Photo courtesy of Iowa athletics
The NCAA Tournament is being played in a bubble this year. Teams need two rounds of negative tests before being able to assemble as a group, practice, or even see each other.
While there have been rumors of rough conditions, cold food, and other challenges, there are a plethora of opinions from those actually inside the bubble.
Cleveland State plays No. 2 seed Houston in the first round of the Midwest Region this week.
“Things here are outstanding,” Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates said in its pre-tournament press conference. “I think they have done a good job not just with the logistical matters, but the day-to-day organizations of each institution being in one spot, and being in one city. Whenever you have an absence of a tournament and you are being selected and earning a right to be in its next format. It’s a unique time in our game and I just truly think the leadership has done a great job getting us to this point.
“I think it’s been amazing. We are a group that doesn’t complain about anything,” Gates continued. “We’ve put that in the hearts and in the spirits of our guys. I’ve taught them how to be thankful, how to find the glimpse of hope in a rough time, how to also be able to protect their dream. If their dream is to be playing in the NCAA Tournament on April 5 (the title game), nothing should get in the way of that.”
Clemson, a team Cleveland State could see in the second round in the Midwest Region finally got to practice after its two days of negative tests.
“It’s different; you don’t go outside which is strange,” Tigers’ head coach Brad Brownell said. “You get here Monday and were basically in quarantine for the better part of 48 hours. They brought meals to you and that kind of stuff but you don’t really leave your room. We did finally get to practice last night which was great. We had our two negative tests. Everybody was excited to get out of the room and see each other. We had a short meeting but it is different.
“It’s hard for everybody just being cooped up in a hotel until Friday and then we have the last game of the day which makes it more challenging for everybody involved,” Brownell said. “It’s pretty regimented.”
One of the first teams to arrive was Liberty. The Flames are a No. 13 seed and play Oklahoma State in the first round.
“I’ve seen a couple of things on the internet about what a struggle it is; we’ve been fine. We got here Saturday and had to quarantine 20-some hours and did the testing,” Flames’ head coach Ritchie McKay said. “I thank the staff that Mr. Gavitt has and all those other individuals who have labored so hard to make this a safe environment for the players and for the travel party. I think it’s been incredible. The food that was left at the door was good to me. I’m a little finicky eater but I haven’t heard one complaint from our guys and that’s congruent with who they are.”
The Flames did get a chance to get outside, however, for some much-needed fresh air and relaxation.
“We haven’t had a chance to get outside much because of the controlled environment we are in but we did get out to Victory Field yesterday,” McKay said. “I think there are some sacrifices you have to make in order for this opportunity to present itself and for us to play the game we love and spend so much time with.”
Staying Busy in Quarantine
For many teams, the use of the time in quarantine varies. Some guys play video games; others still have homework to do, but all of them would rather be on the court.
This is what it takes to make sure this tournament goes off without a stoppage.
Purdue is the No. 4 seed in the South Region. The Boilermakers play Conference USA champion North Texas
“It’s a lot of downtime, a lot of being alone,” junior Eric Hunter Jr. said. “If you’re not a person who likes to be by yourself, it’s probably pretty hard; you are by yourself a lot. Doing small stuff like homework, watching film, playing a game, whatever it may be to let the time pass by.”
Abilene Christian is the first back-to-back Southland champions since Stephen F. Austin won three straight titles from 2014 to 2016. The Wildcats have the highest seed in school history. The No. 14 seed Wildcats will face an in-state opponent in Texas in the first round.
“It varies; some people have their system but ultimately, it’s just about getting rest,” Wildcats’ center Kolten Kohl said of the bubble. “We got out of our conference tournament and got two days off, which was unplanned, but going through protocol, I think just getting rest and getting ready to go back to work.”
While there may have been some issues, the teams in the tournament would trade these issues for not having a tournament at all. It’s impossible to please everyone but the overwhelming sentiment is that the NCAA has done a good job putting the bubble in Indianapolis together and that the protocols have been followed.
On Wednesday morning, the NCAA announced that all games in the first round are good to go. All 68 teams have tested negative twice.