UVA fin­ishes at No. 16 in fi­nal AP poll

Kansas claims top spot, fol­lowed by Gon­zaga, Day­ton

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - Sports - Staff writer Mike Bar­ber con­trib­uted to this re­port.

THURS­DAY, MARCH 19, 2020

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 offthe-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 top­five rank­ing.”

Fol­low­ing the Semi­noles at No. 4, Bay­lor (264) 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.”

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