As everyone reading this post is surely aware of by now, March Madness has been canceled in an effort to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. For the first time since its inception in 1939, there will not be an NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps that hasn’t set in for some us just yet. For others, maybe it became real when there was no bracket reveal last night on Selection Sunday. While hoop junkies are still grieving, this much is sure: There will be no March Madness this year. There will be no buzzer beaters, no double-digit seed upsets and no Cinderellas. One Shining Moment will cease to exist until 2021.
Perhaps, given the type of college basketball season we just had, if there were a season where the tournament had to be canceled this were an appropriate year.
After the completion of the 2018-19 season, a record number of underclassmen initiated an exodus from the college game to jumpstart their professional careers. This set the stage for the type of season that would be in 2019-20 (and, namely, a down year in the ACC).
Even by college basketball standards, the 2019-20 season was downright bizarre. It began with five different No. 1 ranked teams in the first seven weeks of the season and ended with the cancelation of the NCAA’s cash cow as well as the hiring of Rick Pitino at Iona. To be sure, calling off the tournament was the right move, but it also leaves much loss in the wake.
I know that some readers here don’t watch or pay much attention to college basketball outside of Syracuse. But for those who love the sport, they know it was a topsy-turvy year across the board.
The ones who took the most collateral damage from the cancelation were the schools having abberabionally strong seasons. Teams like Penn State and Rutgers were set to make the field of 68 for the first time in 19 and 29 years, respectively.
Seton Hall has become an NCAA Tournament mainstay in recent years, but the stars seemed to align for its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2000 with one of the best players in the country, Myles Powell. Similarly, we won’t see Markus Howard try to lead Marquette to the second weekend. We won’t get to see if Cassius Winston could have a Mateen Cleaves type of legacy at Michigan State.
Nobody will feel bad for Baylor as an institution, but the basketball team was having one its best years in program history. The Bears had a chance to make its deepest tournament run since 1948 or 1950.
Nobody was hurt more than the Dayton Flyers. Obi Toppin took the nation by storm and led the Flyers to its best regular season in program history. Jim Boeheim said on ESPN last Thursday that Dayton could’ve made the Final Four and won.
But circling back to how this relates to us here: if there were ever a season for Syracuse to have an 18-14 year and be NIT bound, it might as well have been this one.
I’m not advocating for the type of season Syracuse just had, rather just trying to provide some perspective. We gauge the temperature of the fan base frequently enough to know that many of you are aggravated with accumulating loses and the year-in and year-out fight to be a perennial bubble team. But that’s a horse of a different color.
My point is, as other teams were having great seasons and had real hope to make a tournament run, Syracuse has less to feel incomplete about. While we could entertain the notion of Syracuse beating Louisville and moving on to win the ACC Tournament, most would probably agree that Syracuse was NIT bound. We’ll never truly know how this year would’ve finished, yet when an NIT appearance is on the horizon, the only thing that really matters at that point is extending your season to play in as many games as you can.
Had the NCAA Tournament been canceled in 2016 or 2018, all of us here would’ve wondered what would have happened to Syracuse. We never would’ve known whether or not Syracuse would’ve made the tournament, let alone witnessed the 2016 Final Four run or a 2018 Sweet 16 run.
Even in 2017, when Syracuse was the first team left out of the tournament field, we all would’ve wondered if Syracuse would’ve earned a tournament berth.
When we look back and reference teams we do so through the lens of what happened in the NCAA Tournament (i.e. — that 2016 Syracuse Final Four team). Years from now when people reference the asterisked 2019-20 college basketball season and forget about almost everything that happened during the regular season, they’ll ask Was that the year the tournament was canceled due to that virus? and simply move on.
Had Syracuse been a top sixteen team and a top four seed in any given region, many would’ve felt like the season were unfinished and incomplete. Some might still feel that way to some degree, whereas others might just be happy to end on a positive note and turn the page.
No team sets out to have an 18-14 season. There’s never a good time to have the type of year Syracuse did. But considering how this season ended abruptly and so unfinished for so many, the teams that had a down year were the ones that got out unscathed.
Years from now, the 2019-20 season will be remembered for the things that didn’t happen in March. Syracuse wasn’t going to be a part of it either way.