NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 04: Quincy McKnight #0 of the Seton Hall Pirates pulls his jersey over his head as he walks off the court with teammate Jared Rhoden #14 after losing to the Villanova Wildcats 79-77 in a college basketball game at Prudential Center on March 4, 2020 in Newark, New Jersey.
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The abrupt end to the 2019-20 college basketball season left so many teams wondering “what if?” Here are the top 12.

All across the world, sports has taken a sudden pause amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. While most leagues announced the postponement of games, the NCAA canceled athletics, including the prized and beloved March Madness.

“What if” will become a banner phrase for the 2019-20 college basketball season. With several promising teams in a wide-open tournament field, this year’s NCAA Tournament was poised to be one for the ages. Now, all we have is a bunch of “what if’s.”

Here are the 12 teams college hoops fans will look back on and wonder…what if?

12. Kentucky Wildcats (25-6, 15-3 SEC)

Projected 2 seed according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi

John Calipari’s team was starting to look like the formidable threat in March we are accustomed to seeing. A dominant stretch in SEC play was highlighted by the emergence of Imannuel Quickley and the development of Nick Richards and freshman Tyrese Maxey. A one-loss February allowed the Wildcats to coast to the SEC regular-season title and much more seemed on the horizon in Lexington. With Quickley, Richards, Maxey and sophomore Ashton Hagans looking like strong NBA draft candidates, this was a top-heavy Kentucky team that missed an opportunity to capture a national championship.

11. Michigan Wolverines (19-12, 10-10 Big Ten)

Projected 5 seed according to ESPN

The Wolverines are always a solid tournament team, but were written off as a contending team in the preseason under first-year coach Juwan Howard. Howard channeled some of the magic from his Fab Five days and led Michigan to marquee wins against Creighton and Gonzaga in the opening month. The team hit rough patches during an up-and-down season, but a solid rotation with six players averaging at least 10 points per game showed promise for success in March. The senior duo of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske were battle-tested and ready to lead Michigan to another strong tournament showing. Unfortunately for them, along with other seniors across the country, their chance at ending their collegiate careers on a high note vanished.

10. BYU Cougars (24-8, 13-3 West Coast)

Projected 6 seed according to ESPN

BYU resorted back to the Jimmer Fredette days of lore under first-year coach Mark Pope. The Cougars shot the three better than any team in the nation, with seniors Yoeli Childs and Jake Toolson both shooting just under 50% from beyond the arc. The team’s 42.3 three-point field goal percentage coupled with a top-10 NET ranking was enough to consider the Cougars as a sneaky tournament team with the tools to make a run. Alas, a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC semifinals was the end to a stellar season in Provo.

9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (20-11, 11-9 Big Ten)

Projected 9 seed according to ESPN

One of the best stories of the season belonged to Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights squad. Rutgers had been mired in a horrendous postseason-less stretch for the better part of the last two decades — having last clinched a tournament berth in 1991. Pikiell built his team from the ground up, and thanks to a one-loss home record, Rutgers ascended to the top half of a competitive Big Ten conference. The likes of Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. were catalysts to Rutgers’ success in 2020, but if any team were to be disappointed at the cancelation of the tournament, it’s Rutgers. What could’ve been for the hungry Scarlet Knights.

8. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (28-3, 19-1 Southland)

Projected 12 seed according to ESPN

The Lumberjacks provided blue-blood haters across the country a sense of jubilation on Nov. 26 when they shocked the then-No. 1 Duke Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor. The Lumberjacks built off of the early-season upset with a near-perfect conference record, putting SFA in the prime position to clinch another NCAA Tourney berth and pull off yet another first-round upset, and possibly more, in 2020. Stephen F. Austin are no strangers to the madness of March, piecing together two upset victories in 2014 and 2016 under Brad Underwood. The program has accomplished a lot in the past few years, but the COVID-19 virus had other plans for the emerging Lumberjacks and their Cinderella hopes.

7. Providence Friars (19-12, 12-6 Big East)

Projected 7 seed according to ESPN

There probably wasn’t a hotter team than the Providence Friars. The senior-led Friars stumbled to a 7-6 non-conference record, including three straight losses to mid-major opponents. A tale of two halves of the season commenced as Big East play began, however, as Providence rattled off a 12-6 conference record. Having won eight of their last 10, Alpha Diallo and company were revving to shake up the tournament field and continue to play with a chip on their shoulder.

