While Hokies try to adjust to life in the tournament bubble in Indianapolis, U.Va. is just trying to get there

Norm Wood, The Virginian-Pilot
·4 min read

Justyn Mutts isn’t much of a gamer, so he’s not killing time this week inside an Indianapolis hotel room with an Xbox or PlayStation. Instead, he’s gotten some extra study time in ahead of Virginia Tech’s first-round game Friday in the NCAA tournament.

Such is life inside the tournament bubble, where pretty much everything exists inside the four walls of hotel rooms.

As much as Mutts grasps the idea that the time spent isolating from the world for the duration of No. 10 seed Virginia Tech’s tournament stay is the same cost of admission all coaches and players are paying, he doesn’t sugarcoat his impression of the experience. No matter how much he’s had to quarantine this season, it never gets any easier.

“I watch a little TV now and then, but for the most part, just hanging out,” said Mutts, who will help lead Tech (15-6) in the first round against No. 7 seed Florida in the South Region. “Quarantining is kind of getting old.”

At least Tech is getting to do the requisite quarantining this week within the NCAA-created “bubble” in Indianapolis, only a few miles from Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is where it’ll play Florida (14-9). Virginia, which is the No. 4 seed in the West Region, is still just trying to get to Indiana.

Learning after last Thursday’s ACC tournament quarterfinal win against Syracuse that it had a coronavirus positive test within the program, U.Va. has been in quarantine ever since. It’s meant no practice time on the court thus far in preparation for Saturday night’s first-round game in Bloomington, Indiana, against No. 13 seed Ohio (16-7).

“Not ideal,” U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said Wednesday.

“When I told those guys after the Syracuse game we had a positive test, and kind of the look in especially the upperclassmen and senior’s eyes, ‘This certainly beats the alternative.’ Yeah, you want to be in Indy, you want to be doing stuff, but we’re not, but we’ll make the most of it and keep figuring out what we can do.”

So far, so good this week for U.Va. (18-6), which has to have seven consecutive days of negative tests to come out of quarantine Thursday.

If it can successfully emerge from quarantine, U.Va. will practice Friday morning in Charlottesville, arrive Friday afternoon in Indianapolis by plane, get a round of coronavirus tests upon arrival, have another round of tests in the morning hours Saturday and then have a walk-through during the day Saturday before its game against Ohio.

U.Va. forward Sam Hauser said he and his teammates instantly started worrying about not being able to play in the NCAA tournament when they found out about the positive coronavirus test. Now, he’s just trying to make the most of an unconventional week of game preparation.

When he’s not getting up shots and doing individual conditioning drills in a completely isolated setting, the only other activity he can take part in is going outside his Charlottesville residence to get some fresh air. Otherwise, it’s all inside, all the time.

Hauser does have a family mole who has been taking in the bubble experience in Indianapolis all week. His brother, Joey, is a redshirt junior forward at Michigan State, which plays Thursday night in West Lafayette, Indiana, in a First Four game against UCLA.

Based on his brother’s assessment of the quarantine situation in Indiana, Sam Hauser isn’t sure he’s missing much.

“Right now, I’m seeing kind of what it’s like without being there,” Sam Hauser said. “I don’t know if I’m jealous of him or not, but it’ll definitely be cool if we get the chance to actually go there.”

Tech coach Mike Young would likely vouch for the idea that Sam Hauser and his U.Va. teammates aren’t being deprived of the time of their lives in the bubble in Indianapolis. Young said despite the fact all his players are on the same floor as him in the team hotel, he’s had to communicate with them exclusively via text and video conference while in quarantine.

“This is bizarre,” said Young, whose team will be playing just its fourth game in 41 days Friday because of coronavirus issues within and outside Tech’s program that resulted in the cancellation of five of its last seven regular-season games. “This is difficult. For a young person to be in a hotel room for 10 days, two weeks, gosh sakes, I have an even greater appreciation for what those guys have had to do. This isn’t a lot of fun, I’ll be honest with you.”

Norm Wood, 757-247-4644, nwood@dailypress.com