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College basketball is wide open this season, and the NCAA tournament will be better for it

There are no great teams in men’s college basketball this year.

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Something happened in college basketball this week that hasn’t happened since late February 2000: Duke lost to a non-conference team at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That broke an incredible, nation-leading streak of 150 home non-conference wins.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the biggest upset in the last 15 years.

Not crazy enough? How about this: that was Duke’s first loss at home to a non-power conference team since Wagner did it back in January 1983. January! 1983!

What’s impressive is the way Stephen F. Austin pulled off the upset. The Lumberjacks had 64 points in the paint, making just two (of 10) attempts beyond the three-point arc. They bullied Duke into 22 turnovers, including eight for normally-sound point guard Tre Jones. In poetic fashion, Stephen F. Austin got the game winner thanks to a turnover that led to a layup.

College basketball season is only a few weeks old, but it’s already clear no team is safe from an upset. That’s especially true for teams holding down the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll.

Maybe you don’t want to be No. 1 this season

You’re up, Louisville. Duke is the third No. 1 team to lose this season, and it’s the first time that more than one No. 1 team has gone down in the month of November. The No. 1-ranked team lost eight times in the 2012-13, 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2018-19 seasons combined. We are over a third of the way there with just three weeks down in the 2019-20 season.

Preseason No. 1 Michigan State picked up a respectable loss to then-No.2 Kentucky to open the season in the Champions Classic. As the new No. 1, the Wildcats then went out and lost to Evansville (then No. 169 on KenPom) at Rupp Arena, in front of a stunned home crowd.

Evansville, SFA, and 2018 NCAA tournament darling UMBC (which upset No. 1 seed Virginia as a No. 16 seed) are certainly enjoying the success.

Louisville — the current No. 2 in the AP Poll — plays Western Kentucky on Black Friday before likely taking over the top spot on Monday. The Cardinals’ next game? Hosting the Michigan Wolverines on Dec. 3 for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

There may not be a great team this year ...

Yes, the turnover at the top of the polls tends to get the talking heads going, but there seems to be no really dominant team in college basketball. The big name teams will stay near the top of the rankings, but unlike the past few seasons, there doesn’t appear to be any teams that are heads and shoulders above the others. Louisville and Ohio State have looked solid this season so far and headline the early group that people expect to be in contention for a Final Four.

But a truly great team? Last season Duke and Zion Williamson dominated the conversation and the eventual national champion Virginia Cavaliers had a ruthlessly efficient offense to go with the typical Tony Bennett defense.

Does Kentucky have a go-to player in the clutch? Who is going to hit shots for Duke? How will point guard play affect Louisville? How good is Michigan State? Can Virginia score enough? Is North Carolina just Cole Anthony? Will turnovers bite OSU in a big moment? We’ll find out.

... and the NCAA tournament will be so fun because of it

The 2019-20 season is already must-watch, welcoming the “THIS IS MARCH” exclamations into the opening month of competition. Every major conference has a handful of teams that could realistically win their respective leagues. Come Selection Sunday, things could be a jumbled mess of amazingness.

The beauty of the NCAA tournament is always the chance that something unexpected happens. Let’s dial that up to 11 for 2019-20.