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2020 might’ve been college basketball’s 2007

We know the weirdest season in CFB history. How about CBB, at least if we exclude March Madness?

Les Miles Getty. Banner Society illustration.

2007 stands as the most depraved, most broken, greatest season in college football history, quite possibly holding those titles forever. Constant losses by #2 teams, weird teams in the top 10, a two-loss champ for the first time in more than half a century, and so much more combined to make 2007 a high college football fans chase each year. “2007” remains CFB shorthand for unbridled wackiness.

Ten years later, we made the equivalent of a 200-page book about it, and we still feel like there’s a lot more we could add.

So: which year was college basketball’s 2007?

As far as pre-tournament stuff goes, I think 2019-20 (hereafter referred to as just 2020) was the weirdest, wildest season in college basketball history. The extremely necessary cancelation of March Madness (please stay inside as much as you can) makes for a difficult comparison, so let’s limit this comparison to what happened on the court.

And just to account for 2020 not having a national tournament, let’s look primarily at what happened before then in these other years as well.

Which basketball season had the most top-ranked teams?

2007 football’s single wildest trait (and that is saying a lot, because there were many such traits) was how many #2 teams lost upsets. Seven in just nine weeks! Two of them were LSU! In triple OT! LSU won the title anyway!

For hoops, let’s go with something a little simpler to quantify: which seasons had the most most teams take turns at #1 in the AP Poll?

2020 and 1983 lead with seven different schools each, and that’s without “final” 2020 #1 Kansas having to finish the Big 12 tournament. Split this tie by noting 2020 had more reigns than 1983 (2020 Kansas was #1 for two different stints) and got going way faster, hitting its sixth different #1 before Christmas.

2020 had twice as many #1s in its opening 50 days as the average regular season has in four months. More on this in the next section.

Which season had the most shuffling throughout the polls in general?

The average college basketball pre-Madness season has 3.4 different #1 schools, 20.2 different schools appearing in the top 10 at any point, and 37.5 in the top 20.

2020 is the only season to ever beat each average by more than one (with seven #1s, 24 top-10 teams, and 40 top-20 teams).

And 2020 didn’t even get to complete its final pre-Madness weekend.

Based on those metrics and a few others, let’s narrow the list of 2007-esque college basketball seasons.

Here are the 14 weirdest pre-Madness CBB seasons ever, all of which had at least four teams reach #1 and assorted other weirdness:

  • 1978: Lots of top-10 shuffling!
  • 1979: Indiana State??
  • 1983: Seven different #1s!
  • 1990: Three #1s who started outside the top 10!
  • 1993: Six #1s!
  • 1995: Duke went 13-18!
  • 2004: Six #1s and two teams in the teens reaching #1!
  • 2009: #1 Wake Forest!
  • 2010: The most top-25 teams ever: 53!
  • 2013: Miami’s only top-five season ever!
  • 2014: Kentucky wtf!
  • 2016: Tied for second most top-10 teams ever: 24!
  • 2017: Baylor and Duke traded places!
  • 2020: A lot of stuff!

Of these especially wild basketball seasons, which had the biggest collapse by the preseason #1?

A football season like 2007 only happens if the preseason favorites stumble.

Among college basketball’s 14 craziest regular seasons, two had preseason #1s leave the rankings entirely.

In 2014, Kentucky tumbled all the way out of the top 25 right before March Madness ... but then nearly won the tournament anyway.

In 2020, Michigan State left the top 25 a month earlier in the season than 2014 Kentucky. But as the season ended, the Spartans had rallied back into the top 10.

Let’s call this a split between 2014 and 2020.

Which especially wild season had the biggest top-10 collapse?

2020 again takes at least a share of an honor.

Preseason #9 North Carolina finished 14-19 and #71 in SRS rating.

Among the 14 seasons being considered, the only other preseason top-10 team to fall nearly this far was 1995 Duke (13-18, but a lofty #22 in SRS, having faced the #3 strongest schedule).

I think the tie should go to 2020 UNC, but we’ll let these rivals fight over it.

How about other general collapsi-ness?

2020 isn’t amazing here, with only UNC and #6 Florida likely starting in the top 10 and finishing outside the top 20.

The strongest choices are either 2014 (#1 Kentucky entered March Madness unranked, and preseason #9 Oklahoma State was a 21-13 one-and-done) or 2004 (#3 Michigan State, #5 Missouri, and #8 Florida were unranked at tourney time, and #4 Arizona was #22).

Let’s focus on the positives. Which of these 14 seasons had the most surprising #1 teams?

The fun part of 2007 football was all the teams reaching rare heights. Kansas-Missouri mattered (in football)! Hawaii was the last unbeaten! USF reached #2! Quite arguably the three greatest upsets in the history of college football!

Of 2020’s seven basketball #1s, the oddest were preseason #16 Baylor and #8 Gonzaga. Weirder than most years, though both had been there before.

This title goes to 1990, the only hoops season to have three teams start outside the top 10 and then visit #1 at some point along the way (unranked Kansas, #16 Oklahoma, and #11 Missouri).

Which of these seasons had the weirdest final #1, though?

As in, the team that entered March Madness on top (yep, in basketball, the final poll happens before the tourney, because the tourney sorts everything out from there). What good was all the shuffling if a bully wins anyway?

On this, 2020 isn’t weird at all. It would’ve been Kansas, the third-winningest program ever and preseason #3. But there’s no single season that was bonkers in every facet.

Far and away, the answer in this category is 1979 Indiana State. 1979 wasn’t super weird, other than for Larry Bird’s Sycamores, but that’s ok. This team nearly won an undefeated national title ... and has never otherwise finished a season ranked. They were 13-12 the year before he showed up and 16-11 the year after he left. This is college basketball’s Cam Newton effect.

I’ve just discovered my most caucasious opinion: Larry Bird is a god.

How about other weird achievers?

2020 is mighty in this department. Four preseason-unranked teams likely would’ve entered Madness in the AP top 10 (Creighton, Dayton, Florida State, and San Diego State), tying 1978 for the most among our 14 oddball seasons.

2020 takes it, because all four of its surprise top-10 teams tied or nearly tied their best rankings ever. 1978’s surprise teams had all been better before. 2020 was so weird, Florida legislators took a break from a global pandemic to declare FSU basketball — a program best known for producing football player Charlie Ward — the national champ.

2020 March Madness was all set for some all-time wackiness.

We’ll never know if its tournament could’ve topped peer season 1983’s, when the Final Four was preseason #16 NC State beating preseason unranked Georgia and preseason #14 Houston.

But I think the wise thing is to assume it would’ve been even weirder than that.

And thanks to 2007 football, we already know which school is at its best when everything around it has reached max chaos.

Congratulations to 2020 men’s basketball national champion LSU.