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Mike Lopresti | | February 8, 2021

21 truly unprecedented things we just might see this Selection Sunday

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Five weeks. That’s how long until Selection Sunday. Five weeks, with not only the usual stretch runs and bubble games and league tournaments, but postponements and pauses and cancellations. So no wonder, in this most unorthodox season, there might be some truly rare sights this particular Selection Sunday.

Nobody knows what will happen. In college basketball this season, nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. But there are a number of precedent-rattling things that could happen. Here are 21 of them.

Duke is 7-7. The Blue Devils have two fewer wins than lineups Mike Krzyzewski has tried with his young team. The last time they didn’t make the NCAA tournament was 1995, when Krzyzewski was at home, having taken leave to heal his surgically repaired back and exhausted psyche. Duke went 13-18 that season, and 2-14 in the ACC.

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“We just have to keep playing. I don’t have a long-term goal,” Krzyzewski said Saturday after the North Carolina loss. “We just have to work hard and take it one game at a time. Our guys are improving. They’re working hard, they’re coming in for extra work. they have great attitudes . . . that’s all I ask for my teams is to keep playing that way. I believe in them and we’re going to keep working with them.”

Kentucky is 5-12. There have been 81 NCAA tournaments. Only 22 were played without Kentucky, the last in 2013.

The last time Duke and Kentucky both didn’t make the field was 1976. Nine U.S. presidents ago. Krzyzewski was in his first season coaching at Army. John Calipari was in high school.

Once upon a time this season, Michigan State was ranked No. 4 in the nation. Now the Spartans are 9-7 and in 12th place in the Big Ten. The last time they sat home in March was 1997, when Tom Izzo was an assistant coach.  

Michigan State has struggled with COVID, among other things. They had 22 turnovers and shot 39 percent Saturday against Nebraska, but got away with it to win 66-56, stopping a four-game slide. “I’m going to keep telling you that you have no idea what these kids are going through,” Izzo told the media afterward. But he understands they need a fast finish. “Now there is a little pressure on us, and I kind of like that. I think this team needs to have a little pressure on them. Maybe I need a little pressure on me.”

Indiana beat Iowa again Sunday to go 10-8, but the Hoosiers still have a little work to do to stay off the bubble. The last time neither Indiana nor Michigan State played in the NCAA tournament was 1977. The bracket had only 32 teams. The Spartans signed a high school recruit named Earvin Johnson, but people called him Magic.

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The Ivy League has closed the doors and locked the windows on this season. The last time the Ivy League did not have a team in the tournament field was 1966. The year before, Princeton’s Bill Bradley had scored 58 points in the third place game, a Final Four record that still stands.

Kansas is 12-7 and in sixth place in the Big 12. The last time the Jayhawks were not seeded in the top four of the NCAA tournament was 2000. Bill Self was coaching Tulsa. The Jayhawks have been a No. 1 seed nine times since then. 

North Carolina is 12-6 and unranked, at least until Monday. The last time neither the Tar Heels nor Duke were seeded in the top four of the NCAA tournament was 1996. That’s also the last year the Final Four was played in a true basketball arena; the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

North Carolina State is 8-7 and Wake Forest is 5-8. The last time none of the four ACC schools from North Carolina were seeded in the top four was . . . well, never. Not since seeding began in 1979.

Nobody in the ACC was ranked in the top 10 coming into this week. The last time the ACC did not have a team seeded either No. 1 or No. 2 in the tournament was 1990 — 31 years ago. Only eight teams were in the conference then. Now there are 15.

But there will be oddities on the bright side, too.

Baylor is 17-0. The Bears have never been seeded No. 1. Or No. 2. And they have never, ever been seeded higher than Big 12 cousin Kansas.

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Rutgers is 11-6. The Scarlet Knights have won four games in a row after losing five games in a row, but stuff like that can happen in the shark tank that is the Big Ten. The last time Rutgers was invited to the NCAA tournament was 1991. There have been 291 other Division I programs get to go since then.

“I don’t know if anyone quite realizes the challenges that are in this league,” coach Steve Pikiell said after the Scarlet Knights beat Minnesota the other day, in a game that had 22 lead changes.  “You could be a real good team and be on a streak one way or the other. You’ve got to have a short memory. It’s a league where you gotta keep grinding.  You see the scores every night . . . it’s a possession here, a possession there, it’s a free throw, it’s a turnover. It’s that kind of league. You’d better be able to plow through it and get ready for the next game really quickly.”

Alabama is 15-5 and has left a vapor trail in the SEC race. The Tide is considered a No. 1 seed contender. The last Alabama seed better than fourth was 1987. Wimp Sanderson was the Tide basketball coach and Bill Curry the new football coach. Nick Saban was defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

Toledo is 16-5 and leading the Mid-American Conference. The last time the Rockets played in the NCAA tournament was 1980. Every other program from the MAC has been since then, except for their neighbor 23 miles to the south, Bowling Green.

Toledo Athletics University of Toledo Junior JT Shumate Junior JT Shumate led Toledo with 13 points in Toledo's loss at Ball State.

Drake took its first loss Sunday but is still 18-1 and tied in the loss column with Loyola Chicago for the Missouri Valley Conference lead. The Bulldogs haven’t been in the NCAA tournament in 13 years. Before that, it was 1971.

Navy has the best record in the Patriot League and is 11-2 overall. The last time the Midshipmen were in the NCAA tournament was 1998. Among the service academies, Air Force has been since then, but Army has never played in the tournament, even with two past coaches named Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight, and 2066 victories between them.

Sun Belt leader Texas State hasn’t been to the tournament in 24 years

South Dakota’s 9-1 record is best in the Summit League, even though the Coyotes started 1-6 overall. They’ve never played in the tournament.

Neither has Northeast co-leader Bryant.

Nor WAC leader Grand Canyon. The 12-3 Antelopes could make it, while 17 miles away, Arizona State began the season in the top-25 but is now 6-8.

Grand Canyon is led by first-year coach Bryce Drew, whose brother Scott has Baylor No. 2 in the nation. Both could hear their names called Selection Sunday, just as their father Homer once did at Valparaiso. They’re an Indiana family, and the entire tournament will be in the Indianapolis area.  Just another rare possibility, five weeks from now.

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