When does top-seeded LSU play in the SEC Tournament?

The 2020 SEC tournament begins a five-day run Wednesday night in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, the home of the NHL's Nashville Predators. (SEC photo)

The Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament has been canceled due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, the league announced Thursday.

The announcement comes a day after the SEC announced that the tournament would be played without fans.

The SEC's regular-season champion, Kentucky, will be awarded the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"We understand that this decision will be disappointing to our student-athletes and coaches who have been preparing all season to compete in this event as well as viewers at home," SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. "While this was not an easy decision, the health and well-being of our entire SEC community is of paramount importance."

The LSU men's basketball team was scheduled to play in the quarterfinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Tigers finish the regular season 21-10 (12-6 SEC). A very fluid string of cancellations, including the suspension of the entire season, may mean LSU has played its final game.

For now, the future of the NCAA postseason rests on its announcement Wednesday that the upcoming Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments will take place without fans. Only "essential staff and limited family attendance" can attend the events due to concerns following the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The tournament games will still be televised, NCAA president Mark Emmert told the Associated Press, and other media will still be allowed into the arena. How much media access there will be, Emmert said, is still being determined.

The 68-team field for the men's tournament is scheduled to be announced Sunday, and games are scheduled to begin Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order earlier Wednesday that barred fans from attending the tournament's "First Four" play-in games in Dayton and the first and second rounds in Cleveland.

The 64-team women's tournament field will be revealed Monday, and the first round will be played on various campus sites on March 20 and 21.

The edict presumably includes the NCAA's signature Final Four events. The Women's Final Four is scheduled for April 3-5 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, and the Men's Final Four is scheduled for April 4 and 6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

"While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States," Emmert said in the statement. "This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes."

"We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families," he added. "Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."

Emmert's statement came moments after the NCAA's COVID-19 Advisory Panel released a statement that recommended that sporting events "take place with only essential personnel and limited family attendance."

"This protects our players, employees, and fans," the advisory panel said in a statement.

The new virus, COVID-19, is a member of the coronavirus family, which includes viruses that cause common colds and others that result in more serious illnesses, such as SARS and MERS.

The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials said they believe it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.

The SEC also said regular-season contests in all sports on the league's campuses, plus championship events, will be held without fans from March 12 through at least March 30, when the league said it will re-evaluate conditions.

The announcement comes after most of the major conferences announced similar action Wednesday, including the Big Ten, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conferences, which will all restrict games to "student-athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and Conference staff, TV network partners, credentialed media, and immediate family members of the participating teams."

The same restrictions, the Big Ten said in a statement, apply to all further winter and spring sport competitions.

In the most drastic measure, the Ivy League announced Wednesday that all spring sporting events and practices would be cancelled through the end of the academic year, and the winter teams that are still in competition would make individual decisions on whether or not they wanted to continue postseason play.

The number of positive coronavirus cases in Louisiana rose to 13 by Wednesday afternoon, and Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a public health emergency.

LSU officials said Wednesday that they are discouraging students from travel during spring break, but, since the school said there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus at LSU, "most events are still being held as planned."

"However, we are closely monitoring this situation, which is constantly changing," the school said in a statement, "and are looking at all upcoming large-scale events and will communicate any cancellations to you as soon as we know them."

The LSU athletic department will follow the SEC's conditions. No one other than "participating student-athletes, coaches, families, officials, essential personnel and credentialed media" will attend athletic events from Thursday until at least March 30.

“We put the safety and wellbeing of our students and entire LSU community first, and after consulting with other SEC presidents we decided the prudent thing to do is to have athletic contests without fans for the near term,” interim LSU president Thomas Galligan said in a statement Wednesday.

“We stand strongly with Commissioner Sankey, President Galligan and our member schools on this decision,” athletic director Scott Woodward said. “There is nothing more important than the public health and the wellbeing of our fans and student-athletes. We are prepared to do all that we can to assist in this critical effort.”

LSU began spring football on Saturday, and in the upcoming weekend, the school's baseball, beach volleyball, gymnastics, softball, tennis, and track & field programs all have events scheduled.

In gymnastics, No. 5 LSU will host Arizona State on Friday at 7:30 p.m., the final event before the SEC championship, and the conference has said it will take similar health precautions at the at the gymnastics championships in Duluth, Georgia, on March 21 as it plans on using at the men's basketball tournament.

LSU's football spring game is scheduled for April 18 at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Southern's campus.

The SEC basketball tournament is one of several tournaments involving state schools that was cancelled. The American Athletic Conference, which includes Tulane, also canceled its tournament in Fort Worth.

The Sunbelt Conference, scheduled to host the tournament semifinals and championship games Saturday and Sunday at the Smoothie King Center, announced Thursday morning it was cancelling its tournament. 

The Southland Conference, which includes Northwestern State, Nicholls State, UNO, McNeese State, and Southeastern Louisiana, also canceled its tournament. 

The SWAC tournament, scheduled for Birmingham, was cancelled on Thursday afternoon. The Southern University men and women's teams had advanced to the semifinals of the tournament and both were scheduled to play Texas Southern on Friday. 

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.