The AP preseason poll is officially out, and if your team is not one of the Top 25, you can expect long odds when it comes to their national championship hopes.

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — its modern format — only four of 33 national champions were unranked to start the season. That’s about one in every 8 years.

But it does happen.

The first may be most memorable. In 1985, Villanova — coming off of a 19-12 season that ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament — was left out of the preseason poll.

 
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The Wildcats responded strongly, starting the season 8-0, enough to get them in the AP Poll for six weeks. But Villanova finished its last nine games of the season 4-5, terrible momentum heading into postseason play. The Wildcats received an 8-seed, giving them one of the toughest paths to a Final Four, but it didn’t matter. They won five games in a row to secure a matchup with the Patrick Ewing-led, No. 1-seed Georgetown Hoyas, and beat the clear favorites in remarkable fashion to become the lowest-ever seed to win a national championship.

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In 2003, Syracuse wasn’t ranked to start the year after a second-half collapse in the 2002 season saw the Orange head to the NIT. But in 2003, Syracuse won 11 out of its last 13 games, climbed to No. 11 in the AP Poll by March, and entered the tournament as a 3-seed. There, led by freshman Carmelo Anthony, the Orange won six straight, beating Kansas in the championship game.

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In 2006, unranked Florida won 17 straight games to start the season and quickly found itself No. 2 in the AP Poll come January. The Gators then went 7-6 in their final 13 games of the regular season, sliding to No. 16 in the poll, before winning the SEC championship and securing a 3-seed. They would go on to beat UCLA 73-57 for the school’s first-ever national championship, and would even repeat as champs the following year.

The most recent unranked team to win the title came in 2011. After 2010’s 18-16 campaign ended in the second round of the NIT, UConn failed to make the preseason Top 25 in 2011. Then the Huskies started the year 17-2 and shot to No. 4 in the AP poll. A 4-7 record to finish the year left UConn with a No. 3 seed come tournament time, but the Huskies — powered by junior guard Kemba Walker — won six tournament games by an average of 10.3 points per game and defeated Butler 53-41 for the program’s third title.

NCAA champions since 1985
Year Team Preseason AP rank Lowest AP rank Highest AP rank Final AP Rank Tournament seed Final record Runner-up
2017 UNC 6 14 3 6 1 33-7 Gonzaga
2016 Villanova 11 17 1 6 2 35-5 UNC
2015 Duke 4 5 2 4 1 34-4 Wisconsin
2014 UConn 18 NR 9 18 7 32-8 Kentucky
2013 Louisville 2 12 1 2 1 35-5 Michigan
2012 Kentucky 2 3 1 1 1 38-2 Kansas
2011 UConn NR NR 4 9 3 32-9 Butler
2010 Duke 9 11 3 3 1 35-5 Butler
2009 UNC 1 5 1 2 1 34-4 Mich. St.
2008 Kansas 4 4 2 4 1 37-3 Memphis
2007 Florida 1 7 1 3 1 35-5 Ohio State
2006 Florida NR NR 2 11 3 33-6 UCLA
2005 UNC 4 11 2 2 1 33-4 Illinois
2004 UConn 1 9 1 7 2 33-6 Ga. Tech
2003 Syracuse NR NR 11 13 3 30-5 Kansas
2002 Maryland 2 8 2 4 1 32-4 Indiana
2001 Duke 2 4 1 1 1 35-4 Arizona
2000 Mich. St. 3 11 2 2 1 32-7 Florida
1999 UConn 2 4 1 3 1 34-2 Duke
1998 Kentucky 8 9 4 5 2 35-4 Utah
1997 Arizona 19 19 6 15 4 25-9 Kentucky
1996 Kentucky 1 5 1 2 1 34-2 Syracuse
1995 UCLA 6 7 1 1 1 31-2 Arkansas
1994 Arkansas 3 6 1 2 1 31-3 Duke
1993 UNC 7 8 1 4 1 34-4 Michigan
1992 Duke 1 1 1 1 1 34-2 Michigan
1991 Duke 6 14 5 6 2 32-7 Kansas
1990 UNLV 1 14 1 2 1 35-5 Duke
1989 Michigan 3 13 2 10 3 30-7 Seton Hall
1988 Kansas 7 NR 7 NR 6 27-11 Oklahoma
1987 Indiana 3 8 2 3 1 30-4 Syracuse
1986 Louisville 9 19 7 7 2 32-7 Duke
1985 Villanova NR 19 14 NR 8 25-10 Georgetown

There is a flip side to this, of course. Just being ranked in the preseason does not guarantee success. Since 1985, one in six teams ranked in the preseason poll failed to make the tournament.

That includes 22 teams ranked in the Top 10, and even a preseason No. 2 and No. 3.

A year after going 32-7 and winning the program’s second national championship, Louisville entered the season ranked No. 2 in 1987. And then, disaster. Louisville lost three games to unranked foes to start the year and was 3-6 through its first nine games. The Cardinals were out of the rankings by the first regular season poll, failed to make the tournament, and finished 18-14.

More recently, Kentucky was ranked No. 3 to start the 2013 season, but lost three of its first seven games, with two of those losses coming at the hands of unranked opponents, and was promptly out of the Top 25. The Wildcats would make a brief appearance at No. 25 in February, but were out again the very next week. Kentucky would finish 21-12, losing to Robert Morris in the first game of the NIT.

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