A year after canceling the 2020 tournament due to COVID-19, March Madness is back.
The 2021 NCAA Tournament kicks-off on Thursday with the First Four taking the court in Indiana.
But unlike other years, this tournament will be like none we have ever seen before.
Rather than be dispersed around the country and playing in stadiums filled to the rafters, this season 68 teams will all convene around Indianapolis with limited fan attendance.
One of those 68 teams making the trip to Indy is the 2021 Pac-12 regular-season champions, the Oregon Ducks.
This week on Talkin' Ducks, coach Dana Altman joined Jordan Kent to talk about the unique experience awaiting Oregon.
"Usually this is such a celebration," said Altman. "The families are here. We got a team hotel. The fans are all there. We're going out to eat at nice restaurants. The guys are really enjoying the process."
That's not to say they aren't enjoying the process this time around. The Ducks are still one of a select few teams with a chance to play in the prestigious tournament, so the trip is certainly worth it. But the circumstances the team has to deal with in order to safely play make the experience a shell of what it may have been in previous years.
There are no pep rallies, pep bands, throngs of fans, and no using your downtime to explore the city or hang out with players from other teams. Nope. It's just business trips from the hotel to the court and back again.
To be fair, the entire year has been like this for Oregon. From COVID tests to social distancing and self-isolation, the Ducks have done everything in their power this season to safely compete.
Said Altman, "This year has been different. Nothing on Campus... couldn't go out to eat. No movies. No parties on campus. No dates. No nothing. Very different year for the guys. I'm very proud of the way they fought through it. They stayed together. Basketball was kinda their outlet."
Basketball has only been an outlet for the players, but fans as well. The ability to watch Oregon take the court has offered a reprieve from the news cycle, the bombardment of COVID-related news, and a chance to just lose themselves in sports for a few hours every week.
It's that outlet that coach Altman is focused on. While winning a championship would be amazing, the Ducks head coach is putting all the focus on making sure the team doesn't worry so much about the game that they forget to take the experience in. "Don't worry about things," Altman told his team. "Whatever it is, it is. We're on vacation with our family, we're having a good time. Whatever happens, happens. Don't sweat anything."
It's that mentality that helped get Oregon to the dance, and it's that mentality that will keep them on the dance floor.
The No.7 Ducks start their journey on Saturday against No.10 VCU. Tipoff is set for 6:57 PM on TNT.