Virginia will open season vs. St. Peter’s and Florida in Mohegan Sun’s “Bubbleville”

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Kihei Clark (Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Athletics)

“Bubbleville” will be Virginia’s basketball home for its two opening games of the season next month in Uncasville, Conn.

The Mohegan Sun, which features a 10,000-seat arena, has joined the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Gazelle Group to host up to 40 college basketball teams in various pods in a “bubble” atmosphere.

UVA will open the season on Wednesday, Nov. 25, against the Saint Peter’s Peacocks of the MAAC in the Wooden Legacy event. Meanwhile, Florida will take on Maine. The schools will switch on Nov. 27, with Maine meeting St. Peter’s and Virginia taking on Florida.

The Mohegan Sun is owned by the Mohegan Tribe, and will host teams from more than a dozen conferences with up to seven games a day from nine pods. 

Dubbed “Bubbleville,” the Sun will provide a safe environment for teams, giving each team its own floor in the resort hotel along with meeting rooms and a place for meals. Originally, fans are not included in plans for the event but that could change depending on the state of Covid affairs a month from now.

Covid protocols and testing are being finalized because various conferences use different methods that need to be agreed upon.

“It’s an enormous undertaking,” said Greg Procino, Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Hall of Fame. “We expect 35-plus teams to play about 40 games.

“It’s a single site, secluded location, with enormous square footage for social distancing.”

Along with the Wooden Legacy event that Virginia and Florida are involved with, the Empire Classic will be held Nov. 25-26 with Villanova, Baylor, Arizona State and Boston College.

More games with UConn, USC, St. John’s, NC State, BYU, Louisville, UMass and Vanderbilt will be played, along with several other schools.

Tom Cantone, Senior VP for Sports and Entertainment at the resort, said while it is a highly controlled environment, it’s not quite the full bubble the NBA enjoyed in Orlando.

“We’re just following the playbook we’ve already established and it has been working brilliantly,” said Cantone. “We will just continue to do what we’ve been doing with our doctors and protocols. So far, it’s worked flawlessly.”

Upon their arrival, teams will be tested. Details on further testing are being worked out. Sun officials are hoping for a unified set of consistent protocols.

A pool of about 25 officials will also be housed by the resort for the duration of the team events.

Virginia’s opening opponent, St. Peter’s, was the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament last March and defeated No. 7 Iona on a last-second shot (0.9 seconds remaining) that gave the Peacocks a 56-54 quarterfinal win. St. Peter’s finished 18-12 overall last season.

The Cavaliers played in the Air Force Reserve Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun last November, when they defeated UMass in the opener, then rallied to defeat Arizona State the next day.

Virginia and Florida have met only three times in their basketball history, the latest two having been lopsided wins by the Gators over the Cavaliers in the 2012 and 2017 NCAA Tournament. The only other meeting came in 1992’s NIT Tournament when the Cavaliers prevailed.

Last year, Florida finished 19-12 overall and 11-7 in the SEC.

Meanwhile, Tony Bennett’s UVA team finished 23-7 (15-5 in the ACC), and is projected to be a top-10 if not top-5 team this season.

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