Saturday, April 17, 2021

NCAA Tournament: same court, same game, new emptiness

INDIANAPOLIS – When the ball was thrown for Florida and Virginia Tech only in the afternoon, an NCAA men’s tournament began in earnest that is sure to be unique. The screams of the sneakers, the raging competition of a living-and-advance competition, and the March Madness-branded basketball court were familiar, but 16 other games were to be played on Friday in six venues in and around Indianapolis.

The atmosphere was as extraordinary as the efforts made during a pandemic in a 68-team, 19-day tournament that the NCAA wiped out a cash cow of about $ 1 billion in late March.

Huge arenas – like the football stadium where the NFL’s Colts play – or bizarre places on the Indiana State Fairgrounds such as the historic Hink Fieldhouse or Farmer’s Coliseum were occupied by only a small portion of their capacity.

Were there No band Nor do the cheerleaders give most of the games an AAU summer tournament atmosphere, where the stands are mostly filled by parents and hard-core fans.

Without the roar of the crowd, players could often turn to their competitive juices only to have a flurry of motivation, to spur on them. And thrilling moments – such as a late 3-pointer by Virginia Tech’s Nahim Allene that forces overtime – were mostly silent in person without the usual soundtrack of the crowd’s roar.

Several teams – Georgia Tech, Kansas and Oklahoma – were without key players this weekend after testing positive for the virus. And Virginia, which is scheduled to open the tournament on Saturday, is not certain to play even after spending the final week in quarantine after being left out of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament due to an outbreak. The team flew to Indianapolis on Friday.

Ohio State, the second seed from the South Region, was not knocked out by the virus, but by upstart Oral Roberts, who shocked the 75–72 Buckeyes for the first upsets in what was set to be a turbulent tournament. On and from court.

Not long thereafter, Oregon State, the 12th seed in the Midwest Region, upset Tennessee for its first tournament win since 1982. North Texas, seeded 13th in the South Region that never won a tournament game, joined the troubled parade, going on to overtime to knock Purdue over to eliminate the only Indiana team in the tournament.

In all, five double-digit seeds advanced and three games went into overtime.

And while it was barely troubled, North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team was seeded eighth in the South, missed the first-round game in 30 tournament openers – another data point of disarray.

Lucas Williamson, a Loyola-Chicago senior guard, said, “Everything about it is unusual until a Loyola-Chicago senior guard, whose players were grateful to play before some of their fans, who for the first time this season Came out of Chicago. “Once you’re on the court, you’re just playing basketball.”

The chaos on the court would be a welcome distraction for NCAA President Mark Emmert and players have been attacked in recent days by organizations that have been subjected to separate, different tests in hotels just a week before the center And is isolated. Forum.

Just as a temple – A social media campaign The NCAA’s urge to give athletes the right to benefit from their fame – started falling down on Thursday, one up and one up: Uneven treatment of women after a Oregon player, Sedona Prince posted on social media A video of some dumbbells that formed a workout field for the women’s teams in their tournament, which is to begin Sunday in Texas.

Then on Friday the news came that men were given polymerase chain reaction test for coronovirus, while women were given less reliable antigen tests.

Even before that, six referees were sent home to dinner together for violating the virus protocol.

In an interview with a small group of reporters on Friday at the Hink Fieldhouse, Emmert defended the difference in tests, saying they were administered through local medical facilities that worked on NCAA incidents and NCAA medics Was approved by the Advisory Board. She called the inadequate women’s workout room “unforgivable”.

Emmert said he supported the players using their voices or gestures – such as many Colgate and Drexel players who fell to their knees for the national anthem before their games – and that some of the gestures players indicated They will be forthcoming, even if tolerated. They are against NCAA rules.

But there will be limitations.

“When does it start to disrupt other people?” Emmert, who plans to visit the women’s tournament in Texas on Tuesday. “If someone is doing something that naturally creates a situation where another team or teammates can’t participate in a way that makes sense, then that’s a problem.”

In downtown Indianapolis on Friday morning, fans traveling here roamed the streets – many with masks on their chin – for a tournament that would have left the downtown district with people in normal times. As Arkansas fans began tricking the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the NBA’s Pacers, they began to congregate in pods.

After last year’s tournament was canceled, some people could not afford the idea of ​​missing each other – among them Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, A 101-year-old vaccine nun who was a Loyola-Chicago talisman en route to the Final Four in 2018. He looked from his wheelchair in a corner of Hink Fieldhouse, the first time he had seen his Ramblers in person this season, as they advanced with a win over Georgia Tech.

Kathy Work, a 53-year-old Virginia Tech fan from Lynchburg, may be related to Wyatt. After triple-bypass surgery 11 years ago, she vowed to live life to the fullest and play with a sense of sympathy with other Hokie fans.

“I don’t want to live in fear,” she said as a mask crawled through her nose.

Instead of games piled on top of each other – teams are usually parked in the tunnel, waiting for the court to take over as soon as the preceding teams have cleared it – 30 minutes between contests. There was a difference of at least a dozen workers wearing clear-tub backpacks of spray sprayed through hosing to sink the benches to disintegrate the benches.

The teams did not actually have benches, but a series of 34 chairs were placed in a grid to accommodate each team’s travel party members, who have undergone daily testing for at least a week, and so on. Will keep doing until the team is finished. On Hinkle the broadcaster sat alone, with 20 rows of empty seats behind the court from the scorer’s table.

“The energy is not the same,” said Sharron Mack, who came from Gainesville, Fla., And is a close friend of the Florida player. “Less fan, less energy.”

She added to the epidemic: “Many people are afraid to be outside and enjoy themselves. If you come to a tournament like this, you enjoy it. This restricts a lot. “

For at least one game, however, the atmosphere clearly changed, when an energetic group of Georgia Tech students were on their feet for the tipoff, trying their best to motivate their team, whose The best player, ACC player of the year was Moses Wright. Tested positive. (A teammate, Jose Alvarado, wore Wright’s number.) The students said, “Come on, Jackets,” drawing a finger point of approval from a tech player during the warm-up.

It was a heartwarming gesture, a moment of connection between the players and the fans, certainly less for this tournament, if it exists at all.

Gillian R. Brasil Contributed to reporting.

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