March Madness: Preseason voters got the Tar Heels right, but how about the rest?
INDIANAPOLIS -- North Carolina is the 24th team to start the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll and end the season playing for the national championship.
Regardless of the outcome of Monday night’s game against Villanova, the Tar Heels have fulfilled the lofty expectations they carried on their shoulders in November. They won the ACC regular season and tournament championships, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Final Four.
Back in October, we analyzed data from each preseason poll since 1985 and compared it to that season's NCAA tournament seedings. We learned then that 86 percent of the teams ranked in the preseason poll played in the NCAA tournament. We learned that only eight unranked teams earned a No. 1 seed in that span. We learned that roughly half the No. 1 seeds started the season ranked in the top four, which is the equivalent of a top seed.
So, how did AP college basketball voters fare in 2015-16?
For starters, 16 teams were ranked in both the preseason and final regular season polls.
As it pertained to the top seeds, UNC and Kansas (No. 4) turned their top four preseason rankings into No. 1 seeds. Virginia, the No. 1 in the Midwest, was sixth in the preseason. However, coach Dana Altman’s Oregon squad became the ninth unranked in the preseason to earn a No. 1 seed.
The Ducks were one of four teams to start unranked and finish in the top 10 of the final regular season poll. They were joined by No. 8 West Virginia, No. 9 Xavier and No. 10 Miami. All three teams received top four seeds in the NCAA tournament but none made it past the Sweet 16.
Syracuse deserves special mention for completing a trifecta of sorts. The Orange proved once more they can be dangerous when unranked in the preseason. Jim Boeheim led his team from unranked to national champion in 2002-03. The Orange went from unranked to a No. 1 seed in 2009-10. And this season, Syracuse went from unranked to the Final Four. Don’t expect Boeheim to worry if his team fails to crack the 2016-17 preseason poll.
Michigan State (No. 13) also slightly exceeded its preseason expectations. Although, with the Spartans, a stunning first round defeat as a two-seed complicates the perception of their season. Still, coach Tom Izzo surpassed outside opinions once more by leading his team to a No. 2 seed.
Teams that failed to meet preseason expectations
LSU (No. 21) was the only preseason top 25 member to miss the NCAA tournament. Voters held the Tigers in high regard last October due to the arrival of freshman phenom Ben Simmons, but for whatever reason his massive talent didn't produce consistent winning. The Tigers finished with a disappointing 19-14 mark (11-7 in the SEC) and missed the postseason entirely.
Kentucky (No. 2) rallied late to earn a No. 4 seed, then lost to Indiana in the second round. Not terrible, but a letdown after four Final Four trips in the previous five years. Maryland (No. 3) managed a No. 5 seed, yet reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in 13 years. So, it’s fair to call the Terps’ 2015-16 a mixed bag. Voters expected Duke (No. 5) to reload with a new freshman crop and contend for another national title. But not all rookies are created equally. The Blue Devils were fortunate to earn a No. 4 seed and reach the Sweet 16.
Gonzaga (No. 9) and Wichita State (No. 10) both snuck into the NCAA tournament. The Zags by virtue of winning the West Coast Conference tournament and the Shockers as one of the last at-large selections, sent to the First Four. Gonzaga atoned for its supbar regular season by advancing to the Sweet 16. Wichita State also won two games before losing to Miami (Fla.) in the second round.
Vanderbilt (No. 18) didn’t quite pan out, either. The Commodores finished 19-14, slipping in the NCAA field as one of the last at-large selections, but going home quietly with a loss in Dayton. Michigan (No. 25) slipped in as a No. 11 seed and won its First Four game, salvaging a pedestrian season impacted by the loss of injured star Caris Levert.