Virginia (18-6) had been on an upswing heading in to last season’s tournament until surging cases in the early days of the pandemic compelled officials to cancel the event for the first time.
The Cavaliers are dealing with a positive test that has sent the majority of the team into quarantine until at least Thursday. If there are no positive tests to that point, Virginia will depart for Indianapolis.
“We’re going to keep testing daily, and our medical people, who are outstanding, are working with the NCAA to follow every protocol, and that’s why our name was called,” Bennett said. “The timing, it’s never a good time to have it. This is not ideal, but if you’re going to have it, we took it to about the last day that you could have a positive case.”
Emotions fluctuated wildly over the past two days for Virginia, which entered the ACC tournament as the top seed. First the Cavaliers celebrated a buzzer-beating win against Syracuse in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The next day a positive coronavirus test forced them to withdraw the morning of the semifinals.
The team then began deliberating over whether playing in the NCAA tournament would be possible, given the safety guidelines put in place. The requirements for participation include no positive tests for seven days and at least five eligible players.
It’s unclear which member of Virginia’s Tier 1 group tested positive, but CBS Sports reported it was a player who participated in the Syracuse game, which ended with Reece Beekman’s three-pointer at the buzzer, triggering a celebration among teammates who chased the freshman across the court and embraced him.
Virginia weathered this season’s scheduling chaos better than most, playing the second-most ACC games of any school (17). The Cavaliers did have a virus-related pause early in the season in which they went 18 days between games.
Virginia won its first seven games to start ACC competition until losing to Virginia Tech. The other game between the schools, scheduled for Jan. 2, was postponed and never made up.
Several Cavaliers have missed games while following contact tracing protocols, including Casey Morsell and Tomas Woldetensae.
Morsell, a first-team All-Met selection at St. John’s College High, sat out three games, including against the Hokies. The sophomore guard came back Dec. 30 to contribute to an 80-68 win against Notre Dame. Woldetensae did not play in consecutive losses to Duke and North Carolina State.
A handful of assistant coaches also were unavailable early in the season, including associate head coach Jason Williford, leaving Bennett with just two assistants — director of player personnel Johnny Carpenter and director of basketball operations Ronnie Wideman — for several games.
“It is a perspective check,” Bennett said. “To have played as many games and for us to have been able to experience what we did, even the way it ended for us in the regular season, very grateful. It was ecstatic winning the regular season, in the locker room, all the celebration, but then you’re filled with gratefulness.”