By Lewis Gould
Call this redefining March Madness.
Virginia was forced to withdraw from the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinals last Friday because a person with the team tested positive for COVID-19, and coach Tony Bennett said most of his players will be in quarantine until Thursday because of contact tracing.
If there are no new positive results throughout the week, the plan is for the team to fly to Indianapolis on Friday for a first-round game against No. 13 seed Ohio on Saturday night.
Though everything is on track for No. 4 Virginia to make it to Indianapolis for the tourney’s opening weekend, the NCAA is requiring every member of the Cavalier travel party to have seven consecutive negative COVID-19 tests before arriving in Indianapolis.
“The NCAA basketball staff stayed in touch with the administrations of those schools, making sure the protocols were being met that would allow them to be available to come to Indianapolis to participate,” Selection Committee chair Mitch Barnhart said on Sunday. “And so, with that confidence, we were able to work through the evaluation process and place them in the field. So we’re confident at this point that we’re moving forward to tip-off on Thursday with a full field of 68. We’re working our way into that schedule and tip times and locations and all of those things are still to be worked through.”
Should Virginia, Kansas or any of the other 66 teams that are slated to take part in the NCAA Tournament have a coronavirus-related issue and be forced to pull out of the competition, bubble teams Louisville, Colorado State, Saint Louis and Mississippi are standing by as fill-ins with the Cardinals being the first choice to step in as replacements. After Tuesday, if a team cannot play, the game will be deemed a no-contest and the forfeiting team’s opponent will advance to the next round. As for the quartet of bubble teams, they’ll all be No. 1 seeds in the 2021 NIT Tournament if they aren’t selected as replacement teams for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ll be using Zoom a lot with video,” Virginia’s Bennett told reporters. “It’s certainly a unique way to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. But I’m thankful that the NCAA gave our young men the chance because they earned their way into it. It could be a situation where you practice here and you just show up at the game and play. We’re going to have enough time, it’s just not the ideal prep for it.”