The Duke Blue Devils have been excluded from the 2021 ACC Tournament after testing positive for COVID-19 in the men’s basketball program, the conference announced Thursday. The Blue Devils, who were scheduled to play Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals on Thursday, have been eliminated in the tournament, which runs through Saturday. The event marks the most notable cancellation or postponement of COVID-19 during the 2020-21 college basketball season, which has been plagued by schedule changes, team breaks and general logistical problems in the sport.
The news also raises some questions for college basketball in the coming hours and days. Is Duke’s season over and its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed? Will the news affect other ACC teams? How will the conference and other leagues handle the remaining tournaments? What would it mean if they make it to the 2021 NCAA Tournament, which is down to fifth place? The April games? ESPN.com’s college basketball team of Myron Medcalfe, Jeff Borzello and John Gasaway examined the impact of Thursday’s news on basketball and history:
What do we know about Duke’s positive test?
At this point we don’t know exactly who or when the test was positive. The school announced its participation in the Tier 1 program, but did not provide details.
— Jeff Borzello.
Does this mean Duke’s NCAA tournament bubble will burst?
Yes, it’s very likely. For a more in-depth look at Duke’s place on the bubble and how the end of his season might affect others, visit Bubble Watch.
— John Gasaway
Does this mean Duke is not eligible for the NCAA tournament? What testing protocols will allow Duke to play one more game this season?
It is not out of the question for Duke to qualify for the NCAA tournament. If the rest of the list continues to test negative (assuming only one person tests positive on Thursday), they can still test negative seven days in a row and thus can go to Indianapolis on Sunday or Monday. Contact tracking would have removed players from Thursday’s game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would have produced a positive result.
If Duke was one of the final four teams, they could technically play as a reserve team. In accordance with NCAA guidelines, these teams must remain on campus and continue testing. The policy requiring seven consecutive negative tests does not change for them. But it’s unclear how a positive replacement test about a week after the event would affect his candidacy, assuming Duke even wants to do that. If the Blue Devils are selected on selection day, the same protocols will remain in effect. At least one coach who spoke to ESPN said he didn’t think Duke was done with either scenario yet.
Looks like Duke’s season is over. Duke’s Ed Kevin White said in a statement that the cancellation would end our 2020-21 season. Mike Kryzewski’s statement says I love the 2020-21 Duke basketball team and am honored to coach them, which is not what you’d say if you expect the game to continue this season. But it will be interesting to see what happens on Sunday.
— Jeff Borzello and Myron Medcalf.
What are the historical implications if Duke misses the NCAA tournament?
In a few years, when all this will surely be a thing of the past, we will be able to reflect on a remarkable fact. For the second year in a row, Duke was eliminated from the ACC Tournament, still ahead of other contenders. The first time was a free and ultimately wise decision. The second time, out of necessity.
This, of course, ends a run of Blue Devils who have been in the NCAA Tournament since 1996. As for the other top programs, it looks like this will also be the first NCAA bracket since 1976 that does not feature Duke of Kentucky. The Wildcats lost to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament on Thursday.
— John Gasaway
If this scenario occurs to a team in the NCAA Tournament, how will the NCAA handle it?
In the NCAA Tournament, the situation may be different. First, each team that enters Indianapolis in a controlled environment must complete seven consecutive negative tests each day. NCAA officials have announced that there will be no team substitutions once the game begins. However, when the selection committee began its deliberations Wednesday, Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of men’s basketball, made it clear that each team could move forward with five healthy players. The contact search guide can now exclude people who are in a similar situation to Duke. But a positive test that does not completely neutralize the entire team will not necessarily end the program’s season when the NCAA tournament begins.
— Myron Medcalfe
The biggest difference between the ACC and NCAA Tournament records is that the NCAA requires seven consecutive negative tests before one can travel to Indianapolis. Therefore, situations like this should not occur during the NCAA tournament. Duke also traveled back and forth from Durham because the school felt that was safer than staying in Greensboro; that wouldn’t happen during the NCAA tournament either.
— Jeff Borzello
Twenty conference tournaments are still underway. Will the leagues discontinue or change their protocols for conference tournaments, as the positive tests could affect the NCAA eligibility of any team still playing this week?
I’m sure every league in the country, especially the single issue leagues, are nervous right now. Duke has avoided positive tests all season with the help of private institutions and significant resources, two things most schools lack. Commissioners from across the country have said they will continue. But they also run the risk of excluding one or more teams as the seven-day period for negative tests begins Friday.
It’s a nightmare. If it can happen to Duke, it can happen to anyone. And in individual betting, teams that test positive are replaced with a substitute. In Power 5 leagues, positive tests can ruin a team’s chances of participating in the NCAA’s seven-day testing period for Indianapolis.
The protocols seem to be established in these leagues. But caution and concern will increase if positive tests are made in the coming days. And all those who wanted to see the conference tournaments scrapped for this reason shook their heads. Gambling can be expensive.
— Myron Medcalfe
What are the next steps for the ACC tournament? What precautions have been taken?
The ACC is on track without a cancellation of the Duke-Florida quarterfinal. Florida State advances to the semifinals and must face eventual winner North Carolina against Virginia Tech, while Duke returns home.
An ACC coach scheduled for Thursday told ESPN that he doesn’t think Duke’s situation will affect the rest of the field, as each team is strictly separated for each game. These teams also tested negative for Thursday’s games. So a cancelled game, like the rest of the season, is unlikely to disrupt the rest of the season.
— Jeff Borzello.
Duke played against Boston College on Tuesday and Louisville on Wednesday. Do we know if these teams have been exposed? Have they been tested?
Louisville issued a statement saying that all Tier 1 players were tested after Wednesday night’s game and all results were negative. Because the ACC uses Kinexon digital contactless technology, we are confident that we will not be affected by contact tracking that could impact our team, the school said. Boston College has not yet released an official statement, but I’m told they are gathering more information.
— Jeff Borzello
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