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6 college basketball teams that could win their first national championship in 2020

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College basketball hasn’t seen back-to-back years with new national champions in almost two decades. That could change in a couple months.

Dayton players in a huddle.
Will college hoops have a first time national champ this year?

Despite its well-established reputation for being unpredictable or “mad,” college basketball’s pool of all-time national champions might not be quite as deep as you’d think.

In a sport where, currently, 353 different programs compete, only 36 have ever captured the sport’s biggest prize: the NCAA tournament championship. Of those 36 programs, only 15 have won the Big Dance more than once.

The repetitive theme of college basketball’s national champions has been so consistent that it’s been nearly two decades since the sport has seen back-to-back first-time champs. That last happened in 2002 and 2003 when Maryland and Syracuse, respectively, cut down the nets. That not-so-recent history feels like it’s on the verge of repeating itself in a few months.

An incredible run highlighted by multiple seemingly impossible last minute victories defined Virginia’s first national championship in 2019. While the Cavaliers don’t seem like a realistic threat to reclaim their throne in 2020, a handful of the teams that have never sat in the sport’s most revered seat find themselves in prime position.

Here’s a quick rundown of the teams that appear to have the best shot at breaking through and capturing the first national title in their school’s history.

Baylor

You don’t have to search far for the first team on the list.

Baylor currently sits atop the AP top 25 poll for just the second time in program history, and has a resume that is currently unrivaled. The Bears have just one loss — a late collapse against Washington in a game that was played in Alaska during the first week of the season — and Quadrant 1 wins over Villanova, Kansas, Butler, Arizona and Texas Tech. The win over the Jayhawks, a dominant 67-55 performance on Jan. 11, was Baylor’s first ever inside Allen Fieldhouse.

The Bears check a number of the necessary boxes when you talk about the recipe for March success. They have a suffocating defense (No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency on Ken Pom), they shoot the ball well enough from the outside, and they have a star guard in Jared Butler who can completely take over a game if the situation calls for it.

A trip to the Final Four this season would be just the third in Baylor’s history, and the first during anything that might be referred to as a “modern era.” The Bears last made the national semifinals all the way back in 1950. Two years before that, they fell to Kentucky in the 1948 national championship game. Since then, Baylor has played in a regional final just twice (2010 and 2012).

Gonzaga

The only thing missing from Gonzaga’s ever-expanding profile as a national powerhouse is the program’s first national title. The Zags nearly got over the hump three seasons ago, but they fell to North Carolina in a 2017 national championship game destined to be more remembered for its questionable (and annoying) officiating more than anything else.

This probably isn’t the strongest overall team Mark Few has fielded in Spokane, but because of the landscape of the sport this season, it still might be his best shot at a national title. The Bulldogs are 20-1 thanks largely to the extremely versatile forward trio of Filip Petrusev, Killian Tillie and Corey Kispert. The guard play, headlined by breakout sophomore star Joel Ayayi, has been good enough, but still remains the biggest question mark as far as the team’s ability to beat six quality opponents over three weeks is concerned.

Dayton

The team that captured America’s attention with its play at the Maui invitational in November still has it as we begin to transition into peak bracketology season.

Dayton has just two losses this season, and both of them came in overtime on neutral floors against quality opponents (Kansas and Colorado). The Flyers also have a national Player of the Year candidate in Obi Toppin, a guard who can just go get a bucket when he needs to in Jalen Crutcher, and an overall offense that might be the most fun to watch of any in the country.

Dayton’s lone trip to the Final Four came in 1967 when the Flyers made it all the way to the national championship game before falling to UCLA. Their only other regional final appearances came in 1984 and 2014.

Despite their (relative) lack of history and not playing in a power conference, Dayton regularly ranks among college basketball’s top 20 in attendance. The Flyers have a rabid fan base that is on cloud nine at the moment. That fan base would be awfully fun to follow during a UD run to the Final Four in March ... as would Obi Toppin dunking on everybody.

San Diego State

How about some shine for the nation’s only remaining undefeated team?

San Diego State received a grand total of zero votes in the preseason AP and coaches polls, and yet the Aztecs find themselves staring down February with a top five ranking (No. 4 in both polls) and an unblemished 20-0 record.

While running the table in the Mountain West likely won’t be enough to sell the casual college hoops fan on the notion of SDSU as a legitimate national title threat, the Aztecs do have enough meat on their resume to demand respect. They have non-conference wins over potential tournament teams in BYU (on the road), Creighton (by 31) and Iowa (by 10), and also a 28-point win over a Utah team that was coming off an upset of Kentucky.

San Diego State has been to the Sweet 16 just twice in program history (2011 and 2014), and has never played in a regional final. This would only make the Aztecs being the team to break the West Coast’s streak of 23 consecutive years without a national champion all the more incredible.

Florida State

This is the fourth consecutive year where Florida State basketball has been more of a national player than its football counterpart, which might be the greatest accomplishment of Leonard Hamilton’s lengthy coaching career.

The Seminoles are No. 5 in the AP poll at the moment. Their lone conference loss came on opening night of the season at Pitt, and their only loss since then was at Indiana on Dec. 4 in a game where FSU’s younger players seemed unprepared for their first true hostile road environment. Since then, Florida State has reeled off nine consecutive wins, a run highlighted by a 13-point road win over No. 6 Louisville.

Hamilton has a team with the size, athleticism and toughness necessary to give any team in the country fits on offense. He also has an experienced backcourt highlighted by senior Trent Forrest who can be trusted in the most crucial moments of a close game.

For all its success, especially over the last decade, Florida State is still a program that has been to the Elite Eight only three times and the Final Four just once. The ‘Noles run in the 1972 NCAA tournament ended with an 81-76 loss to UCLA in the national championship game. The closest they’ve come to getting back to the Final Four are their regional final appearances in 1993 and two years ago in 2018 when they took a gut-wrenching loss to Michigan.

Seton Hall

The hottest team in America right now might be the Seton Hall Pirates. They’ve won nine consecutive games since an embarrassing 68-48 loss at rival Rutgers, and are the only team in the Big East that has yet to take a conference loss (7-0). They also have a national Player of the Year candidate in Myles Powell who absolutely has the potential to go on a Kemba Walker-esque tear through March.

No team on this list has been closer to being off it than Seton Hall. The Pirates seemed seconds away from capturing the 1989 national championship before referee John Clougherty hit SHU’s Gerald Green with an extremely questionable foul call. That sent Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson to the free-throw line where he netted a pair of shots to make the Wolverines the team that claimed their first title.

Not only has Seton Hall not been back to the Final Four since, but they’ve only been to the second weekend of the tournament three times since ‘89, and not once since 2000. At the moment, that streak of futility seems to be in extreme danger.


While those six teams seem like the most obvious contenders at the moment to break through for the first time, in a season like this where it feels like 30 percent of the teams in the sport could win it all, they certainly aren’t the only ones with a shot to claim their first championship.

Butler, which came oh-so-close in 2010 and 2011, has lost three games in a row but still has the makeup of a team that could get hot and go on a deep run. Bob Huggins has West Virginia (national runners-up in 1959) playing at a higher level than anyone expected heading into the season. Even with some recent slip-ups, Auburn and Texas Tech both have the potential to make it back to the tournament’s final weekend for a second straight year.

If your favorite team hasn’t won a national title and wasn’t mentioned here but they’re currently projected to at least have a shot at making the tournament, congratulations, they could probably win it all too.