Virus bounces VCU from NCAA Tournament; Oregon advances

Big Tournament

An usher places a sign near the fans’ entrance to remind them to wear face coverings for a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — VCU was pulled from the NCAA Tournament on Saturday after what the school said were “multiple” positive COVID-19 tests within the past two days, ending the Rams’ run in college basketball’s annual showcase before it began.

Last year’s entire tournament was called off because of the pandemic, and the NCAA moved this year’s event to Indiana and put teams in what it called a “controlled environment.” But those steps weren’t enough to ensure every game would be played.

The 10th-seeded Rams’ first-round game Saturday against Oregon was declared a no-contest, the NCAA said, sending the seventh-seeded Ducks into the second round without playing.

“We’ve been tested every day for the past three weeks, but within the past 48 hours we’ve received multiple positive tests,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said in a statement. “We are devastated for our players and coaches. It has been a dream for all of us to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“We appreciate the care of our doctors and administration this year, and all our efforts and attention will be put into our players at this time.”

The announcement from the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee came a little more than three hours before the teams were set to play in the West Region. It didn’t offer specific details, citing privacy concerns, and said that the decision came after consultation with the Marion County Public Health Department.

“The NCAA and the committee regret that VCU’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to play in a tournament in which they earned the right to participate,” the statement read.

VCU was in the field for the ninth time in 10 tournaments. The Rams made it to the Final Four in 2011 as an 11 seed.

“The wait is over! Time for some March Madness!” the school’s basketball account tweeted just six hours before the withdrawal was announced.

The Rams were forced to stop practicing or playing on Jan. 2 because of a positive COVID-19 test within their program, forcing a game against Davidson to be postponed. They resumed practice two days later and made it through the rest of the season without further problems.

Led by Atlantic 10 player of the year Bones Hyland, VCU finished second in the conference in the regular season and lost to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 title game. But its body of work, which included a season-opening win over Utah State, was enough to earn Rhoades’ team an at-large berth to the tournament.

“This is tremendously disappointing and heartbreaking for the student-athletes who’ve worked so hard for this opportunity,” Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said in a statement. “During this pandemic, the medical advisory boards have the authority to make this decision for the safety and welfare (for) all of the student-athletes, staff and teams.

“VCU has had an outstanding year, and this setback does not diminish any of their accomplishments.”

The Ducks went through their own COVID-19 issues during the season.

They had a pair of long pauses, at one point having just five practices and a single game during a 26-day stretch. The one game they were able to play against Oregon State was without All-American guard Chris Duarte and fellow starter LJ Figueroa.

All told, the Ducks had two games canceled and five that were postponed, including one against fellow NCAA Tournament team UCLA that was postponed three different times.

“I mean, it’s been high anxiety for everything,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team advanced with a win over Eastern Washington earlier in the day.

“My trainer and my staff, as soon as we get our results back from the test, you know — it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, soon as we get a text message from the company we’ll get group texts going. I’m getting messages from the trainer at 2 o’clock and I’m awake getting ready to get the text.”

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