Utah men’s hoops out of Crossover Classic, nonconference schedule in flux

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak yells during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Stanford in Stanford, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The University of Utah men’s basketball team, nearing the completion of its non-conference schedule, is now changing its plans.

The Utes have removed themselves from the South Dakota-based Crossover Classic, multiple sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune Friday afternoon. Citing Utah’s concerns over South Dakota’s rising case rate, CBS Sports was first to report the Utes exiting the event.

According to covidactnow.org, South Dakota’s 112.8 daily new cases per 100,000 ranks second nationally behind only North Dakota, which is at 113.9. South Dakota’s positive-test rate as of Friday was 20.8%, third nationally.

From a basketball perspective, the Crossover Classic’s stacked field offered Utah a significant early-season opportunity to build an NCAA Tournament resume. The Utes were to open with potential preseason top-10 team Creighton, followed by either a semifinal or consolation matchup with Dayton or Wichita State. The rest of field includes West Virginia, Ohio State,Texas A&M and Memphis.

As the schedule now stands, Utah has its 20-game Pac-12 schedule in place, plus nonconference games against BYU, Idaho State and Utah Valley (Dec. 15). How it finishes off the nonconference schedule is now up for discussion. The scheduling options for Division I men’s teams this season in the middle of COVID-19 are below, per the NCAA:

• 24 regular-season games and up to three games in one multi-team event (MTE).

• 25 regular-season games and up to two games in one MTE.

• 25 regular-season games without playing in a MTE.

• As part of a new blanket waiver approved for MTEs, men’s teams can compete in up to two MTEs as long as they do not exceed 27 regular-season games.

At this late date, with Utah having 23 regular-season games scheduled, the path of least resistance would be to figure out two more nonconference games to get to 25, and not play an MTE. On the flip side, MTEs are constantly evolving, both at neutral sites and on campuses, so that option should not be ruled out yet.

However it shakes out, the Utes cannot play more than 27 regular-season games this season.