The biggest unknown leading into a March Madness bracket reveal more than a year in the making had nothing to do with bubble teams or top seeds. Instead, it was the not-so-simple matter of which programs would be healthy enough to play.
Kansas and Virginia, two programs hit with COVID-19 breakouts over the past week, made it into the bracket released Sunday by the NCAA selection committee. It was a signal that both teams believe they’ll have enough healthy players to be ready for their tip-offs next weekend.
That there was any doubt about the Jayhawks and defending champion Cavaliers securing spots in the 68-team field was the most jarring reminder that the 2021 tournament itself will look and feel much different than any that's come before.
“The one thing I’ve found out through this, probably as much as anybody, is expect the unexpected,” said Kansas coach Bill Self.
A year after the tournament was canceled as the COVID-19 virus was mushrooming into a worldwide pandemic, all 68 teams will gather in Indiana for all 67 games beginning Thursday and ending April 3 and 5 with the Final Four. But all it takes is a single COVID outbreak to upend the finely calibrated beauty of that plan. Multiple outbreaks could crater the entire endeavor.
Selection committee chair Mitch Barnhart said the committee was in frequent contact with leaders at Kansas and Virginia to ensure "the protocols were being met that would allow them to come to Indianapolis and participate.”
“We’re confident at this point that we’re moving forward to tip off Thursday with a full field of 68," Barnhart said.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said most of his team remained in quarantine Sunday night, but expected to be in Indy this week.