The Bobcats, already road-weary from a morning bus trip from Cleveland to Indianapolis, didn’t have to wait long to find out their opponent in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Ohio (16-7) had its game pop up in the first segment of CBS’ Selection Show early Sunday evening. The ‘Cats – a 13-seed – are scheduled to face No. 4 seed Virginia (18-6) on Saturday as part of the West Regional. The game is set for a 7:15 p.m. start at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall and will be broadcast on truTV.
Overall top seed Gonzaga will double as the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. Opposite Ohio-Virginia in the ‘pod’ is a matchup between No. 5 Creighton (20-8) and No. 12 UC Santa Barbara (22-4).
Ohio took three buses, per NCAA spacing protocol, to travel from Cleveland. The team’s travel party gathered in a conference room at their designated hotel to watch the tournament unveiling live. Afterward, the Bobcats were to under their first on-site testing, and then would be quarantined in their individual rooms until another round of testing on Monday.
Ohio head coach Jeff Boals said it was important to have everyone together for the announcement.
“You never want to take anything like this for granted,” he said.
Boals still remembers doing the same thing in 1994 when he was a player with the Bobcats, and the team watched live as they found out they drew Indiana in a first-round matchup.
“I still remember that vividly,” the coach said. “It’s a sense of euphoria when you see it happen.
“This was the same type of excitement level.”
Virginia was penciled in as the No. 16 overall seed for the tournament by the NCAA; Ohio was slotted No. 51 overall. The ‘Hoos were Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champions, and remain the current defending NCAA Tournament champs.
UVA won the national title in 2019, and the 2020 edition of the event was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Boals was reminded of this fact during his video presser on Sunday.
“We got a shot at the national champs huh?” he said.
Virginia made NCAA Tournament history in 2018 when it became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round.
And Ohio is already ahead of the ‘Hoos, at least in terms of getting to Indianapolis. Virginia had to bow out of the ACC Tournament on Friday, after winning in the quarterfinals on a last-second 3-pointer over Syracuse after a positive COVID-19 test.
But Virginia remained in the NCAA Tournament field. Speaking Sunday evening, UVA head coach Tony Bennett said his team had just one positive test, but “the majority” of his team is out of action at the moment due to contact tracing.
Bennet said Virginia would be without the one unnamed player who tested positive for the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The bulk of his team remains in quarantine, but there have no more positive tests since Thursday evening.
The NCAA is required seven consecutive days of negative tests before a team’s personnel is allowed to join the bubble-like atmosphere set up around Indianapolis for the event. Bennett said if the team continues to test negative, the earlier Virginia could hold a group practice would be Thursday.
The earlier UVA could travel to Indy would be on Friday, Bennett said.
“Not ideal,” he said.
If any team in the tournament withdraws before Tuesday at 6 p.m., a replacement team – from an alternate list for teams from multi-bid conference and the next best team from a single-bid league – will fill that spot in the bracket.
If a team is forced to backout after the Tuesday deadline, then the opponent in the scheduled game will advance in a no-contest.
Ohio is in the tournament for the first time since 2012, when it advanced to the Sweet 16 round as a No. 13 seed. OU is 2-2 all-time in the tournament as a 13-seed, and MAC teams are 4-5 as 13-seeds in the event since 1999.
The Bobcats have tied the MAC record (with Ball State) with their seventh MAC Tournament championship. Ohio will be appearing in its 15th NCAA Tournament, where it has amassed a 7-15 record in games stretching back to 1960.
Ohio opened as a 10-point underdog, not that it matters to Boals.
“We were an underdog for three straight games in Cleveland,” he said. “We’ll go in free and loose like.
“We expect to win, we’re going to go compete to win.”
Junior center Rifen Miguel has rejoined the team’s travel party and will be a part of all team activities this week, Boals confirmed Sunday.
Miguel, the team’s second center most of the season, did not play in the MAC Tournament nor was he seen in the team’s bench area during the three games in Cleveland.
Ohio had one unnamed player test positive for COVID-19 and had two other unnamed players sidelined for contact tracing issues on March 2.