It’s not quite the same, but we get a bracket

There was something comforting about filling out an NCAA tournament bracket.
We didn’t get to do that last March. The ramifications on sports as the COVID-19 pandemic hit just days before the 68-team field was going to be announced.
It isn’t going to be a normal tournament. All of the games will be played in and around the Indianapolis metro area. Teams are essentially locked down in their hotels other than for practice — don’t call it a “bubble,” though, because the NCAA doesn’t like that term.
In a year when so many players have essentially quarantined themselves to get to this point, another couple of weeks with a chance to win a championship isn’t something they’re going to balk at being a part of this time of the season.
“I think these are things we’ve been avoiding all year to make sure we stay safe and aren’t exposed, or anything like that,” Iowa center Luka Garza said during Wednesday’s media availability. “I think we’ve gotten used to this lifestyle by this point. We’re all here for a reason. We know what we want to do. We’re very excited about the opportunity to get out to play.” 
Iowa is a No. 2 seed in the West Region, tying for the program’s best seed in the tournament since the 1987 tournament. That team reached the Elite Eight, but this group wishes for a trip that will be another weekend longer.
That will mean staying in Indianapolis until early April. Iowa was there last weekend for the Big Ten tournament, then stayed on for COVID-19 tests to clear quarantine and be eligible to play this week.
“It’s pretty much business as usual, except we’re not leaving the facility,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes would have been in last year’s tournament, but never even got one postseason game in — the Big Ten tournament was canceled just a couple of games before Iowa was supposed to play Minnesota in the second round on that Thursday when the sports world shut down.
That disappointment is what fueled Garza’s return after testing the NBA draft process over the summer.
“I came back to play with this team, these guys,” Garza said. “I came back to play in this tournament. It’s something I’ve been locked into for a while now.”
It’s been a strange season for college basketball. Empty arenas, schedule changes, games postponed or canceled.
And yet, we have a postseason. The men are in Indiana, the women’s tournament is being played in a similar format in San Antonio.
The Hawkeyes got to leave their hotel on Wednesday afternoon, getting in a wiffle-ball game at nearby Victory Field, the home of Indianapolis’ Triple-A affiliate.
They also posted a photo on social media — the team standing together with the bracket that covers the outside of the nearby JW Marriott hotel. 
Everyone was wearing a mask.
But at least there was a bracket.
John Bohnenkamp is a national award-winning reporter and editor and is regular contributor to Pen City Current.

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