It has undoubtedly been an unprecedented year, especially when it comes to college sports.

For most sports, the top teams still found a way to rise above the circumstances of this year, but college basketball has seen many historically strong programs struggle mightily.

And it all culminated with these three teams failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1976.

When fans and the media rattle off their top teams in the history of college basketball, only a handful of so-called “blue blood” programs make the cut.

Generally speaking, those teams’ seasons can be mapped out, almost verbatim, every year before a single game is even played.

But the pat 12 months has obviously been different, and many of those programs have suffered as a result of all this year has thrown at the world.

And when the NCAA Tournament brackets were unveiled on Sunday – if there was any doubt remaining – revealed just how different these past 12 months have been was made abundantly clear.

For the first time since 1976, neither Duke, Kentucky, nor Louisville were granted an NCAA Tournament bid.

“It just shows you how hard it is to win,” UCLA head coach Mick Cronin said according to the USA Today. “And there’s so many variables of things that can happen, obviously with COVID this year. There were all kinds of things that went on. I think there’s times where people take winning for granted. Sometimes you need the darkness to see the light.”

Prior to their respective conference tournaments, all three were on the outside looking in, hoping they could make a run to earn an automatic bid.

However, Duke was forced to withdraw early from the ACC Tournament, effectively ending their season.

Meanwhile, Kentucky and Louisville both failed to win a single game in their conference tournaments, while the Cardinals were actually defeated by Duke prior to the Blue Devils early exit.

This marks the first time since 1995 that Duke has failed to make the Big Dance, while Kentucky is absent for just the second time in the past 12 years under head coach John Calipari thanks to their first losing season in 32 years.

Needless to say, not having three virtual mainstays in the NCAA Tournament will be a rather odd sight to see.

At the same time, it does make things more interesting as more non-traditional powers have a chance to write some history of their own, and potentially chart a new course into college basketball’s elite.

With March now upon us, what has already been a rather wild year has the potential to become even more wild with American sports’ most unpredictable event now just days away.

And hopefully, Duke, Louisville, and Kentucky all enjoy watching the tournament with the rest of us.

Sports with Balls will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.