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The AP Top 25 basketball poll found plenty of chaos in 1983 and 2020 with 7 different No. 1 teams

AP Basketball Writer

One season ended with an surprise team making an unforgettable run to the national championship. The other never found resolution due to a global pandemic.

As The Associated Press marks the 75th anniversary of its Top 25 men’s college basketball poll, the 1982-83 and 2019-20 seasons stand as the most chaotic in terms of turnover at the top. Those are the only two seasons with seven different teams hitting No. 1, and they’re remembered even more for what came after the final poll, too.

In 1983, star talent like Virginia’s 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, North Carolina’s Michael Jordan and Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon led their teams to No. 1 rankings alongside Indiana, Memphis, UCLA and UNLV.

Yet only the Cougars reached the Final Four while a different Atlantic Coast Conference team instead of the Cavaliers or Tar Heels owned March: North Carolina State, led by charismatic coach Jim Valvano.

The sixth-seeded Wolfpack, unranked for eight polls after an injury to guard Dereck Whittenburg, pulled off a series of dramatic wins to earn the nickname “Cardiac Pack.” That included ending Sampson’s career in the Elite Eight, then stunning Houston on Lorenzo Charles’ last-second dunk for the title to create the memorable sight of the late Valvano running around for a hug.

“We were pretty good, but the league was really good, and then State gets on the roll,” said retired Tar Heels Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, an assistant on Dean Smith’s staff then.

“One of the players one time said: sometimes it’s just be’s that way,” Williams chuckled. “That’s not exactly correct English but that’s OK.”

It took 37 years for another season with seven No. 1 teams, coming after the implementation of the shot clock and 3-pointer added even more variables into games.

Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Kansas, Gonzaga and Baylor all held the top spot in 2019-20, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to force the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament days before Selection Sunday. That ensured there would be no storybook capper for a team like Dayton, which went from unranked in preseason to No. 3 in the final AP Top 25 poll released after the cancellation to match its best-ever finish set in 1956.

As AP national player of the year Obi Toppin of the Flyers said at the time: “It’s just going to be a what-if for the rest of our lives, but it’s something we’re going to have to live with.”


The poll’s first decade ended with a then-record five teams reaching No. 1, starting with Cincinnati and star Oscar Robertson. Kentucky held the top spot for a season-high nine weeks, while N.C. State, UNC and Kansas State added one-week stays.

The national champion came from the other 35 teams to crack the poll: California, which peaked at No. 11 and was thrice unranked. There wouldn’t be as many as five No. 1 teams in a season again for 20 years.


This was the first of seven seasons with six No. 1s (Michigan, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana and North Carolina) while 48 teams appeared in the poll, tying the record set in 1955 when the poll ranked 20 teams.

This is the only time the Final Four featured teams that all reached No. 1. It ended when the Tar Heels beat the Wolverines and their “Fab Five” stars in a game largely sealed with Michigan star Chris Webber called a late timeout his team didn’t have.


This season with six No. 1s offered a special quirk. For the only time in its history, the poll closed with four straight weeks of different teams on top with Pittsburgh, Connecticut, preseason No. 1 North Carolina and Louisville — adding a dose of uncertainty just in time for the NCAA Tournament.

Each reached at least the Elite Eight, with UConn and UNC going to the Final Four and the Tar Heels beating Michigan State for the crown.


Things got weird quickly and stayed that way.

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina fell out of the poll by December before becoming the first to top the preseason AP Top 25 but miss the NCAA Tournament since its 1985 expansion to 64 teams.

The AP Top 25 featured 54 teams, surpassing the previous record of 53 set in 2010 and matched in 2015. That turnover carried right into the NCAA Tournament, starting with Purdue — one of the three other No. 1 teams — becoming just the second 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed in tournament history.

Brackets everywhere ended up in a mess with no No. 1 seed reaching even the Elite Eight for the first time in history. San Diego State was the only preseason AP Top 25 team to reach the Final Four, joining Miami, Florida Atlantic and eventual champion UConn with no team holding better than a 4-seed.


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