March Madness: 68 teams punch ticket

Eddie Pells Ap National Writer
Monday, March 15, 2021
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The 68 teams whose names popped up in the March Madness bracket only thought it was time to celebrate: The next four or five days figure to be the most nerve-wracking part of their seasons.

Welcome to Bubble Ball — the NCAA Tournament is being played in a pandemic, where no player can show up for the games in Indianapolis without seven negative COVID tests, and no team is really “in” the tournament until the ball is tipped off.

“Which potential season-ending test was more stressful than the other?” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said, meaning the challenges that still await. “Testing, practice, getting on the bus in Philadelphia, waiting for that reply, that response time to say, ‘We’re all negative here. OK, let’s get out of here. Let’s get to Indianapolis.’”

Because of COVID—19 issues, Drexel played a grand total of 19 games — about 11 fewer than usual — en route to the Colonial Athletic Conference title. That earned the Dragons an automatic bid into the tournament. The reward? in addition to a battery of nasal swabs, they get a No. 16 seed and an opening-round meeting with top-seeded Illinois.

The other top seeds were Michigan, Baylor and Gonzaga, which is the overall No. 1, and a 2-1 favorite to win it all and complete the first undefeated season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

In the biggest adjustment to a normal March Madness, all the games will be played in and around Indianapolis over 19 days. No more worrying about who got shipped to Spokane or mired in Memphis. The NCAA did, however, keep the region names — West, East, South and Midwest — to at least make the bracket look normal.

More about that bracket: A few bubble teams are coming from unexpected places, namely UCLA and Michigan State. Both were widely projected to make the field with ease, but they ended up as 11 seeds, paired in a First Four matchup on Thursday. The other 11-11 game pits Wichita State against Drake.

Teams like Louisville, Saint Louis, Colorado State and Mississippi would gladly trade places with them. And still might. In one of many first-of-its-kind moves made to accommodate a one-of-a-kind tournament, the NCAA put team Nos. 69-72 on standby in case a program in the 68-team draw has to withdraw because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

They have until Tuesday night to notify the NCAA they can’t make it. After that, a team that withdraws will simply go home, and its opponent will get a walkover into the next round.

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