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With Kansas out for COVID-19, Texas advances to Big 12 Tournament championship game

COVID-19 has knocked Kansas, Duke and Virginia out of their conference tournaments, and it’s hard not to wonder who will test positive next.

Cross your fingers as you lean your head back, Texas.

The 13th-ranked Longhorns automatically advanced to Saturday’s Big 12 Tournament championship game when it was learned Friday that the Jayhawks had a positive test in Kansas City, Mo.

Texas (18-7) will face No. 12 Oklahoma State for the tournament title at 5 p.m. Saturday at T-Mobile Center. Oklahoma State knocked off second-ranked Baylor 83-74 in overtime in Friday's other semifinal.

Kansas and Big 12 officials announced midday Friday that coach Bill Self’s team was pulling out of the event after “a positive test, subsequent quarantining and contact tracing” within the program.

Kansas had already announced that starter David McCormack would not participate in the Big 12 Tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. The 11th-ranked Jayhawks had a relatively clean regular season, as far as COVID-19 was concerned, and were one of only four teams to play all 18 conference games.

“Obviously we are disappointed, and our players are disappointed that they can’t continue to compete for the Big 12 championship,” Self said in a statement. “While we have been fortunate to avoid this throughout the season, there are daily risks with this virus that everybody participating is trying to avoid. 

“We have followed the daily testing and additional protocols that have been set up for us, unfortunately we caught a bad break at the wrong time,” Self added. “I look forward to preparing my team in probably a unique way for next week’s NCAA Tournament.”

However it happened, the Longhorns are advancing to the final game for the first time since 2011. Friday was supposed to be UT’s first appearance in the semifinals since 2014. 

The Horns went through their daily round of testing, then went to their scheduled shootaround time, a team spokesman said. But instead of facing Kansas, Texas got the night off.

This entire postseason will be unpredictable. The NCAA has outlined a series of COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming tournament in the Indianapolis area. 

Teams are required to have seven consecutive days of negative tests before men’s team play begins in Indianapolis and the women head to San Antonio. Everyone in the team’s 34-person travel party must adhere to that seven-day requirement.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji shoots over Oklahoma defenders during Thursday's Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal win. The Jayhawks had to pull out of the tournament Friday, however, because of COVID-19 protocols.

Questions have been raised about what days Kansas or Virginia will play in the NCAAs and whether those teams can meet the seven-day guideline. Duke was on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, and school officials announced their season would be over.

While in the NCAA Tournament bubble, players must wear a SafeTag device that assists in contact tracing. 

The NCAA has plans in place to replace teams that must pull out because of COVID-19 protocols. Essentially, there’s a ranked list of teams on a waitlist to see if anyone gets knocked out. But once the tournament begins, no replacement teams can be inserted into the bracket.

If a team cannot play in the NCAAs because of COVID-19, the game is ruled a no-contest and the opposing team automatically advances.

Some coaches believe that having COVID-19 early in the season might actually help them now. Take the Longhorns, for example. The virus derailed the Horns in January and early February, but now the team is back to full strength — presumably full of antibodies, too.

The Horns certainly looked good winning the final three road games of the regular season. Texas had to battle all 40 minutes Thursday against Texas Tech to win in the Big 12 quarterfinals. 

Texas split the regular-season series with Oklahoma State. The Horns won 77-74 in Austin on Dec. 20. But the Cowboys won 75-67 in double overtime in Stillwater on a day when the Horns were 5-for-35 from 3-point range. 

No Texas-based school has ever won the Big 12 tournament, long an event dominated by Kansas

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.