N.C.A.A.’s Fear of a Canceled Tournament Game Arrives

INDIANAPOLIS — It was a Faustian cut price that faculty basketball made final autumn when it plowed forward with a season into the headwinds of the pandemic. There could be video games, the N.C.A.A. declared, as a result of there wanted to be a path to the lads’s event, which the governing physique may sick afford to have canceled for the second yr in a row.

But there would even be optimistic exams, pauses from play, and schedules that have been reconstructed on the fly.
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Isolation and anxiousness have been half of the compact for 4 months.

The calculus, although, is completely different now.

A optimistic check received’t pause a season; it could actually finish it.

That arduous actuality discovered a sufferer on Saturday night time when Virginia Commonwealth, the 10th-seeded crew within the West area, stunningly dropped out of the event three hours earlier than it was scheduled to tip off in opposition to Oregon as a result of of virus protocols.

V.C.U. stated in a assertion on Saturday night time that it had acquired “multiple positive tests” over the past 48 hours.

“We are devastated for our players and coaches,” Mike Rhoades, V.C.U.’s coach, stated within the assertion, which famous that the crew had been present process every day testing for the final three weeks.

The N.C.A.A.’s coronavirus requirements dictate that groups can play with at the very least 5 gamers who aren’t held out by both a optimistic check or contact tracing. Since the 68-team event bracket was locked on Tuesday night time, V.C.U.’s departure — which necessitated a no-contest — signifies that Oregon, the seventh seed within the West Region, will advance to the second spherical.

A crew dropping out as a result of of a virus check inside its program was a worst-case situation for the N.C.A.A., which stands to make $850 million in tv income from the event.

But it was a risk that had lurked within the background because the event started with 4 play-in video games on Thursday adopted by 32 first-round video games on Friday and Saturday.

It was why so many of the groups which might be right here for the event, and people in Texas for the ladies’s event that begins Sunday, have been notably on edge. All that they’ve endured to get to the carrot of this stage could be worn out, or at the very least compromised with a single optimistic check.

That actuality is one thing that 4 groups right here know too nicely — Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech arrived undermanned, taking part in their most consequential video games of the season with an added burden.

After Georgia Tech, which was with out Moses Wright, the Atlantic Coast Conference participant of the yr, was despatched house on Friday by Loyola-Chicago, Kansas was at risk of struggling the identical destiny earlier than it rallied to stave off 14th-seeded Eastern Washington.

The Jayhawks have been with out ahead Jalen Wilson, their main rebounder, and reserve Tristan Enaruna. And their middle David McCormack, the Big 12 defensive participant of the yr, arrived in Indianapolis on Friday after he examined optimistic 10 days earlier — a outcome that led Kansas to drop out of its convention event.

On Saturday night time, eighth-seeded Oklahoma needed to deal with Missouri with out De’Vion Harmon, its second-leading scorer. And Virginia, which flew to Indianapolis after a week underneath quarantine, wasn’t even sure it might be capable of play till hours earlier than its game in opposition to 13th-seeded Ohio.

“It’s been a high anxiety thing,” Kansas Coach Bill Self stated, including that he has been up late at night time awaiting every day check outcomes. “Here, I’m getting texts from the doc and the trainer at 2 a.m. when the results come back and I’m awake ready to take the texts.”

Some groups which were lucky or vigilant — or each — have in latest weeks been paying a worth. Duke, which dropped out of the A.C.C. event — ending its hopes of profitable its means into the N.C.A.A. event — did so after its first optimistic check of the season. Other groups, like Iona, which has had 10 gamers and two coaches (together with Rick Pitino) contract the virus within the final three months have had fewer worries.

“I hate to say this — I don’t think pauses are good, but they may be blessings in disguise that the pauses occur to better ensure you have a healthy N.C.A.A. tournament,” Self stated.

The Jayhawks had a lot of anxious moments in opposition to Eastern Washington. McCormack, who Self had hoped to restrict to 7-10 minutes per half, started the game on the bench. Two minutes into the game, Self known as a timeout to ship him into the game with Kansas down, 9-0.

The Jayhawks trailed by 10 within the second half, then received with an infinite contribution from McCormack, who scored 22 factors, together with the Jayhawks first eight factors after halftime. Kansas must get previous Southern California on Monday with a purpose to get Wilson to return.

Self stated a crew mantra is that they at all times have sufficient, however “I’m not sure it is to go deep in the tournament; we need to have our full complement of guys.”

That was a crushing lesson for Georgia Tech the day earlier than.

Georgia Tech Coach Josh Pastner was in tears within the locker room after his crew’s 71-60 loss to Loyola-Chicago on Friday. The Yellow Jackets celebrated an Atlantic Coast Conference championship final Saturday night time, sealing their first N.C.A.A. event berth since 2010. The subsequent day, they realized that their anchor, Wright, had examined optimistic for the virus, making them the third crew within the convention to have a optimistic check. Wright traveled individually to Indianapolis this week however was underneath quarantine. His teammate, Jose Alvarado, wore his No. 5 uniform.

“I can’t even express the pressure and the swing of high to low. It was overwhelming at times because you don’t…,” Pastner stated, his voice trailing off.

“You know how sick I felt for Moses Wright, for him not to be able to play today? Obviously, thank God everything is OK. It’s just he loses that opportunity,” he stated.

The Yellow Jackets shot nicely in opposition to the nation’s prime protection and have been bolstered by a contingent of boisterous college students who had traveled from Atlanta. But it wasn’t sufficient.

“We have tried to do everything in our power to be so careful this year in everything that we can,” Pastner stated. “The pressure that I felt almost every single day since November, I can’t describe the words, the pressure I felt every single time we took a test because you just don’t know. A positive could knock you out.”

And on Saturday night time, three days into a 19-day event, it did.

Alan Blinder reported from Atlanta.

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