The Virginia men’s basketball team’s run in the ACC Tournament is over. Whether the Cavaliers’ season is over remains to be seen.
Friday’s ACC Tournament semifinal game between UVa and Georgia Tech was canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Cavaliers’ program. The ACC announced the cancellation of the game Friday morning, less than 24 hours after Virginia’s thrilling, last-second win over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
“We went from an exhilarating game-winning shot to beat Syracuse to a gut punch regarding the positive COVID-19 test within our program,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement. “I’m hurting for our players, especially our seniors. I told our young men they have every reason to be disappointed, but it is still very important how they choose to respond.”
Whether the Cavaliers have a chance to respond in the NCAA Tournament remains in question. To compete in the NCAA Tournament this season, all members of a program’s traveling party must have seven consecutive negative COVID-19 tests before they can travel to Indiana, the site of this year’s tournament. With the NCAA Tournament set to tip off March 19, that could prove challenging for the Cavaliers.
“We are exhausting all options to participate in the NCAA Tournament,” Bennett said.
One of those potential options could be to play with a limited roster in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, Dan Gavitt, said recently that as long as a team has five healthy players, it can compete in the NCAA Tournament.
“The committee talked about this weeks ago, wrestled with contingencies, and thought it was fairest for a team that had a great season, earned their way to play in this tournament, that even if they were to be compromised in some way, if they have those five players, they still should have the opportunity to compete rather than be replaced,” Gavitt said. “If they fall below the threshold of five [players], of course they would not be able to play by playing rules, nor by tournament protocols.”
Whether Virginia would have enough players to compete in the Big Dance following the completion of contact tracing from the most recent positive COVID-19 test was not immediately clear.
In a statement, Virginia athletics director Carla Williams said the school is “in communication with the appropriate officials regarding our participation” in the NCAA Tournament.
“This is incredibly disappointing for our players,” Williams said. “They have done what has been asked of them in very challenging circumstances. It is unfortunate the ACC Tournament has concluded for us, but we have turned our attention to the NCAA Tournament.”
The Cavaliers became the second team to pull out of the ACC Tournament this week due to a positive COVID-19 test. On Thursday, the Duke men’s basketball team had to withdraw from the tournament following a positive test, ending its season.
The ACC Tournament isn’t the only conference tournament that has been affected by COVID-19 issues. Perennial national power Kansas was removed from the Big 12 Tournament on Friday following the positive test of a player, leaving the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament hopes in question.
With Virginia’s departure, Georgia Tech advances to the ACC Tournament championship game. The Yellow Jackets will play the winner of Friday night’s late Florida State-North Carolina game. Despite losing two teams to positive COVID-19 tests, the ACC Tournament will continue.
“I’m heartbroken for our student-athletes, coaches and support staff at both Duke and Virginia,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement. “Our teams have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed so much throughout this season. We continue to be led by our ACC Medical Advisory Group and the protocols put in place that have allowed our teams to safely compete during the 2020-21 season. We will follow the lead of our medical personnel to ensure the health and safety of our programs remain the top priority. Our student-athletes and schools have been remarkable this entire season while enduring incredibly challenging circumstances.”