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College Basketball Muddles Through The Pandemic Like Everyone Else

We start with college basketball’s plan to deal with the United States’ worst surge in the coronavirus pandemic since it began in March. That plan is, mostly, to muddle through, adapting to two-week halts when teams test positive and rolling with game postponements. The NCAA Tournament itself will be in a bubble-like (perhaps bubble-lite) environment, but the regular season will do its best to look the same as always, with conferences not even attempting to create a bubble among themselves. There’s hope that teams at some schools will take advantage of de facto bubbles, once the main student population leaves campus after Thanksgiving, and every little bit helps. But the situation also raises the issues of this “amateur” sport continuing to put its players at risk without any compensation. It’s remarkable how much the sports world’s response to COVID-19 has mirrored the country’s response as a whole: The pandemic hasn’t gotten better, but NCAA basketball’s economic survival dictated that it wasn’t a matter of if college basketball should go on playing this season, but how.

Next, we take a look at the actual preseason rankings for both men’s and women’s teams. On the men’s side, Gonzaga is No. 1, followed by Baylor and Villanova. Both Gonzaga and Baylor are interesting cases this year, edging out the traditional blue bloods like Kentucky and Duke as well as the champions of the last couple of years, Villanova and Virginia. On the women’s side, South Carolina holds the top spot, followed by Stanford and UConn. And all three teams have exciting young players who might be able to take the star mantle from Sabrina Ionescu. There are also some exciting new coaches, like former player Kara Lawson, who has taken the reins at Duke. This is probably going to be a rough year for college basketball, but assuming that everyone can stay healthy, there are some bright spots to look forward to.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil takes a look at Theo Epstein’s legacy as professional baseball’s preeminent curse-breaker. Our hosts discuss what differences, if any, there are between “rebuilding general managers” and “maintenance general managers” in light of Epstein’s decision to leave the Chicago Cubs. The GM’s job is more or less the same in most cases, but the emotional toll of, say, trading players is the difference.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.