For the first time since 1995, Duke’s basketball season will end without participating in the NCAA Tournament.
Selection Sunday finalized what was already expected after the Blue Devils (13-11, 9-9 ACC) bowed out of the ACC Tournament Thursday hours before a quarterfinal game against Florida State due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program.
Duke’s first positive test all season came at the worst possible time, ending any chance of extending a run of 24 straight NCAA Tournament appearances — the third longest streak in men’s college basketball.
“This season was a challenge for every team across the country and as we have seen over and over,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This global pandemic is very cruel and is not yet over. As many safeguards as we implemented, no one is immune to this terrible virus.”
It’s unlikely that the Blue Devils will accept any other invitation from another postseason tournament. In a statement from Kevin White, Duke athletic director, he said Thursday that the positive test “will end our 2020-21 season.”
Duke was not the only ACC team to test positive during the league tournament in Greensboro this week. Top seed Virginia was forced to cancel its semifinal game against Georgia Tech, although the repercussions were not as steep for the Cavaliers, who are still considered the defending NCAA Tournament champions after last year’s tournament was cancelled amid the pandemic.
They earned a No. 4 seed in March Madness and will open the tournament against No. 13 Ohio.
Georgia Tech went on to win the ACC Tournament after receiving two byes, defeating No. 13 seed Miami in the quarterfinals and moving on to the finals against Florida State after the semifinal game against Virginia was cancelled.
The Blue Devils likely needed to win five games in five days at the ACC Tournament to steal an automatic bid and secure a NCAA Tournament berth. They had looked strong in opening round wins over Boston College and Louisville before the positive test.
Although the basketball program had used stringent standards in terms of its COVID policies throughout the season — the team has been sequestered at the Washington Duke Inn since Aug. 1, no fans were allowed at Cameron Indoor, and they even avoiding staying in Greensboro during the ACC Tournament — the Duke campus has experienced a surge of positive COVID-19 cases in the past week.
An email sent to students Wednesday confirmed that 102 undergraduates had tested positive for COVID-19 with the majority of the students having a “known Greek affiliation and/or first-year male students in the class of 2024.”
The school has condemned in-person events hosted by Greek life, but COVID-19 cases have risen and begun to cause issues in the school’s athletic department.
Duke’s football team, which also stays at the Washington Duke Inn, was forced to pause spring practice due to positive tests within the program.
“I’m heartbroken for our student-athletes, coaches and support staff at both Duke and Virginia,” new ACC commissioner Jim Philips said in a statement Friday. “Our teams have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed so much throughout this season.”
Duke basketball players expressed their anguish on social media, mostly with crying and broken heart emojis. It’s the second straight year that Duke’s season has been ended by COVID-19 and not an opponent.
Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt, voted the ACC’s most improved player and was the ACC’s leading scorer, tweeted “Worked so hard for this.”
Hurt became the first Duke player since 1983 to play two seasons in Durham without making a NCAA Tournament appearance. Whether he returns next year or makes the NBA jump is up to him.
“While our season was different than any other that I can remember, I loved the 2020-21 Duke Basketball team and was honored to be their coach,” Coach K said in a statement. “We have not asked more of any team in our history, and they deserve enormous credit for handling everything like the outstanding young men they are.”