December 8, 2021

cruciforme

travel, Always a step ahead

Iowa Hawkeyes begin what they hope will be a loooong stay in Indy

So what college kid wants to spend spring break and maybe a lot longer in Indianapolis?


Ibiza, Ixtapa, Ipanema Beach? Sure. Google them and drool. But Indy?


“Hopefully this vacation is a little longer than a week,” Iowa men’s basketball player Keegan Murray said. “Hopefully it’s three weeks, four weeks till April 6th.”


Murray isn’t daydreaming about white sand, blue seas, and carefree days and nights. He and his Hawkeye teammates headed to Indianapolis Wednesday and will stay there until their season ends. Which will be sometime between the first day of the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 19 until April 6, the day after the national-championship game.


The strangest season on record is about to take the strangest turn for the 68 teams that make the NCAA tournament. The entire event will be held in Indiana, with most games in Indianapolis, but some first-week contests in Bloomington and West Lafayette.


Iowa and the 13 other Big Ten teams have reached Indianapolis even sooner, because the conference’s tournament starts there Wednesday night and will continue through Sunday afternoon. The fifth-ranked Hawkeyes, who will be the last team to play in the tourney when they tip off Friday night, aren’t leaving the Hoosier State until their NCAA tourney is through.


“I don’t think our players have ever had to pack for 28 days,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday. “It starts with that. You can imagine what our coaches and student managers are bringing. We’re bringing academic folks, and obviously our strength and conditioning coach.”


It’s not like the Hawkeyes will be knowledgeable Indianapolis tour guides a month from now. They won’t be walking to the nearest Steak ‘n Shake (27 locations in or near Indianapolis) or taking an Uber to Mug n Bun, known for their huge tenderloins.


Life in Indianapolis, McCaffery said, will be “staying sequestered with our group, not exiting the hotel, roaming around town, getting involved in contact-tracing situations that could put us in jeopardy of having a healthy team.

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“Being tested, meetings, practice, lift, academics will continue. We’ll have a room set up for the guys to do their classes online, whatever else they need. Just go game to game.”


Murray didn’t label this accurately when he called it a vacation. But the Hawkeyes want as much of it as they can get. Nine games would be optimal, three this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium, and six more after that.


“I think we have a chance to be in one place and be really focused together, and ready to stay for a long trip,” Iowa center Luka Garza said on the Stuffed with Jon Rothstein webcast this week. “We’re packing for a long trip. We’re going to work hard, we’re going to play as hard as we can, and make sure that we make the most of this opportunity.”


All 68 NCAA men’s tournament teams will be housed on dedicated hotel floors, with physically distanced meeting and dining rooms. Players will have their own rooms during the NCAA tourney. Transportation will be secure to and from the venues. The teams will practice at downtown’s Indiana Convention Center.


Each player can invite six family members to games, but they won’t be allowed to have in-person contact with the players during the tournament.


Kind of bleak, eh? Well, it sure beats last year, when the Hawkeyes traveled to Indianapolis only to be told less than three hours before they were to play Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament that the event had been canceled because of a virus that had just begun to ravage the nation. A few hours later, the 2020 national tournament and all other NCAA winter and spring championships were canceled.


So, life in a hotel bubble doesn’t look so terrible in comparison.


“I think it’s awesome,” Garza said.


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