BREAKING: NCAA cancels March Madness

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Photo by Jordan Johnson

Markus Howard (0) high-fives fans after his final game at Fiserv Forum Feb. 29.

NEW YORK CITY — The National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled both Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, along with remaining winter and spring championships, due to the threat of coronavirus Thursday afternoon.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the statement said.

Since its establishment in 1939, this is the first time the men’s NCAA Tournament won’t be held. The women’s NCAA Tournament has been played for every year since 1982.

“This is so historical. Like I said, you like to be prepared for everything,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright told John Clark, an NBC Sports Philadelphia sports reporter, after finding out the NCAA decided to cancel the NCAA Tournament. “We’re just going to have to go let the guys know. It’s sad for them. … This is a big issue in our country and it’s serious and I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Many of the basketball coaches around the BIG EAST realize the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we are all disappointed by the cancellation of so many great athletic contests over the last 24 hours, we understand the magnitude of the health crisis that is affected the entire world,” Providence’s Ed Cooley said in a statement via Twitter Thursday.

However, the ones who took to social media reminded people that this is especially devastating for the seniors, who will not have another chance to suit up for an NCAA Tournament or to represent their universities in general.

“I’m extremely proud of how #Team122 represented Butler. We understand Covid_19 is a health crisis & bigger than sports. We are especially heartbroken for our 4 seniors who cherished every opportunity this year. This group fought w/their heart & soul for each other!#ThankYou,” Butler’s LaVall Jordan tweeted Thursday night.

This means Markus Howard, Sacar Anim, Jayce Johnson, Isabelle Spingola and Altia Anderson have all played their final games in a Marquette uniform.

Howard returned to Marquette for his last season for “Unfinished Business”, despite his chances of being drafted for the NBA. The 2019 BIG EAST Player of the Year broke tons of records throughout the season including: passing Lawrence Moten to become the BIG EAST’s all-time leading scorer, becoming the top brother-scoring duo in NCAA history with his older brother Jordan, reaching at least 2,500 career points, becoming Marquette’s all-time leading scorer, being the all-time leader in conference history with 13 career weekly honors and ranked first in the nation among active NCAA players with 2,731 points.

The nation’s leading scorer ranked top-five in 10 career categories including free-throws made and 3-pointers. The Chandler, Arizona native is the third player to record a 50-point game in three straight seasons and the fourth player in major conference history with 40 points on consecutive days after scoring a combined 91 points in the Orlando Invitational against Davidson and USC in November. The 5-foot-11 guard owns three of the five 50-point games from active NCAA players and was a unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team selection and set a conference season-long record of 28.7 points per game in league play and owns 68 career games with 20 points or more, 33 with 30 or more, and seven with 40 or more.

Anim returned for his fifth and final season for the Golden Eagles and he ranked 15th on the BIG EAST’s scoring list this year averaging 13.1 points per game. That is a jump from his previous season’s 8.3 points per game. His 39% ranked ninth in the conference’s 3-point shooting list, which improved from last season. The 6-foot-5 guard also contributed 43 assists, 41 steals and eight blocks. Anim was one of two players to start every game for MU.

Johnson was a graduate transfer from the University of Utah and made his debut at Wisconsin Nov. 17 after battling a knee injury, which occurred the day before the team’s exhibition game against St. Norbert Oct. 29. The Mission Viejo, California native became the most prominent big man off the bench following Ed Morrow’s departure from the team Jan. 15.  In the last four games, he reached double figures in rebounds and averaged 11 boards per game during that span. In four consecutive games, Johnson is the first Marquette player to collect double-digit rebound totals since Henry Ellenson did it twice during the 2015-16 season. The seven-foot center shot 63% and averaged 5.7 rebounds per game, as well as recording 15 blocks.

Spingola was one of two players to start in every single game this season. She led the team in 3-pointers with 75 made threes and shooting 39% from beyond the arc. The senior guard ranked second on the team with shooting 82% from the free-throw line. The Chicago native doubled her point and rebound averages with 10.5 points and 5.3 boards per game, as well as totaling 72 assists, 16 steals and six blocks. The six-foot guard is a three-time BIG EAST Tournament runner up and 2017 champion.

Anderson had arguably her best season in 2019-20 as she tripled her rebounding average from last season. As a junior she averaged 2.1 boards per game and as a senior ranked 12th in the BIG EAST with 6.5 rebounds per game. She was also tied for fourth in the BIG EAST with 1.5 blocks per game. The Bridgeville, Delaware native scored 80 points in her first three seasons and ended her senior year with 239 total points.

A total of 29 winter and spring sports were canceled, including basketball, lacrosse, tennis, and track and field.

The announcement comes after multiple conferences, along with the BIG EAST, canceled their respective tournaments and professional seasons were also postponed indefinitely.

CBS Sports and Turner Sports released a joint statement on the cancellations.

“We are fully supportive of the NCAA’s decision to cancel this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. We will continue to work closely with the NCAA and all of our partners as we prioritize the health and well-being of everyone involved,” the statement said.

The Associated Press released an in-depth article Friday about the decision to cancel the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA’s Vice President of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt told AP that they had considered other models, including a 16-team bracket.

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA released another statement that announced in-person recruiting is also banned, but that telephone calls and written correspondence are allowed.

“The (Council leadership) advised schools to suspend official and unofficial visits to campus from prospective student-athletes. This recruiting dead period will be in place until at least. April 15, at which time the Division I Council Coordination Committee will evaluate,” the statement said.

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford.