The numbers behind Duke and Kentucky missing the 2021 NCAA tournament

For the first time since 1976, neither Duke nor Kentucky is part of the tournament. That’s a whopping 45 years. For context, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne founded Apple and released the first Apple computer in 1976. That’s how long it has been.

The 2020-21 seasons for the Blue Devils and Wildcats were forgettable for both. Duke went 13-11 and had only one win against a ranked opponent, and Kentucky put up one of the SEC’s worst overall marks with a 9-16 record.

It will certainly be a weird tournament without these two powerhouse teams. According to the ESPN Stats & Information Group, no teams won more NCAA tournament games in the 2010s than Kentucky (31) and Duke (26).

Let’s take a look at some other stats that put this rare occurrence in perspective:

Kentucky’s season might be one of the most disappointing in college basketball history when accounting for the preseason. The Wildcats were ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 poll before the season started, but they finished with the worst winning percentage (.360) of any AP top-10 team since the poll debuted ahead of the 1961-62 season.

Duke’s final record was less disastrous than Kentucky’s, but the program still hit a number of lows not seen in years. Their 13-11 record is the program’s worst since the Blue Devils last missed the NCAA tournament in the 1994-95 season. Duke also lost nine ACC games and multiple nonconference home games in a season for the first time since 1982-83.

For the first season since 2012-13, the Blue Devils didn’t have a single freshman average at least 15 points per game. They scored just 930 points in 2,392 minutes, their worst ratio since 2012-13. For the Wildcats, most of their trouble came at the rim, too. Kentucky posted its fewest points per game in nearly 15 years and its lowest field goal percentage in nearly 60 years.

Both teams also struggled against highly ranked teams. The Blue Devils went 2-5 against teams in Quadrant 1 — games at home against a team ranked in the top 30. The Wildcats went 3-11 against teams in the top 30.

And to top it all off, not only did they not have good wins to pad their résumé but their paths to the tournament weren’t even particularly difficult. Duke’s strength of record ranked 65th, and their strength of schedule ranked 51st. Kentucky’s strength of record ranked 90th in the nation.

So, is there a silver lining? The 1976 tournament was a tough one for any team not named the Indiana Hoosiers, who went undefeated on their way to a title. With Gonzaga in a similar position this year, it might not be the worst tournament to miss out on. It also doesn’t preclude either team from future success, of course — two years after missing the 1976 tournament, Duke and Kentucky faced off in the NCAA tournament title game, with the Wildcats pulling off a 94-88 win.

Statistics from ESPN Stats & Information Group were used in this article.

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