Today is March 22nd, 2020.
In a perfect world, the first and second rounds of March Madness would have just ended. 16-32 teams and their fanbases would be celebrating their memorable wins, and the losers, not so much.
Actually, in a more perfect world, my North Texas Mean Green would be on the way to their predestined fate of a national title, and I would have a brand-spanking-new Mercedes.
Sorry about that. Back to more realistic hopes here.
Ideally, all across America, there would be talks of the inevitable upsets that just occurred over the past few days. Cinderella stories would be popping up by the second, on every applicable social media platform.
In short, life would be normal.
As we all know, however, that is clearly not the case.
How we got here
Currently, we are in the midst of a global pandemic that recently spread to the United States in the past few months.
As of Sunday night, March 22nd, there have been over 32,000 reported cases of the disease COVID-19, according to msn.com, and over 400 deaths.
Most, if not all, states are taking the best precautions possible to slow down the spread of coronavirus. On Sunday, Ohio announced an order for all within the state to stay home, and to only leave for necessities. California Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated a similar measure on Thursday.
During this time of panic and chaos, something much less important, but not entirely insignificant, happened.
Sports teams and leagues across the world gradually took stock of the growing situation. Some organizations banned fans and other non-essential members of the game experience from entering into the venues. After that, it escalated to the postponement of practices and games.
And then, things were canceled.
The NBA was the first league to fully suspend its season, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus on March 11th. On the next day, the NCAA announced its cancellation of all winter and spring sports championships. As a result, our beloved Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were some of the victims.
Other entities such as the MLB followed suit soon afterward, as well as various other leagues and many other events beyond the world of sports. We’ve lost a lot of great competition due to this virus, so let’s take a moment to ponder what could have been this year’s March Madness.
Seniors we’ll never see play again
The Oregon Ducks’ Pritchard, who played for the men’s team, grew up just over 100 miles from campus in Eugene. In fact, he is one of only three players on the 2019-2020 roster that are native to the state. And as soon as he stepped on the court at Matthew Knight Arena, the star guard showed out for Oregon and was always an impact player.
On this date last year, he led the 12-seed Ducks to a blowout of No. 5 Wisconsin in the first round. They rode that momentum all the way to a Sweet Sixteen matchup with No. 1 Virginia, where they would lose by just four to the eventual national champs.
This season was a revenge tour of sorts. While the team had their ups and downs during the season, they remained strong behind Pritchard, who averaged a ridiculous, career-high stat line of 20.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, and 4.3 RPG. He also presented himself as an Eugene legend with clutch plays like this:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 18, 2020
I mean, who doesn’t want to see more of that? The Pac-12 Player of the Year has been making those superhuman-type plays his entire career, and surely would have ended his college-playing days with a bang. Campus heroes are rare, and it’s a shame that we don’t get to see another Pritchard outing such as that.
Pritchard’s counterpart, Ionescu, is arguably better than him, however. As I mentioned when I gave my predictions for what would have been this year’s tournaments, the woman is an absolute baller. With an elite slashing ability and advanced court vision, she tore through the competition and was averaging over 17 points a game.
The future WNBA lottery pick and three-time All-American put on a show for Duck fans for years and was the primary reason attendance skyrocketed. She set multiple records for the school as well as the NCAA, including the most career triple-doubles of any man or woman with 26.
Most notably, on a special day in late February, she became the first NCAA player ever to record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2020
To do it on a day that commemorated the numbers of both 13-year-old Gianna (#2) and Kobe Bryant (#24) so soon after the death of those two, along with seven others in a helicopter crash in January, was monumental. Combining this hardship and loss with the chance to make one last memory in the tournament certainly creates an unforgettable season, albeit for several wrong reasons. Ionescu made her feelings known with this heartfelt post on Instagram after the cancellation:
View this post on Instagram
This year has been the toughest year of my life, and I wasn’t expecting to have to end my senior year like this. Very saddened but whole heartedly understand. To my teammates, coaches, fans, and the University of Oregon, thank you for providing me with the best 4 years of my life. Although our unfinished business will remain just that, I have been blessed to be a part of this journey. Thank you for all the memories, that I will forever hold close to my heart. DUCK NATION, THANK YOU!! 🐥 20, out🙏🏼
Another guard, this time from Marquette, will always be remembered and heralded for his unreal scoring prowess. Howard was in the rare class of players to average over 20 points a game for his career (21.6), and his array of handles and step-back jumpers made him a fully blown lethal weapon.
After scoring 25 per game last year, he came back and topped that mark with an astounding 27.8 points per contest while shooting 43% from deep. Everyone who has ever watched him play knows that once he got in the zone, he was virtually unstoppable.
He’s the only player in Division I to have multiple 50-point performances, with the most recent occasion coming in November against USC.
Marquette's Markus Howard dropped 51 points vs. USC 🔥
He's the first player in Big East history to score 40+ in back-to-back games pic.twitter.com/MGyjEvO2UB
— Bleacher Report CBB (@br_CBB) November 29, 2019
Despite his team only being a 6th-seed in their conference tournament, most expected him to continue with his consistency and excellent shooting skills.
The news of the tournament’s cancellation stung all who were involved.
Teams that were typical conference powers and other mid-major upstarts looked to make their own indelible mark on March Madness history but were robbed of the opportunity.
Some teams got the news while in the middle of preparing for upcoming games, and the shock and utter disappointment was plain to see.
Even in the early stages of the proceedings to come, it was apparent to all that the necessary, but somewhat irritating measure had to be taken.
Despite all that has occurred, it’s important to sit back and recognize the things we may have been taking for granted before now. So as we all hunker down inside for the time being, take a moment to reflect and remember those great moments.
Stay safe, everyone.
Keeping tabs on all things college and professional football/basketball. Chris Fowler is my hero. Go Mean Green!