Story by Brandon Bonaparte
If you Google what words in the past year have been used more than ever before, the word “bubble” will probably be near the top. In March, “bubble” teams are a popular term used to describe teams who are on the cusp of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2021, a “bubble” can be defined as an isolation zone in a certain area meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both the NBA and NHL did it last fall, but not without speed bumps along the way.
The bubble is now making an appearance again, this time for the NCAA Tournaments. On the men’s side, 68 teams currently reside in Indianapolis – all with the goal of staying there as long as possible.
“There was an extra precaution in quarantining, so we had to quarantine again,” said GCU senior center Asbjorn Midtgaard. “We had to stay in our rooms for a certain amount of time before we could even go out and eat together in the team room.”
Players from numerous teams have voiced their complaints on the NCAA bubble conditions, citing problems with food and bad internet. Even the GCU press conference Wednesday afternoon temporarily froze due to poor Wi-Fi.
Some players in the bubble have gone public with their opinions. West Virginia’s Jordan McCabe expressed his thoughts on TikTok, the popular video-sharing social media platform. The video generated over 60,000 likes and 888 shares (and counting).
All around the bubble, players are displeased about the amenities offered inside. However, disregarding the spotty Wi-Fi and disappointing food, one coach views the bubble with a positive spin.
“Usually, when you’re at home, and you go back to campus, and you practice at home,” said GCU head coach Bryce Drew. “For a school that’s going for the first time, there’s so many distractions, which are good distractions, because it’s an exciting time. So actually being here in Indy, and being in the bubble, it actually allows you to be a little bit more focused because we’re not allowed to leave. You can’t go out and see family, friends. It really keeps you together.”
Of course, the bubble isn’t flawless in Drew’s mind.
“The downside of that is you’re together a lot, and you don’t really get to go outside very much,” he said.
The bubble experience also made for a unique experience during a joyous time after GCU won the WAC Tournament.
“We just came off a win and it was like okay, now we got to quarantine, sitting here by ourselves,” Midtgaard said.
While life without distractions may be a benefit in Drew’s mind, being alone for an extended time before playing the biggest game of your life may cause a strain on the mind. Teams are only allowed an hour a day on the court, making film study and team focus a crucial part of preparation.
— Grand Canyon Men's Basketball (@GCU_MBB) March 17, 2021
“Last night, we played a team game in our team room,” Drew said. “Tonight we’ll do film. [We are] trying to keep them somewhat occupied, so they don’t just lay in their room all day.”
To help curb the loneliness, players such as GCU sophomore guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. have ways to keep themselves occupied.
“Like he said, we’re in our room,” Blacksher said. “I bought a game console with me personally to keep me occupied. But other than that, we’re just in our rooms. We have practice. we’ll come down for dinner and stuff like that. But it’s just been lonely.”
With all the obstacles players will face this week, the anticipation of taking the court may be stronger than ever before.
Whether the bubble is net positive or negative, all 68 teams in the field are stuck in the same circumstance. The Lopes hope it’s more of a positive for them, taking on the heavily favored Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.