Virginia ended last season as the top team in college basketball. This season ended without an NCAA tournament, canceled due to concerns over COVID-19, but the Cavaliers’ late-season surge was enough to let them end up in the final Top 25 rankings.
Virginia (23-7), which won 11 of its final 12 games, including the final eight in a row, closed the season at No. 16 in the final Associated Press poll.
The Cavaliers were one of four ACC teams that ended the year in the final rankings, joining No. 4 Florida State (26-5), No. 11 Duke (25-6) and No. 14 Louisville (24-7).
Virginia went 1-1 against Louisville and FSU this season, and beat Duke in the teams’ only meeting of the year.
“I think we have improved and played better, maybe not a ton better, but we have improved a little bit,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said as his team prepared for a postseason that never took place. “We’re close now. There’s never that big a difference really, between being successful and not.”
Kansas coach Bill Self has spent much of the past week mulling ways to commemorate one of the more remarkable seasons in the school’s proud basketball history, one that began with off-the-court distractions too numerous to count and ended in the unprecedented cancellation of the NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks can start by celebrating their finish atop the final Top 25.
The regular-season Big 12 champions, who were 28-3 when the season abruptly ended after the first day of the conference tournament last week, received 63 of 65 first-place votes from a national media panel in balloting released Wednesday. That easily outdistanced No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 3 Dayton, each of which received a first-place vote.
“Nobody in America had better season than we did,” Self said. “How do you give credit to that effort and have it be recognized? And I don’t know exactly how we do it. Do we do it within our own fan base? Do we do it within podcasts or whatnot? Whatever we’ve come up with so far pales in comparison to the accolades they deserve.”
It’s the fourth time since the inception of the men’s poll for the 1946-47 season that Kansas finished on top, though typically there would still be March Madness to play. The AP does not declare a national champion in the sport because of the tournament.
The final rankings were based on play through March 11, when the outbreak of the coronavirus brought the sport to a halt.
The Jayhawks claim five national championships, the most recent in 2008 after they beat Memphis in the NCAA tournament title game. But despite a season in which 353 teams played thousands of games and Kansas finished as the clear-cut No. 1, the school’s Hall of Fame coach was unwilling to stake claim to any kind of championship.
“That’s not the way this is all intended to be,” Self said. “Coaches prepare their teams to peak at certain times. I’m proud of how our team prepared all season but especially at the end of the season, we were terrific. We operated under some pressure and dealt with some stuff. From our standpoint, sure, that would be great, but even if that were to occur, there would be a huge asterisk next to it, and I would agree with that.”
Gonzaga (31-2) finished second after beating Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference finals, one of a handful of league tournaments that were completed. But the Bulldogs will be left to wonder whether another dominant team from coach Mark Few would have finally delivered the school a national title.
Dayton (29-2) was third behind behind breakout stars Jalen Crutcher and Obi Toppin. That matched the 1955-56 team led by Bill Uhl and Jim Paxson for the best finish in program history.
“The voters who deemed us worthy to be one of the top five teams in the country and finish in the poll in the top three, we appreciate that,” Flyers coach Anthony Grant said. “Having that recognition hopefully is something — another thing that you can look back on and will be in the history books, that this team was able to accomplish a top-five ranking.”
Following the Seminoles at No. 4, Baylor (26-4) rounded out the top five after spending a longer stretch at No. 1 than any other team during a topsy-turvy season.
“I think ‘historical’ always sums up a season when you’re able to set so many records and accomplish so many things,” said Bears coach Scott Drew, whose team was in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after finishing second to Kansas in the Big 12 race. “This group really got along well.”