ALBANY, N.Y. – Teams chasing a college basketball title are contending with an unexpected wrinkle that’s making last-minute travel plans difficult — a fierce storm bearing down on the Northeast that’s expected to dump up to two feet of snow in some places and create blizzard-like conditions.
Villanova, the top overall seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament, left Philadelphia Monday afternoon for Buffalo, New York, to get ahead of a storm that’s projected to last three days. The defending champion Wildcats, who play on Thursday, had an abbreviated press availability with coach Jay Wright, but no player interviews were granted as the team rushed to its flight.
“I’m not really looking forward to leaving right away. But it hits you with reality, you’re in it,” Wright said. “We’re going to be in Buffalo tonight and we’re playing and it’s on.”
On the women’s side, top team UConn was expected to find out Monday night which three teams would be expected to travel to Connecticut for tournament games later this week.
U.S. airlines canceled thousands of flights for Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of the storm.
Nobody was facing a more difficult week than Princeton, a school new to the scramble.
The Tigers beat Yale on Sunday for the title in the first Ivy League Tournament, where in previous years they would have clinched earlier by being unbeaten in the regular season.
The victory allowed for a brief celebration and not much more for Chris Mongilia, director of basketball operations for the Tigers.
“I kind of enjoyed it for a minute, and then my phone started ringing and emails started firing out, trying to figure out when we were going,” Mongilia said Monday. “We found out our flight time this morning. We’ve been booking buses and hotels. It’s been putting a lot of pressure on us to get everything done and organized. But yeah, it’s been crazy.”
Crazier still, the school is factoring in midterms for several players this week, squeezing them in before the team plays Notre Dame on Thursday in Buffalo. The team was scheduled to leave Tuesday.
“A lot of our guys are going to have to take exams proctored by a professor who is going to have to travel with us,” Mongilia said. “They are going to have to take them in a conference room up at the hotel in Buffalo. The storm has definitely put a few bumps in our travel plans.”
Providence was leaving Monday evening for Dayton, Ohio, for its Wednesday night matchup against Southern California in the First Four, and the Friars had no worries about cancellations because it takes charter flights for away games and can avoid the local airport, athletic director Bob Driscoll said.
“It’s good we’re getting out tonight because the snowstorm is coming tomorrow. It’ll be a different story,” Driscoll said. “People are excited to be in, so we’re locked and loaded and ready to leave. We’ve been working on it all night and all morning.”
The winter storm had already begun strafing the Midwest and was projected to begin sweeping through the New York region Monday night. Forecasters said it could dump up to two feet of snow across parts of New York and New Jersey. The National Weather Service issued blizzard watches for New York City and nearby areas, including Connecticut. The storm is expected to last into Wednesday in western New York with as much as 18 inches of snow.
For the NIT, Ole Miss was taking a charter flight on Monday for its Tuesday game at Monmouth in New Jersey. School officials said the storm pushed the travel timeline up a few hours.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was delayed getting on the Big 12 coaches weekly media call Monday because he was in a meeting with school officials to discuss the Mountaineers’ travel plans to Buffalo.
“Yeah, we are concerned,” Huggins said.
The school later announced it would take a bus more than 280 miles north to Buffalo on Monday night rather than leaving on Tuesday. West Virginia plays Thursday afternoon against Bucknell.
Virginia Tech also opted to leave after classes Monday, a day earlier than normal. The Hokies were to take a bus to Roanoke and fly to Buffalo before their game Thursday night against Wisconsin.
Airport officials in Buffalo said they would be able to handle the conditions.
“We’re always ready to do our best,” said Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which oversees the Buffalo-Niagara Airport. “We have a history of being prepared and keeping those runways open and safe.”
Syracuse also is in the storm’s path, predicted to receive more than one foot of snow, but the Orange aren’t going anywhere. Syracuse hosts UNC-Greensboro in a first-round game in the NIT on Tuesday night. The visit from the Spartans comes after Orange coach Jim Boeheim said there was “no value” in the Atlantic Coast Conference holding its postseason tournament in Greensboro.