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Wayne Staats | | August 2, 2019

How college basketball's preseason No. 1 team does in the NCAA tournament

The ACC is poised to make noise in the NCAA tournament

Kansas started at No. 1 in the first AP college basketball rankings of the 2018-19 season. But what does being No. 1 mean? Do preseason No. 1 teams have a successful track record in the NCAA tournament, even if March Madness is more than four months away?

We decided to take a look going back to the 1984-85 season, when the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.

Here's what we found on those 35 teams:

  • 17 reached the Final Four (just under 50 percent)
  • Six won the national championship (17.1 percent)
  • Seven lost in the national championship (20 percent)
  • 22 reached at least the Elite Eight (62.9 percent)
  • 27 made it to the Sweet 16 (77.1 percent)
  • One lost in the first round

Here's how every preseason No. 1 team has done since 2000:

2018-19 Kansas, 26-10, No. 4 seed, lost to No. 5 Auburn in the Second Round

It was an unusual year for the Jayhawks. One season after making the Final Four, KU started No. 1...but then saw its streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles end at 14. The Jayhawks then fell to Auburn under a deluge of 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament Second Round. The Tigers eventually made the Final Four.

2017-18: Duke, 29-8, No. 2 seed, lost to No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight

The Blue Devils were No. 1 for the first five polls and later reached No. 2 after dropping out of the top spot. Duke ended up getting a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, losing to Kansas in an overtime thriller. Four of the top five scorers were freshmen, starting with Marvin Bagley III at 21 points per game. Veteran Grayson Allen, a senior, averaged 15.5 points per game.

2016-17: Duke, 28-9, No. 2 seed, lost to No. 7 South Carolina in the Second Round

Duke had a short run at the top of the AP Poll, ranking first the first two polls and then not returning to the peak. In fact, the Blue Devils were as low at No. 21 before rallying to win seven in a row and later the ACC Tournament after another mini-slump. Though Duke received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, it lost to No. 7 South Carolina...while playing the Gamecocks in Greenville, South Carolina.

2015-16: North Carolina, 33-7, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 1 Villanova in the National Championship

The Tar Heels went only 26-12 the year prior, but they opened No. 1 thanks to returning most of the talent. Most of the top scorers were back, led by Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson. But the emergence of Joel Berry played a huge role, too. After averaging 4.2 points per game, he scored 13.4 per game while starting 39 games.

Only a Kris Jenkins last-second 3-pointer kept North Carolina from finishing the way it started: No. 1.

2014-15: Kentucky, 38-1, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 1 Wisconsin in the Final Four

The Wildcats went wire-to-wire at No. 1, winning their first 38 games to become the first team to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated since Wichita State in 2013-14. After a close win against No. 3 Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, Wisconsin shocked the 'Cats in Indianapolis to stop the unbeaten run. That meant 1975-76 Indiana remained the most recent team to complete an undefeated season.

2013-14: Kentucky, 29-11, No. 8 seed, lost to No. 7 Connecticut in the National Championship

This was a strange turn for the Wildcats. They started No. 1, lost to No. 2 Michigan State in their third game, and dropped completely out of the poll ahead of the SEC tournament.

But then Kentucky started to roll. A one-point loss to No. 1 Florida aside, the Wildcats started winning. They knocked off undefeated Wichita State in the Round of 32 and then beat ranked Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin before falling to Connecticut in the final.

2012-13: Indiana, 29-7, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 4 Syracuse in the Sweet 16

Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford headlined the Hoosiers. Returning most of the high-end talent from a Sweet 16 team the prior year, Indiana started 9-0 before losing to Butler. But the Hoosiers never dropped out of the top 10 and also returned to the top of the polls in February. But Syracuse eliminated the Hoosiers en route to the Final Four.

2011-12: North Carolina, 32-6, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 2 Kansas in the Elite Eight

The Tar Heels started No. 1 and eventually earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. But starting point guard Kendall Marshall broke his right wrist against Creighton in the Round of 32. Though UNC beat the Blue Jays and then Ohio, it lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight. Marshall averaged 9.8 assists per game that season.

2010-11: Duke, 32-5, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 5 Arizona in the Sweet 16

The Blue Devils were the defending national champions and had a dynamite team: Nolan Smith (20.6 points per game), Kyrie Irving (17.5) and Kyle Singler (16.9) helped lead the way. Duke didn't fall from the top spot until the middle of January, ultimately won the ACC tournament and grabbed a No. 1 seed. But Arizona's Derrick Williams scored 32 points to pull to upset.

2009-10: Kansas, 33-3, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 9 Northern Iowa in the Second Round

Not many teams have been such a strong tournament favorite as the 2009-10 Jayhawks. They started 14-0, were ranked No. 1 for all but a handful of weeks and lost only twice going into the NCAA tournament.

But then Ali Farokhmanesh happened.

