NEW YORK (AP) — College basketball is coming back to Madison Square Garden this month.
In a matchup between the past two NCAA champions, Villanova and Virginia are scheduled to square off Dec. 19 in the heart of New York City, the arena announced Tuesday.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, no fans will be allowed to attend the Holiday Hoops Classic — the first college game at The Garden since the Big East Tournament was stopped at halftime of a March 12 quarterfinal between St. John’s and Creighton. Not long after that, the rest of the 2019-20 season was scuttled and the NCAA Tournament was canceled, wiping out an East Regional and the annual NIT championship slated for “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
MSG normally hosts several early season events featuring top programs from around the country, but all the restrictions and uncertainty created by COVID-19 this year has left many teams scrambling for available venues and opponents as they schedule on the fly.
Virginia and Villanova plan to meet in midtown Manhattan six days before Christmas, keeping a date with each other that had been booked for the Big Apple long ago.
Villanova, ranked No. 12 in this week’s AP Top 25, improved to 3-1 with an 87-53 victory over Hartford on Tuesday in Uncasville, Connecticut. Coached by Jay Wright, the Wildcats won the national championship in 2016 and 2018.
No. 15 Virginia is 2-1 following a 76-51 win in its home opener Tuesday against Saint Francis (Pennsylvania). Tony Bennett guided the Cavaliers to the 2019 national title.
The nonconference game will be broadcast on national television by FOX at 8 p.m. EST.
Virginia holds a 5-3 lead over Villanova in a series that dates to 1981. The schools haven’t played since January 2017.
“Madison Square Garden is excited to host these two storied college basketball programs for the first college basketball game at The Garden since March,” Joel Fisher, the arena’s executive vice president for marquee events and operations, said in a release.