As the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the nation, most sporting events, concerts, and large gatherings of every kind are being suspended or canceled. The craziness of the outbreak has affected everyone in the country in some way and college basketball has not been immune.
Most conference tournaments have been canceled, along with the NCAA tournament. This will be the first year that there hasn’t been an NCAA tournament since the tournament began in 1939. While the craziness of the COVID-19 outbreak has ended the college basketball season, the 2019-20 regular season was still one to remember and contained plenty of madness before March.
Seven different programs have occupied the number one spot in the weekly Associated Press poll, college basketball’s main ranking, throughout the course of the regular season. This number ties the NCAA record for most teams to reach the number one ranking in a single season since the AP poll era began in 1949.
Among the crazy turnover at the number one position have been mind-blowing upsets. Basketball-powerhouse Duke, who boasts one of the most electric home venues in college basketball, lost a home game to Stephen F. Austin, a mid-major school from Nacogdoches, Texas. Overall, AP top-5 teams are 59-14 against unranked opponents adding up to a win rate of 80.8%, a number that typically hovers at or above 90%.
The east coast’s premier conference, the ACC, has not been immune to the chaos that is the college basketball landscape this year. While the top of the conference remains dominant and competitive with only one game separating the regular-season champion and fourth place in the league, the rest of the conference fell way behind. Once the dust settled on the hectic regular season, it was looking more like an uncharacteristically bad year for the majority of the ACC.
Looking at the top of the ACC standings this year, you won’t find Duke, North Carolina or Virginia. The Florida State Seminoles claimed the top spot in the regular-season standings, finishing 26-5 overall and 16-4 in league play. Duke, Louisville, and Virginia finished in a three-way tie for second.
It wasn’t the top of the league that is uncharacteristic of the ACC this year as the top four schools all have 23 or more wins. What has been strange about this year is the missing depth throughout the rest of the conference.
North Carolina, a school that has won six NCAA titles, 18 ACC titles, and is heralded as one of the most historically dominant programs in NCAA history found themselves dead last in the weak ACC regular-season standings for the first time in school history.
It isn’t just the Tar Heels that have struggled this year but the entire middle of the conference just isn’t as good as it has been in recent years. The bottom seven teams in the 15-team conference have season winning percentages that are at or below 50%, and the number five team in the league, Georgia Tech, has been banned from postseason play due to boosters providing the team with impermissible benefits to the program.
For some schools in the cellar of the league standings, March sadness has become an annual affliction. Schools such as Wake Forest, Boston College, and Pittsburgh have found themselves towards the bottom more often than not in recent years.
Others in the bottom half of the conference were in the NCAA Tournament as recently as last year. Virginia Tech was a number four seed last year and spent a large portion of the year ranked but finished 12th in the ACC this year. Syracuse made their 40th tournament appearance last year but struggled to a 17-14 record this year that would have likely kept them out of the tournament.
Then there is North Carolina who was a number one seed in the tournament last year and was ranked ninth in the country by the AP before this season started and before they nosedived to a 14-18 overall record.
ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi had projected just five ACC teams to be selected for the 2020 NCAA Tournament. These five are currently the top four schools in the standings and North Carolina State who is currently 19-12 and could still be denied entrance to the “Big Dance” as the tournament is frequently called.
Four or Five would have been unusually low for a conference that has put an average of 7.6 teams in the tournament each year since the conference expanded to 15 members in the 2014-15 season. The ACC typically competes to send more schools to the NCAA Tournament than any other conference but the league is firmly out of that race this year.
While the overall depth of the ACC was down this year compared to recent years, the season will go down in history as a “What could have happened,” year for Florida State, Duke, Louisville, and Virginia. Florida State was awarded the ACC tournament championship due to their being the number one seed, though they never played a game in the tournament.
Disappointment has settled over fans, players, and coaches of the NCAA Basketball world as everyone thinks about the brackets left unfilled, the nets left uncut, and the champions left uncrowned and March madness begins to feel more like March sadness.