The biggest question hanging over the West Region of the 2021 NCAA Tournament is not about seedings, matchups or strategies. No, it is all about availability.
Kansas and Virginia joined the field of 68 on Selection Sunday, earning the West’s No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively. However, both teams are currently dealing with COVID-19 issues that knocked them out of their conference tournaments last week.
Will the Jayhawks and Cavaliers be eligible to play in this year’s tournament? Or will the NCAA have to insert replacement teams into those slots before the first round begins?
Here’s what we know about the COVID-19 situations for Kansas and Virginia with the start March Madness fast approaching.
Why Kansas and Virginia were included in March Madness
During an interview on ESPN’s “Bracketology” show, Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky’s athletic director and the NCAA selection committee chair, explained why the committee was comfortable including the Jayhawks and Cavaliers despite the fact they had to withdraw from conference tournaments following positive COVID-19 tests.
“The NCAA basketball staff stayed in touch with the administrations of those schools, making sure that the protocols were being met that would allow them to be available to come to Indianapolis to participate,” Barnhart told ESPN’s Rece Davis. “So, with that confidence, we were able to work through the evaluation process and place them in the field.
“We’re confident at this point that we’re moving forward to tip off on Thursday with the full field of 68.”
Barnhart added that the approach will be different for each team, but the NCAA staff will continue to work with Kansas and Virginia.
The deadline for the NCAA to choose a replacement team is 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The First Four Teams Out, who will be on standby to replace any team from a multi-bid conference that is forced to withdraw. pic.twitter.com/nHhv1IvEjQ
— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) March 14, 2021
Will Kansas play in the NCAA Tournament?
- Date of first game: Saturday, March 20
- Time: 1:15 p.m. ET
- Site: Farmers Coliseum
- Opponent: No. 14 Eastern Washington
Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters Sunday the Jayhawks are “in as good of shape as we can be in” and plan to head to Indianapolis on Monday.
“We obviously had a situation the day following our Oklahoma game, so I guess that was Friday morning, but everybody else has tested negative daily and sometimes more than once a day,” Self said. “So, we’re going to Indy tomorrow with a healthy group. It’s just a smaller group.”
The Jayhawks are down three players as of Sunday. David McCormack and Tristan Enaruna both tested positive prior to the Big 12 Tournament, but could travel to Indianapolis later in the week. The third player who tested positive for COVID-19 has not been named and is not expected to play during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“We expect to (have McCormack and Enaruna back), unless something happens,” Self said. “The one thing I’ve found out through this, probably as much as anybody, (is to) expect the unexpected. We’ll see. I’m not privy to comment on specifics, but I’ll stick to what I’ve said all along, that we anticipate those guys joining us this week.”
Will Virginia play in the NCAA Tournament?
- Date of first game: Saturday, March 20
- Time: 7:15 p.m. ET
- Site: Assembly Hall
- Opponent: No. 13 Ohio
During his Sunday media availability, Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the majority of his team is “contact traced and in quarantine.” The Cavaliers plan to travel to Indianapolis on Friday with most of the team in quarantine until Thursday.
“We’re going to keep testing daily. Our medical people, who are outstanding, are working with the NCAA to follow every protocol,” Bennett said. “That’s why our name was called. The timing — it’s never a good time to have it, and this is not ideal. But if you’re going to have it, we took it to about the last day you could have a positive case.”
Similar to Kansas, the unnamed Virginia player is not expected to be available during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. As Bennett noted, the timeline is far from ideal, but the Cavaliers are happy the committee chose to keep them in the field.
“It could be a situation where you practice here and you just show up at the game and play,” Bennett said. “That stuff, I don’t know all the details yet. We’ll get into that. It’s unique prep, but we’ve got the chance.”