Five days after college basketball season ended in one of the most sudden and shocking ways, St. Bonaventure University coach Mark Schmidt was still trying to fathom how it all came to a hurried stop.
“It was so abrupt at first, that you were numb,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt and the Bonnies were one of hundreds of teams whose seasons ended last week when college conferences and the NCAA announced it had canceled conference tournaments, winter championships and spring competition because of novel coronavirus concerns.
The Bonnies’ season ended less than three hours before they were scheduled to tip off against George Mason in an Atlantic 10 Conference second-round game Thursday in Brooklyn.
The Bonnies were about to leave their hotel in Brooklyn to the Barclays Center, when Bona athletic director Tim Kenney called Schmidt and informed him of the A-10 cancellation. A few hours later, the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
“I had an inkling when the NBA announced they canceled their season (Wednesday) and then the Power 5 conferences started canceling their tournaments,” Schmidt said. “I had an idea it may not go on.
“But when you get that call, your first reaction is, ‘Oh my God.’ You feel bad for your players. At the time, the whole coronavirus situation … people weren’t looking at this as a deadly issue. But when this happened, at first, you’re thinking about the players, who aren’t playing the games. They live for the NCAA Tournament, and that’s the dream.”
The Bonnies ended the season 19-12 and in fifth in the conference with a record of 11-7, and were set to lose only one senior to graduation, center Amadi Ikpeze (Amherst High).
The only likely way the Bonnies could have secured a bid to the NCAA Tournament, though, was by winning the Atlantic 10 tournament and earning the league’s automatic bid. It would have been an ambitious task, given that Dayton – ranked No. 3 in the nation in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll – was the heavy favorite. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Dayton and Richmond as the two Atlantic 10 teams to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, in a mock bracket released Thursday.
The NCAA Tournament was scheduled to begin Tuesday with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.
Bona beat UCLA in a First Four game in Dayton two years ago.
“For them not to have the chance to go to the tournament, it was really disappointing,” Schmidt said of his players. “The team was shocked, but you explain to them that this is more than just basketball. This is life and death. Then, you realize, you have to do what’s best for the health of the country. Listen to the experts. We may be experts in basketball, but we are not when it comes to health. You have to listen to those experts. We have to listen.”
St. Bonaventure’s Allegany campus is located in Cattaraugus County, which declared a state of emergency Sunday. Even though there have not been any positive cases reported in Cattaraugus County, the declaration came in response to concerns regarding the spread of the virus. On Sunday, two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Allegany County. On Tuesday, Wyoming County's first case was confirmed. Both Allegany and Wyoming counties border Cattaraugus County.
On Friday, the university announced that classes have been moved online through March 27, and that students can either remain on campus or return home. Schmidt said most of St. Bonaventure’s players have opted to stay on campus and complete their coursework online.
University President Dennis R. DePerro said in a news release that "our hope" is to resume classes on March 30, but noted that administrators would continue to monitor the situation.
Less than a week after the Atlantic 10 ended its tournament, Schmidt said he hasn’t really considered how to prepare for next season, or taken the time to look back on this past season. His focus during a pandemic is on the welfare of Bona’s players.
“We have to concern ourselves with the players here,” Schmidt said. “Academically. Health-wise. Get them washing their hands. Your concern is about keeping those guys healthy because in a way, they’ve become our family.”