6. Gonzaga Bulldogs (31-2, 15-1 West Coast)

Projected 1 seed according to ESPN

Gonzaga has been as dominant as a program could be in the past twenty years. Mark Few’s Bulldogs found consistency in both the AP Polls and the NCAA Tournament, but had failed to secure a spot in the Final Four in all but one of Few’s 21 years. Gonzaga was back to its usual self in 2020, having torched through the WCC en route to another conference tournament championship. Another No. 1 seed seemed inevitable for the Zags, with Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev and Corey Kispert providing the team with valuable scoring and size for an extended tournament run. However, a team searching for a long-overdue national championship suffered the same fate as the rest of the March hopefuls. What if?

5. Maryland Terrapins (24-7, 14-6 Big Ten)

Projected 4 seed according to ESPN

Maryland Terrapins basketball was quite an enigma all season. They struggled in their losses, but pulled off several improbable wins after trailing late in games. Led by senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and Third-Team All-American Jalen Smith, the Terps had the highest ceiling of any team in the nation. When they were on, they were on, and that only added fuel to the fire of the “what if” scenario. Mark Turgeon hadn’t been dealt as talented as a team in years and the Big Ten co-regular season champs were ready for a return to Atlanta — The last time the Final Four was held in Atlanta was in 2002, when Maryland last cut down the nets. If any team were a team of destiny and fate in 2020, it was0 the Terrapins.

4. Kansas Jayhawks (28-3, 17-1 Big 12)

Projected 1 seed according to ESPN

In a year of upsets, Kansas stayed within reach of the top spot in the AP Poll all season long. The Jayhawks finally had a healthy Udoka Azubuike and a fierce scorer in Devon Dotson. These two All-Americans led Kansas to 15 straight victories to end the season. Finishing as the top team in the country left a lot to look forward to for Bill Self’s revitalized Jayhawks squad following the ugly brawl against Kansas State on Jan. 21. Kansas was as formidable a foe as any team in the country heading into its conference tournament. The projected pick as the top overall seed in the tournament had a ton of momentum heading into the Big 12 Tournament and a lot to be fulfilled before the sports world came to a screeching halt.

3. Baylor Bears (26-4, 15-3 Big 12)

Projected 1 seed according to ESPN

Scott Drew used an efficient offense and improved defense to catapult Baylor to the forefront of the national championship conversation. Led by Freddie Gillespie, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague, the Bears brought a three-point arsenal to their already solid frontline that produced well on the boards. Baylor had marquee victories to prove that they were for real, including wins over Villanova and Kansas. The Bears were positioned at the top of the AP Poll for the majority of the season and were prepared for the stretch run despite losing three of their last five prior to the start of the Big 12 tournament. Baylor’s best season under Drew was all for naught after the cancelation of March Madness.

2. Seton Hall Pirates (21-9, 13-5 Big East)

Projected 3 seed according to ESPN

Say what you want about Seton Hall, but this was a special team that could have made some noise in the tournament. Senior leader Myles Powell had a sufficient supporting cast that hung close games against better competition — such as close losses against Michigan State and Oregon. They won key games in Big East play and were able to keep up with Villanova and Creighton to take a share of the conference regular-season title. A team that hadn’t made much of a mark in March was ready for its next chapter. Head coach Kevin Willard had endured four tournament appearances without a Sweet Sixteen berth and was hungry for more. He, along with Powell’s leadership, was going to send the Pirates into a frenzy come March.

1. Dayton Flyers (29-2, 18-0 Atlantic 10)

Projected 1 seed according to ESPN

Obi Toppin, with his eye-popping jams and Wooden Award-level play, put Dayton on the map and made the Flyers legitimate national title contenders. Toppin led Dayton to an undefeated conference record, but he wasn’t alone. The guard tandem of Jalen Crutcher and Ibi Watson gave the Flyers versatility from three-point territory, while Trey Landers provided a scoring punch inside. In just his third year as head coach, Anthony Grant gave the Flyer faithful a reason to say: why not? Now, all those supporting the underdog of all underdogs will have to look back at the 2019-20 season and say: what if the Dayton Flyers had a shot to play in the March Madness tournament?

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