especially defensively to help him."
Another positional battle between junior Aaron Wheeler and redshirt-freshman Mason Gilis is taking place at the small forward position.
"Mason has done a good job for us," Painter said. "He plays very hard. He lays it on the line.
Painter mentioned Mason's lack of conditioning, but emphasized that it's not a major point of concern at this time.
"I'd rather have a guy that's exhausted after three minutes because they gave you everything they had," he said, "than a guy that's kinda going through the motions."
Painter contrasted Gillis' ability beyond the arc to Wheeler's own struggles last year, but said that Wheeler's skills in other areas improved last year despite difficulties from three.
Overall, Painter expressed a necessity for consistent effort and growth throughout all levels of the team.