Auburn empty arena

Last year's Auburn men's basketball team practices in an empty Bridgestone Arena last spring before the group's run in the 2019 SEC Tournament. Today the 2020 SEC Tournament is set to continue with limited attendance as college basketball adjusts to elevating concerns over the spreading COVID-19 coronavirus. (Justin Lee/jlee@oanow.com)

The Auburn men’s basketball team is preparing to play in empty arenas at the SEC Tournament and through the rest of this postseason after the NCAA announced Wednesday that its championship tournament will be played behind closed doors without fans amid escalating concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The NCAA’s announcement sent shockwaves through the sports world.

It surely sent shock through Auburn’s team, too, which was traveling from Auburn to Nashville on Wednesday afternoon when the news broke.

The SEC announced later Wednesday that its tournament games would be closed-door, too, starting today.

The NBA has suspended its season entirely. The stunning escalation of measures sends Auburn and teams across the country into uncertainty — and into an unprecedented position.

As of early Thursday morning, though, teams are scheduled to play in a quiet Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville later while Auburn awaits its turn to come on Friday.

Auburn met with the media on Wednesday before those decisions were announced. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl only said then that he’d support decisions made by NCAA and conference leaders.

But other coaches from across the country could offer some insight as to what Pearl and his Tigers may be facing as they try to adjust.

The MAC’s women’s basketball tournament marched on Wednesday without fans in Ohio. Eastern Michigan beat Ball State 64-63, with Eastern Michigan head coach Fred Castro saying his team created energy for itself in the game.

“We talked to the team before the game about how we had to create energy in this gym and we could make this a home game for us if we approached it the right way,” Castro said, quoted by the school’s website. “There may not have been a lot of people, but I heard Eastern Michigan and I think a lot of them were the 10 people on our bench really screaming.

“I lost count of how many times the referees had to tell us to sit down and be quiet, and as a head coach, that’s beautiful.”

Closer to Pearl, his contemporary in men’s basketball in the SEC, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, spoke with the media on Wednesday in Nashville. His team is set to tip off in the SEC Tournament on Thursday. He said safety and welfare of those involved was the top priority before offering his own insight.

“I run practice every single day and I have a game plan going into games,” Martin said according to the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., comparing his game-planning to the planning of tournament and school officials. “When the game starts, sometimes the guy that you’re running plays for rolls his ankle or he gets in foul trouble. Plays you thought were going to work don’t work, and you’ve got to adjust and make decisions that that impact that game. And it’s fluid. This is very similar.”

Meanwhile, Kansas head coach Bill Self shared what he told his team, in video from KCTV5 in Kansas City:

“I told our guys, ‘Why did we all start loving this game?’ And, ‘Why did we start playing it?’” Self said. “Did we do it because we wanted other people to watch us, or did we do it because we actually loved it?

“We need to get back to our roots, our child roots — in which you got turned up to play if you were playing shirts and skins in the park.”

For now, Auburn still has its chance to play for a championship as concerns ramp up.

If they get the chance, Tigers will surely try to take advantage of it.

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