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Enjoy the “cupcakes” as college basketball returns

After several months of waiting, college basketball is finally back (for now, at least). When the pandemic began a more prevalent spread across the United States in March, conference basketball tournaments as well as the big national championship itself were some of the first things to be cancelled. March was plenty full of “madness” without the danger of playing basketball without proper safety precautions.

Months later, however, those proper safety precautions have been implemented. Several professional sports have managed to play abbreviated versions of their seasons with relative success, so it makes sense that college sports would be able to follow many of the same procedures.

I would have been fine without a season of college basketball if that was decided, but I am glad the conferences and colleges have found a way to play while still limiting exposure. Nothing has been guaranteed in this uncertain year, but I will enjoy watching the games while I can.

So this past week I finally got to see my favorite team, NC State, get back in the swing of things.

We could spend time talking about the “what-ifs” of last season—like whether or not the men’s team would have made the NCAA tournament or if the women’s team could have made a national championship run—but all of that is in the past now, and it’s time to focus on the present!

The men’s team opened up with a game against Charleston Southern and then North Florida. “Cupcake games” as I’ve always heard the early nonconference games called. Some people find those kinds of games boring, since the teams are usually unevenly matched, but I personally love watching games where one team beats the other by 30 or more points. There’s a lot less stress when the lead widens between the two teams, and you can simply focus on the playing style and moves of each player running up and down the court.

I realize I’m probably in the minority for thinking that way though.

The stats from the Charleston Southern game indicate an excellent start to the season. NC State forced 32 turnovers, had 18 steals, and senior Devon Daniels scored a career high 29 points. Not bad. Not bad at all. And, perhaps most promising: many of the new freshmen players on the team also played very well despite their lack of college level experience. It won’t be hard learning the new names and faces if they’re on the court a lot this year.

The North Florida game was much of the same. No career highs for anyone, but the whole team stepped up for a good performance again. Freshman Cam Hayes scored 13 points with six assists. Sophomore Manny Bates padded his impressive shot-blocking stats with five more blocks against North Florida.

Even the walk-ons got some playing time in both of these early games.

Unlike the men’s team, I haven’t had a chance to catch any of the women’s games yet. But they’re ranked number 8 in the country, so they’re having a good start too. They recently won their game against NC Central 108-70. A whopping 39 of those 100+ points came during the game’s third quarter.

Apparently, this is the first time the team has scored over 100 points in eight years.

Elissa Cunane, the team’s star player, scored 17 points and five other women also scored in double digits during the game against Central.

But maybe what’s most interesting about the game is that it wasn’t even originally on the schedule. The Wolfpack’s original opponent had to cancel, so they reached out on short notice to find someone to fill the sudden opening.

That’s not something you see during a typical season, but it’s the reality during this year of COVID-19.

Even the men’s team has already had one team cancel their game due to positive test results, and they’ve had to look around for another team free to play.

This will probably happen other times throughout the season too, but hopefully everyone will follow the safety precautions and minimize any danger to the players, coaches, and staff. People’s health should always be the priority.

I intend to enjoy however much basketball we’ll get this season. I have high hopes that NC State will have a decent season and be as entertaining to watch as they usually are. And if the season gets cut short again, at least I got to enjoy a few games, even if there were just “cupcakes.”

How’s your favorite team doing?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.