INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA men’s basketball tournament “bubble” in Indianapolis is a restrictive place.
Teams aren’t allowed much time outside their hotel rooms except for practice, team meetings and the games themselves.
Oregon State arrived in Indianapolis last Sunday, a day after winning the Pac-12 tournament title in Las Vegas.
Twice the Beavers have taken advantage of their opportunity to get out and spend an hour across the street from their hotel at Victory Hotel at a minor league baseball park. There they’ve been able to stretch their legs, throw a football or kick a soccer ball around.
“It was nice seeing them being kids. They’ve been through so much and they’re so deserving, and I’m talking everybody in this deal,” OSU coach Wayne Tinkle, a former Montana Grizzly player and coach, said when meeting with the media Saturday afternoon before continuing preparations for Sunday night’s second-round game with Oklahoma State at Hinkle Fieldhouse. “It’s fun to let them get out, see them have some fun and be kids again.”
OSU had a third opportunity but decided to stay inside due to poor weather.
COVID-19 restrictions limited the amount of time the Beavers could spend together last offseason and in the months leading up to the start of practice last October.
That was valuable time lost for an Oregon State team bringing in five new players, four of whom have ended up in the team’s regular rotation. Chemistry and cohesion was stunted both on and off the court.
The Beavers (18-12) started the season 2-3 and were 5-5 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play after a home loss to Arizona, which followed a one-week pause due to COVID-19 in the program. OSU also dealt with numerous injuries before opening its schedule.
Oregon State answered a second three-game losing streak later in the season by going 4-2 to close the regular season, setting up a postseason run that’s seen the Beavers win four straight.
“I think it’s been a very difficult thing all year, not just for us but for any team, just getting that off-the-court type of bonding,” OSU senior guard Zach Reichle said. “I would say in the last couple weeks to last month is where we really came together and got to know each other and started meshing well.”
Added Tinkle: “It’s a big reward to our guys to be in the position we’re in for having stayed together through all that.”
It’s a busy time for the Reichle family.
Zach and his brother Gabe, a freshman walk-on with the University of Oregon, are both in Indianapolis with their respective teams.
In addition, little brother Jake is a junior running back and defensive back on the Lakeridge High football team in Lake Oswego.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot going on, and this is something Gabe and I have dreamed of since we were little kids,” Zach Reichle said. “We’re just soaking it all in and trying to keep it business right now. Each day is a business day, but I think it will all soak in once it’s said and done, whenever that is. Hopefully not for another couple weeks. It’s a real cool deal what we’ve got going on.”
Zach Reichle said he and Gabe usually talk at the end of each day to check in with one another.
Oregon’s first-round game with Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday was canceled due to COVID issues in the VCU program and Oregon advanced in the bracket.
Zach Reichle, who was interviewed before the cancellation announcement, said because the Oregon-VCU game wasn’t to start until about 10 p.m. local time, he expected to be sleeping while the Ducks were playing.
A popular man
Not surprisingly, Tinkle heard from many people after his team’s run through Vegas and again following Friday’s first-round win against Tennessee.
Those back home in Corvallis, some of his former Oregon State players and others have reached out to offer their congratulations. Tinkle says he’s happy for his current players, their families and those previously connected to the program.
“It’s been incredible. I wish I could respond to everybody. I apologize,” he said. “It’s great because a lot of them say ‘don’t get back to me. I know you’re busy.’ Just the outpouring of support. It’s been really neat to hear from the ones that have been there from day one and haven’t wavered.”
Tinkle said his players are riding the postseason wave in a positive way.
The coach said they didn’t get overly excited after Friday’s victory but that it probably changed once they got back to their hotel rooms and hopped on social media, a habit they are discouraged from doing.
Tinkle said he isn’t sure how far this ride will take the team but he’s pleased so far with the players’ perspective and discipline on the journey.
“When we came to practice (Saturday) you didn’t see any inflated egos, you didn’t see anybody lose their focus because we’ve got all the answers now,” he said. “This is a very focused and confident group right now.”