The Southeastern Conference is taking its men's basketball tournament to Nashville this week for a fifth time in six years and for an 11th time overall.
This one will be very different from the 10 that came before.
Nashville is a city both in rebuild and on heightened alert due to the recent tornadoes and rising concerns about the coronavirus. Last Tuesday morning's tornadoes killed 25 and destroyed roughly 50 Nashville structures while also leveling countless homes east of the city and knocking out power for nearly 50,000 people.
LSU third-year coach Will Wade, who guided the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, grew up in Tennessee's capital city and graduated from Franklin Road Academy before attending Clemson. His father is an insurance agent in Nashville.
"We were very fortunate, because most of my family lives over on the west side of town towards Bellevue and out towards that area," Wade said Monday. "None of my relatives were directly impacted by the tornado, but it was certainly awful. When I was in high school in the late (19)90s, there was another one that hit that same area in East Nashville, because I remember going over with my church to help clean up and do some work.
"I know the area well, and I'm just thinking of everybody. I know how Tennessee is, and it's called the Volunteer State for a reason. Everybody will come together and build it back."
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said this past weekend during the women's tournament in Greenville, South Carolina, that the league plans to recognize Nashville and its victims this week but did not offer specifics. The National Weather Service reported that the EF-3 tornado that touched down in Nashville spanned nearly 50 miles.
The SEC men's tournament is scheduled to start Wednesday night with a matchup between 12th-seeded Ole Miss and 13th-seeded Georgia followed by a game between 11th-seeded Arkansas and 14th-seeded Vanderbilt. Tennessee is seeded eighth in this year's field and will begin play Thursday afternoon against ninth-seeded Alabama, and Kentucky, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State are the top four seeds and earned byes into Friday's quarterfinal round.
As Nashville continues to pick up the pieces from last week's disaster, the city is also keeping tabs on the COVID-19 coronavirus. As of Monday, three Nashville-area cases had been reported.
The coronavirus has resulted in the cancellation of multiple sporting events that often go unnoticed on the national landscape, but that changed Sunday with the scratching of the Indian Wells tennis tournament in Palm Springs, California. The Indian Wells tournament won't be confused for Wimbledon any time soon, but it is an event that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have won five times apiece.
"I think the coronavirus is a big concern for all of us in this country," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. "Over a month ago, I elected to cancel our foreign tour this summer, when we were supposed to go to Spain. I'm just hopeful that things get under control with these testing procedures. How can South Korea be giving 15,000 tests a day and the United States of America is only giving 1,500 thus far?
"For the richest country in the world not to be prepared - I know this doesn't have a lot to do with the tournament, but it's a valid concern for all of us."
Howland was the most outspoken coach about the coronavirus Monday during an SEC teleconference, with Wade and Florida's Mike White admitting they haven't monitored it or don't know enough about it.
League officials sent out a statement last Tuesday before the women's tournament regarding coronavirus awareness and did so again Monday.
"The SEC continues to monitor developments associated with the coronavirus and has not modified the schedule of events related to our men's basketball tournament in Nashville," the statement read. "At this time, our focus and expectation is to play the tournament as scheduled. Local authorities have confirmed this approach is consistent with current public health recommendations.
'We remain alert to any circumstances that could warrant adjustments for the health and well-being of our student-athletes, fans and other participants. We are in continued communication with public health officials and remind everyone to be attentive to everyday preventive actions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov)."
Vanderbilt announced Monday night that classes have been canceled for the rest of the week due to coronavirus concerns.
Odds and ends
Georgia senior guard Tyree Crump will not play in the SEC tournament after being diagnosed last Thursday with mononucleosis. ... Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday that all should be fine with Ashton Hagans, who took some personal time last weekend, but he doesn't know whether the sophomore guard will start Friday afternoon against the Tennessee-Alabama winner. ... Florida senior forward Kerry Blackshear suffered a sprained left wrist late in the first half against Kentucky on Saturday and is questionable for Thursday's contest between the Georgia-Ole Miss winner. ... Arkansas coach Eric Musselman on opening Wednesday night against Vandy: "I don't think there is any question that this is somewhat of a road game."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.