2008-09: North Carolina, 34-4, No. 1 seed, won National Championship

There we go. We have to go back a decade to find the last preseason No. 1 team to win the national title. UNC never dropped outside the top five during the season and met little resistance in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels' winning margins: 43, 14, 21, 12, 14 and 17. Decorated star Tyler Hansbrough averaged 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds to win the title in his senior season.

2007-08: North Carolina, 36-3, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 1 Kansas in the Final Four

The Tar Heels were one of four heavyweights to make the Final Four, as all top seeds made the semifinals for the first time (Memphis would later vacate its appearance). UNC almost finished on top, but trailed by 28 points in the first half, 40-12. The Tar Heels closed to within 4 points, but Kansas broke free again, this time for good. The Jayhawks would win the national championship.

2006-07: Florida, 35-5, No. 1 seed, won National Championship

The Gators completed back-to-back title runs with another impressive NCAA tournament. They played Ohio State in the final — and beat the Buckeyes for the second time that season to account for half of Ohio State's losses. Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Al Hoford, Lee Humphrey and Joakim Noah all starred.

2005-06: Duke, 32-4, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 4 LSU in Sweet 16

J.J. Redick averaged 26.8 points per game to lead the Blue Devils, who were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the poll until March — when they dropped to third. Duke went into the NCAA tournament No. 1 and looked the part until they shot 27.7 percent in a 62-54 loss to Final Four-bound LSU.

2004-05: Kansas, 23-7, No. 3 seed, lost to No. 14 Bucknell in the First Round

This is the most recent time the preseason No. 1 team failed to win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks started 14-0 and were later 20-1 before slumping with a 3-5 stretch before the NCAA tournament. There, Bucknell shocked Kansas in the first of two consecutive high-profile defeats for the Jayhawks in the First Round (KU lost to Bradley the next year as a No. 4 seed).

2003-04: Connecticut, 33-6, No. 2 seed, won National Championship

A talented Huskies team with Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor and others didn't always look invincible, but once it got to March, UConn became a force. The Huskies beat Notre Dame, Villanova and Pittsburgh to win the Big East Conference Tournament title. They then won the national title by beating Duke and Georgia Tech in the Final Four. The final win avenged a loss to the Yellow Jackets early in the season.

2002-03: Arizona, 28-4, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 2 Kansas in the Elite Eight

Five players averaged double figures in points for the Wildcats (Jason Gardner, Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire, Rick Anderson and Luke Walton). Arizona survived a scare by Gonzaga in the Second Round, but Roy Williams' final Kansas team stopped Arizona's title run.

2001-02: Duke, 31-4, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 5 Indiana in the Sweet 16

Jay Williams' 21.3 points per game led the team, but Duke also had Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, among other standouts. The Blue Devils finished second in the ACC during the regular season to Maryland, but Duke won the ACC Tournament and had high expectations in the NCAA tournament. But Jared Jeffries' 24 points and 15 rebounds helped Indiana rally from down 13 at the half, 74-73.

2000-01: Arizona, 28-8, No. 2 seed, lost to No. 1 Duke in the National Championship

Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson were two stars for a team that started only 8-5. But the Wildcats then came together and looked the part of a contender until falling to powerhouse Duke in the final.

Here's the rest of the preseason No. 1 teams since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in for 1984-85:

  • 1999-00: Connecticut, 25-10, No. 5 seed, lost to No. 4 Tennessee in the Second Round
  • 1998-99: Duke, 37-2, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 1 Connecticut in the National Championship
  • 1997-98: Arizona, 30-5, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 3 Utah in the Elite Eight
  • 1996-97: Cincinnati 26-8, No. 3 seed, lost to No. 6 Iowa State in the Second Round
  • 1995-96: Kentucky, 34-2, No. 1 seed, won National Championship
  • 1994-95: Arkansas, 32-7, No. 2 seed, lost to No. 1 UCLA in the National Championship
  • 1993-94: North Carolina, 28-7, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 9 Boston College in the Second Round
  • 1992-93: Michigan, 31-5, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 1 North Carolina in the National Championship
  • 1991-92: Duke, 34-2, No. 1 seed, won National Championship
  • 1990-91: UNLV, 34-1, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 2 Duke in the Final Four
  • 1989-90: UNLV, 35-5, No. 1 seed, won National Championship
  • 1988-89: Duke, 28-8, No. 2 seed, lost to No. 3 Seton Hall in Final Four
  • 1987-88: Syracuse, 26-9, No. 3 seed, lost to No. 11 Rhode Island in the Second Round
  • 1986-87: North Carolina, 32-4, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 2 Syracuse in the Elite Eight
  • 1985-86: Georgia Tech, 27-7, No. 2 seed, lost to No. 11 LSU in the Sweet 16
  • 1984-85: Georgetown, 35-3, No. 1 seed, lost to No. 8 Villanova in the National Championship

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