What exactly goes on in the NCAA March Madness bubble?
For much of the young Disney-viewing generation, life in a hotel was a pipe dream engendered by the childhood stars Zack and Cody. It was room service, constant shenanigans, junk food all day and friends on every corner. The March Madness bubble is not exactly like The Tipton Hotel, but it is close.
For Mark Few, head coach of the top overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, he witnessed his bubble buddies exit just as fast as they arrived.
“The bubble was like a gold rush town when we first got here, just packed with teams,” Few said at the USBWA Full Court Press conference. “There was people and coaches you knew on every corner. And now, it is a ghost town with tumbleweeds rolling through it.”
March Madness tournament is on the doorstep of profound success
The bubble atmosphere, of course, was engendered and perfected by the NBA during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic where 22 teams resided at Walt Disney World to close out 2019-2020 regular and postseasons.
Following that success, the NCAA possessed the perfect outline to pull off one of the most anticipated spring events of 2021. And now, as we roll into the Final Four matchups at the beginning of April, we are on the precipice of witnessing a masterpiece painted by the NCAA’s staff, players and coaches.
The Final Four teams are not only battling for the coveted National Championship trophy but also, just like the rest of the world, are having to combat the spread of COVID-19. Basic protocols included teams being tested on arrival with only authorized team personnel allowed with the hotel. Teams could not go out to eat, but rather, food was delivered to doorsteps and, of course, masks had to be worn at all times.
Houston Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson commends the NCAA for their proficient efforts and awareness through the challenging times.
“Anything that can be construed as a challenge is a great challenge,” Sampson said. “The NCAA has really done a great job at making sure they understand the gravity of this situation.”
Baylor Bears coach Scott Drew can only express thankfulness.
“Everyone in the tournament this year, after last year not having a tournament, appreciates it that much more,” Drew said.
From on the March Madness bubble to in the March Madness bubble.
For UCLA, the 11-seed is coming off one of the most improbable runs to the Final Four in March Madness history taking down 2-seed Alabama and 1-seed Michigan in back-to-back games. Coming into the First Four matchup with the Michigan State Spartans, UCLA was backsliding into oblivion. Four straight losses to Colorado, Oregon, USC and Oregon State plummeted the team’s bracket stock.
Once in the bubble, though, coach Mick Cronin beloved the controlled atmosphere was tailored for UCLA’s brand of ball.
“The bubble has really made our players come closer,” Cronin said. “They have nobody else to hang out with. Some of our guys that are in love and are always with their girlfriends, they can’t be. Now they have to be around our team. The guys have really come together. They have really developed a closeness that has helped us in our last two wins. We really had to do everything we could from energy and digging deep and playing for each other to get two wins against Alabama and Michigan.”
Cronin’s team has clearly exemplified resilience throughout the tournament, however through the course of the past year, Cronin himself has defined resilience. The COVID-19 pandemic has split families apart all across the globe and for Mick Cronin, he had not seen his father in person for over a year. The tournament changed that.
“It is just crazy to have not seen my father for over a year until I saw him at the Michigan State game,” Cronin said.
Hep Cronin has quickly turned into a sensation and has been spotted in the stands of every tournament game fist pumping to the beat of UCLA victories.
What does a day in the March Madness bubble look like?
Jaime Jaquez Jr., a sophomore guard/ forward for UCLA, outlined what a typical non-competition day might look like in the March Madness bubble.
9:45 a.m. Rise and Shine
10 a.m. Breakfast
3 p.m. Late lunch
4 p.m. Film, film, film
6 p.m. Dinner
7 p.m.-bed Hang with the boys and a late night snack
Gonzaga’s gratitude has grown within the March Madness bubble.
In Saturday’s semifinal matchup, Jaquez and the Bruins will be putting Gonzaga’s perfect record to the test.
Gonzaga is all business heading into the Final Four as the program seeks that elusive first National Championship, as well as the perfect season. According to redshirt senior Aaron Cook, though, the Zags are taken aback with circumstantial awareness and gratitude.
“We are just glad to be here,” Cook said. “We are celebrating every win like it is our last one. Obviously, we are going through something much bigger, but we are trying to enjoy every moment and not take anything for granted.”
Just as Cronin feels about his UCLA team, Few feels the same way about his Bulldogs.
“Being in this bubble has really drawn us even closer than before,” he said. “Our focus has really narrowed. In years past, there are distractions everywhere.”
The distractions are eliminated. The maturity is evident. The talent is immaculate. Gonzaga has celebrated each win like it was their last, however, their last win very well could arise in the last game, resulting in a National Championship banner hung in the rafters of McCarthy Athletic Center.
Don’t cry because March Madness is over, smile because it happened.
The March Madness tournament has clearly lifted the spirits of those around America, as well as abroad viewers. Last year’s cancellation was heartbreaking. But no amount of heartbreak surmounts to the number COVID-19 deaths that have occurred across the globe.
In a time of unrest, March Madness delivered much-needed minor relief. Cinderella stories like UCLA captured our hearts. The wire-to-wire run from Gonzaga had us on the edge of our seats. And the consistency from Baylor and Houston left us thankful for those constant things in life.
So, this weekend, in a time of unknowns, inconsistencies and heartbreak, as you raise a glass and take a seat to consume the Final Four games, just remember: don’t cry because March Madness is over, smile because it happened.
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