Xavier came into the Big East tournament on the popping edge of the bubble. A coin toss awaited them if they lost to DePaul, Dayton likely waited with only one win. It was a fraught atmosphere as the Musketeers geared up for March Madness.
But not just because of basketball. On January 20th the United States had its first reported case of the as yet unnamed Covid-19. On February 29th the US suffered the first of what would be a still rapidly increasing series of deaths attributed to the disease. European soccer leagues and cycling races shut down as parts of Italy, Spain, and France went into full lockdown.
Xavier and DePaul tipped their pivotal game at 930pm on March 11th, well after the federal government had greatly curtailed, seven hours after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had announced no fans would be allowed in arenas in Ohio, and a full day after the Ivy League canceled their tournament. That was the backdrop as Tyrique Jones faced Paul Reed for the jumpball.
Brad: At tipoff my main concern was no longer Xavier’s chances of making the tournament, but rather whether the tournament would happen at all. That changed as the game got going. Watching basketball made it seem a lot more likely that basketball could keep going. Then the news about Rudy Gobert testing positive started to spread.
Joel: I had to work that night, so I didn’t get to actually watch the game. Brad had been telling me for... I don’t know six weeks? Time doesn’t mean anything anymore. Anyway, he had been telling me for a while that he was worried there wasn’t going to be a tournament at all because of the coronavirus. I still wasn’t there yet, but I was starting to get concerned. My primary focus was still that (a) Xavier would get the win that I was sure punched their ticket and (b) my boy Q would hit a vein of form that would silence the haters and send him out hot.
Bryan: I was live tweeting the game and thought that there was a chance the Big East Tournament was going to be finished, but probably not a great one. Obviously the news on the ticker Gobert had tested positive and the NBA had suspended their season put paid to that pretty quickly.
Braydan: I was sitting on the couch as the game rolled on and became more and more convinced that the outcome of it simply wasn’t going to matter. Every time I checked Twitter I’d see a new piece of info about what was getting cancelled next. At tipoff I wasn’t too concerned but just 20 minutes later I was quite certain that we wouldn’t be meeting up to watch March Madness.
NCAA has already put some DIII tournament games behind closed doora due to Covid-19. Are you confident the DI tournament will go off as planned?— Banners on the Parkway (@BannersParkway) March 6, 2020
Unlike Braydan, most of our audience thought the NCAA tournament would go on even as this poll closed. If that was the case though, X was in trouble. After leading by five with 7:41 to play, Xavier crumbled.
Brad: When KyKy went off the boil and shot 0-5 down the stretch, I knew it was over. No one was there to drag us over the line. The DePaul game was crying out for Paul Scruggs to conjure up that snarl and dog his way to the win. Instead, (stone sober, I swear) I wrote a recap centered around The Hollow Men by TS Eliot. There was no college ball after X that night. No games had been canceled for the next day yet. It was eerie.
Braydan: Despite everything that was going on with the virus and the possibility of nothing mattering, I was still on edge as the game began to fall apart down the stretch. I knew this was the win that would solidify everything, even if the tournament wasn’t gonna happen, I wanted to know we would have made it. Obviously we didn’t get the win and we came completely unhinged in the end. I didn’t really know how to feel. It wasn’t like we blew a fantastic season, just a month before this game we looked dead and buried, but we found a way to get back into the picture. In the end, we just shot ourselves in the foot yet again and probably wouldn’t have gotten in.
Bryan: As the game wore on, I found myself caring less and less about the result. It was weird, given that March usually amplifies my emotions about basketball. The writing was on the wall that we were going to lose, and I really didn’t care because it really wasn’t going to matter.
And the result didn’t matter. Creighton and St. John’s made it to halftime of the first game the next day, and college basketball stopped. Whether or not Xavier would have made the tournament became moot as the NCAA canceled the tournament barely 12 hours after the Musketeers trudged off the court for the last time.
The NCAA tournament is not as important as even one life, but that didn’t make its loss any less saddening for the fans who look forward to it all year. A public health crisis that has now taken nearly 100,000 American lives and doesn’t show many signs of significant slowing descended on the end of college basketball season with frightful speed. Before any bubbles burst, before the brackets were out, before the best week of the year, it was over.