Syracuse makes March Madness 2021, Duke and Kentucky out

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The NCAA Tournament will be held this year without a couple of its traditional Blue Bloods – Kentucky and Duke — for the first time since 1976.

But Jim Boeheim – who started his coaching career at Syracuse the following season – has the Orange in the Big Dance for the 35th time in his 45 years at the upstate powerhouse.

Syracuse (16-9) was considered a bubble team after posting just one Quad 1 victory before losing to Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. But the Orange avoided playing in the First Four and landed a No 11 seed in the Midwest Region to face San Diego State in its first game.

Meanwhile, Kentucky (9-16) and Duke (13-11), the programs with the most and fourth-most wins in NCAA Division 1 history, officially are out in the same year for the first time in more than four decades.

The Wildcats missed the Big Dance for the first time since 2013 and only the second in John Calipari’s 12 seasons in Lexington. Kentucky endured its first losing campaign since 1988-89 (13-19) under Eddie Sutton, leading to Rick Pitino’s hiring the following year.

Duke (13-11) had to forfeit its ACC tournament quarterfinal game to Florida State due to a positive test, ending the Blue Devils’ string of NCAA appearances at 24 since they last missed in 1995.

A couple of other big names remain uncertain due to COVID-19 protocol issues. Kansas, which is second on that victory list, is included in the field as a No. 3 seed in the West Region despite the Jayhawks’ forfeit to Texas in the Big 12 tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test.

North Carolina, third on the all-time wins list after going 18-10 this season, also is in the field for the 16th time in 17 seasons, as a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region, facing Wisconsin in its first game.   

Perhaps the most interesting development among traditional blue bloods involves the First Four play-in game for the No. 11 seed in the East between Michigan State (15-12) and UCLA (17-9).

Duke
Mike Krzyzewski
Getty Images

The Spartans were the ninth team to be tabbed out of the Big 10, extending Tom Izzo’s tournament streak in East Lansing to 25 years. They reached the Final Four in 2019, losing to Texas Tech.

UCLA, the all-time leader with 11 NCAA titles (most recently in 1995), also received one of the final at-large bids despite losing to eventual champion Oregon State in the Pac-12 conference tournament.

“You have teams that are the last at-larges in the field, and we certainly scrubbed that as we went through the process of seeding,” NCAA Tournament committee chair Mitch Barnhart said of UCLA and Michigan State on the CBS Selection Show. “Where it is, is where it lands. They are two teams we are thrilled to have in the field, and we thought it would be a heck of a way to start the tournament off.”

Louisville is another big program on the outside, for now. The Cardinals are listed as one of the “First Four Out” teams that will be on standby if another multi-bid conference team withdraws due to COVID-19 issues before the tournament begins.

Barnhart indicated Louisville (13-7) likely was hurt by the unexpected power-conference tournament titles by Georgetown and Oregon State to grab automatic bids.

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