Due to the COVID-19 outbreak across the United States, the NCAA Tournament was canceled. We lose the largest event in American sports, we lose a week’s worth of bracket filling, a month’s worth of content to write about, several podcast ideas, and we won’t see the Buffs lose in the first round.
This is the first year since 1938 the college basketball season will conclude without having a tournament played. We’re missing upsets, buzzer-beaters and the ceremonial cutting down of the nets — all for the best, but this sucks. Without the tournament, there’s a question of what to do about naming a National Champion. The NCAA probably won’t crown a champion, but there’s an argument that they should consider doing so.
For precedent of championships without championship games, just look at football. College football didn’t have official national championship games until the BCS system was implemented in 1998. Before that, teams played out their seasons, played one bowl game and then voters decided who was the top team. We didn’t require a College Football Playoff to award the best team, so college basketball could potentially follow suit in this weird season.
Basketball is so hard to predict because there’s so much variance game-to-game. Someone can get hot and carry their team to the title, as Kemba Walker did with UCONN. A team can collapse amid the pressure of high stakes basketball, shoutout to Taurean Prince and Rico Gaithers fighting on the Baylor sideline. Wild finishes happen, like Ali Farokhmanesh defeating #1 overall seed Kansas. Hell, we recently saw #16 seed UMBC beat #1 overall seed Virginia by 20 points.
Even if you’re the best in college basketball, it’s truly remarkable to survive March Madness. Some of the best teams of the decade — 2010 Kentucky, 2011 Ohio State, 2012 North Carolina, 2019 Duke — didn’t even make it to the Final Four because injuries struck, players went cold, or they just got unlucky. The best team of the decade — the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats who were so deep that Devin Booker was sixth man — didn’t even play in the title game.
It’s impossible to know what would have happened in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas has the best argument — they were #1 in AP Poll, the Coaches poll, in the Sangarin rankings, on KenPom.com — but they could have run into a streaky team like Oregon that got hot for 40 minutes. Maybe Udoka Azubuike gets hurt again, like he did in 2018 and 2019. Maybe they go cold and every bounce went the other way. Even if Kansas was clearly the best team in the country, they would not be the first “clearly the best team in the country” to get upset.
If you think Kansas should be named champions with an asterisk, that’s fine; that’s an opinion I had when I originally sat down to write this article. But it’s so much more high-variance than football that it can’t be treated the same, even if there is a final poll conducted.
This season won’t be lost if there’s no champion. We can still name All-Americans, Player of the Year and (it won’t happen) even release what would have been the bracket. At the very least, it will remembered as the pandemic-shortened season that has no champion. Maybe Kansas, Gonzaga and Dayton will claim national championships anyway.