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Gonzaga Basketball

Safety first: The restrictions in Indianapolis ‘Bubbleville’ have been very stringent for Gonzaga

Security keeps fans away as the Zags board buses at Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse after defeating Oklahoma on Monday in Indianapolis.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

INDIANAPOLIS – If anyone in downtown Indianapolis drove down Washington Street on Thursday and wasn’t familiar with the host city’s unusual NCAA Tournament “Bubbleville,” they might assume something nefarious had transpired at the Courtyard by Marriott.

Five police vehicles were in front of the hotel, each flashing its lights at different points of the sizable structure.

There were several guards, dozens of cones and very little in-and-out activity coming from the main entrance.

Civilians who sauntered near the cones were – some kindly, some not-so-kindly – told to get back or walk around.

But all was well at the NCAA-themed hotel with its March Madness signage. No crime had been committed.

Multiple Sweet 16 teams were staying in neighboring Marriott hotels on separate floors, including top-ranked Gonzaga (28-0), which faces No. 5 seed Creighton (22-8) on Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

These were just some of the lengths the NCAA, schools and the city have done to ensure a true, sealed-from-the-world bubble to keep teams and players away from even a single COVID-19 particle and a potential infection spike that could derail the entire tournament.

Eastern Washington, which fell 93-84 to national power Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, also experienced the stringent restrictions.

When Virginia Commonwealth had to forfeit its first-round tournament game against Oregon last week after a player tested positive within the bubble – potentially costing the Richmond, Virginia, school millions in future revenue – it put the entire tournament on notice.

With the way Gonzaga has dismantled its opposition this season, the Bulldogs are expected by many pundits to secure the school’s first national title when the tournament concludes at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5.A positive coronavirus test could be the only thing to stop them.

They’re not about to let that happen, and it shows.

Outside of basketball-related activities and a strictly guarded recess of sorts, during which players can go outside in the open for a couple hours, teams are stuck inside their hotels.

Everything is regimented. Everything is wiped down.

It’s not ideal for Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, but he appreciates the opportunity even to be part of an NCAA Tournament considering the 2020 coronavirus-related cancellation.

“Last year we didn’t get a tournament, so we’re taking all the precautions and safety protocols seriously, but we still play a lot of Xbox,” Timme said. “That’s one way we can all hang out and interact with each other while distancing, and it’s something we like to do.

“The great thing about March is it seems like there’s a game at every hour of the day, so we’ve got our hands full with all that. It’s not ideal, but we’re grateful we’re here, and we are excited that we get to stay another week”

Teams have outside volunteers pick up their food. They’re ushered to gyms with superstar-like security from their respective charter buses to the locker rooms and back to the hotels.

Nobody – parents, the staunchest of fans or media – can get even remotely close to players in even their brief time between venues and the bus.

If someone tries , security is paid to act. Several fans at games have been loudly reprimanded for being too close to the team buses and hotels.

Players, coaches and team personnel have been required to wear track-like wristbands, to monitor how close they are to each other, for social distancing purposes.

They blink green when walking within 6 feet of someone else and red when the device deems them much too close.

Teams have also been issued different colors of lanyards in their respective hotels that house multiple teams – one for each floor – each lanyard conveying a different protocol tier.

Eastern Washington shared a hotel with Florida State, USC and Drexel, but the teams were not allowed to interact with each other, players said.

As soon as players arrived in Indianapolis, they were required to stay indoors for 30 hours and in their own separate bedrooms.

The Eagles rarely saw the light of the day in their seven-day stay in Indianapolis.

“It was really serious,” EWU forward Tanner Groves said. “Our walk to the hotel, to the practice court, there was security at every checkpoint. It was pretty crazy. All these cop cars, police cars. None of us had ever experienced anything like that.”

While EWU associate head coach David Riley – promoted to head coach on Thursday – was disappointed to experience a first-round exit, there was somewhat of a feeling of relief when he returned to Spokane.

“I could go outside again and do things, be around my wife,” Riley said.