Guerrier enjoying second crack at Sweet 16

Mar. 28—BOSTON — Quincy Guerrier can't really compare his two Sweet 16 experiences. Nothing about making that run in 2021 with Syracuse matches what he's experienced in the last week with Illinois.

How could it?

Guerrier and the Orange arrived in Indianapolis in March 2021 and went directly into quarantine. The entire tournament was going to play out in the state of Indiana — most games in the state capital with some early-round matchups in Bloomington and West Lafayette.

A bubble. The only way to get through the tournament during the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out the event completely in 2020.

Syracuse bounced from Hinkle Fieldhouse to Bankers Life Fieldhouse and back again in its three games in Indianapolis. First was a 78-62 victory against San Diego. Then a 75-72 win against West Virginia that saw Guerrier put up 12 points, seven rebounds and five blocks that helped push the Orange to the Sweet 16.

And another week in the bubble.

"It was not the best experience of my life," Guerrier said. "When I compare this one right now and the one my sophomore year, it's two different things.

"We were in our hotel. Couldn't go out. Now, I feel like I can enjoy more of the experience because we're traveling. We have more time for us. We have time to go to places."

Guerrier got to celebrate Illinois' first two NCAA tournament wins last week in Omaha, Neb., with his fiancée Kaci Wright. The two have a daughter, Natalia Rose, who was born in November. Guerrier's family is making the trip from Montreal to Boston for the Sweet 16.

"I love Boston," Guerrier said. "The first time I went to Boston was because I had a workout with the Boston Celtics when I tested the (NBA draft) waters. It's a great city. I have a few friends who live there. My family will be able to come because it's really close to Canada. I'm pretty excited about it."

Quite a bit different from his experience in Indianapolis in 2021. Every day then started with a COVID test. It's what tripped up VCU in the first round, with the Rams forfeiting to Oregon because multiple positive tests had the Marion County Public Health Department concerned about a cluster outbreak.

"You would walk in the hotel and see all the other teams coming out of COVID testing," Guerrier said. "After that, we were practicing. All the courts were in the hotel."

Media obligations were more limited that season than now. The NCAA re-opened locker room access during the tournament last season. Guerrier spent most of his availability Wednesday at TD Garden on the dais during the official press conference and a few minutes outside the locker room afterward.

It was Zoom only in 2021.

Something else that could be accomplished at the hotel the teams never left. Guerrier could spend time with his Syracuse teammates at the hotel — each team had its own space — but there was also lots of time in individual rooms watching the other tournament games. Not the ideal first NCAA tournament experience.

"It still felt like a big thing," Guerrier admitted. "Obviously, it was my first time, so I didn't know what to expect. I was hearing some of the guys saying, 'Oh, it's really not the same experience,' because some of the guys had been to the tournament before. I was happy to be in the Sweet 16."

Happy, at least, until that Sweet 16 game. A 62-46 loss to Houston that Guerrier certainly remembers.

"Like it was yesterday," he said. "They were a really good team. I just remember one time I was tying to go get a rebound and there were three red jerseys jumping over me to try and get the rebound. It was crazy. Houston's a really good team. I wish I could play them again this year. I really wish. I'm 0-3 against them."

Reminded that a rematch with Houston could only come in the national championship game on April 8 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., Guerrier had only one response.

"Exactly," he said.