Seven teams graced the No. 1 spot in the AP college basketball rankings this season.
That’s tied for the most since 1983.
It’s a testament to just how topsy-turvy college basketball was this season. And, most of all, it served as a barometer for just how good — no, just how great — March Madness would have been. Should have been.
During the glorious regular season, we saw Evansville take down No. 1 Kentucky as a 24.5 point underdog … at Rupp Arena. We saw Stephen F. Austin stun No. 1 Duke at the buzzer as a 28 point underdog … inside Cameron Indoor. Oh, and did I mention Evansville took down Kentucky? That’s certainly worth mentioning in this space here.
This was going to be the year of the wide-open title race before the NCAA championships were canceled this week over fears of the coronavirus pandemic. The season was predictable only in that everything was wholly unpredictable. And in March Madness — where upsets are the norm and volatility is a staple — we were going to have it in spades. We were expecting it to be March Madness on steroids, but if those steroids had also been juiced with HGH.
Now we’ll never know what might’ve happened.
Simulate the season on a computer like the SportsLine folks did, and Dayton wins it all. Use statistical metrics like KenPom or Bart Torvik, and Kansas from top to bottom is considered the best team. Draw a name out of a hat, and well, who the heck knows?
The latter is the measure I choose to believe would have been the most accurate in predicting who might win it all this season, too. You could make a legitimate case for 15-plus teams to be considered real title threats in 2020.
San Diego State had its best shot to win it all in years after posting a 30-2 record. Villanova could’ve won its third title since 2016. Baylor’s dream season could’ve turned into a fairytale ending. Dayton, Maryland, Michigan State, Seton Hall, Duke, Kentucky — the list goes on. Each one of those programs had real mettle to play deep into March, perhaps into early April.
There’s absolutely no sugarcoating it: it stinks for everyone.
But there’s also some fun hypotheticals that come with the cancellation of the season now that uncertainty is the only certain in what was, frankly, one of the most fun and frenzied college hoops seasons the last decade. There’s excitement in the unknown. You can make your own assessment and judge it your own way. If you thought Dayton was the most potent team in the sport, then hey, you own that. If you thought Kansas’ duo of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike was a legitimate enough tandem to carry KU to the crown, then maybe that’s the team that sticks with you, the team you’ll always ride for when we reflect on the chaos of 2020. Maybe you bought in to Seton Hall or Kentucky and thought they had the best chance to cut down nets.
The fun part is that no matter how you view it, you’re not wrong. It’s the ultimate sports what-if with no real answer. We now have a bar topic to debate for the rest of our lives. (Kansas, for my money, was my pick. Buy me a beer and convince me otherwise.)
And hey, let’s face it: The real fun of college basketball is that the best team in college basketball every season doesn’t always win the national championship. The 2014-15 Kentucky team went 38-0 … then lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin. The 1996-1997 Kansas team led by Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz — which went 34-2 — fell in the Sweet Sixteen that year. The Fab Five’s second iteration, in 1992-1993, went 31-5 and eventually fell — in part because of the infamous Chris Webber timeout — to North Carolina in the title game. There’s a randomness to single-elimination tournaments that consistently invites chaos.
And that is why we love March.
Now the only chaos is off the court, leaving us to wonder what might have transpired on it. We’ll never know. But the fun of the unknown is enough to keep us coming back.