Whoever opens the season at No. 1 in the AP poll, they might as well start planning for March now. No preseason No. 1 has ever failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Of the 25 rankings in the AP poll, the No. 1 is the only position that can claim that unblemished record. Still, of the 851 teams that have been ranked in the preseason since the NCAA tournament expanded to its modern format in 1985, 83.5 percent have made the tournament.
And if a team finds itself in the Top 5, they can feel extra safe. Of the 175 teams that have been in those positions, only 10 have failed to go dancing. And yes, those that missed out include a No. 2 (Louisville went 18-14 in 1987) and No. 3 (Kentucky went 21-12 in 2013).
MARCH MADNESS 2021: Complete schedule and dates for the 2021 tournament
Hover over the table and scroll to see the table in full.
|Preseason rank||Teams that missed NCAAT||# of 1 seeds||% make tournament||Champions|
But those 1-5 teams also account for 75 of the 140 1-seeds in the tournament since 1985, an average of just over two of the four every year. They’ve also accounted for 19 of the 35 national champions. Before last year it was really just Nos. 1-4. Virginia became the first No. 5 in the preseason poll to win the title in the NCAA tournament’s modern format.
On average, teams ranked in the preseason Top 5 don’t find themselves with lower than a 5 seed come tournament time, though No. 2 and No. 3 have been seeded as low as 10.
Then No. 1s? Well they had an 8-seed in 2014 (Kentucky, which went on to lose in the national championship game), but almost two thirds of all preseason No. 1s entered March Madness as a 1-seed.
So, how have they performed once the tournament starts?
|Year||Team||Final record||Tournament seed||Tournament finish|
|'18-'19||Kansas||26-10||4||Lost in second round|
|'17-'18||Duke||29-8||2||Lost in Elite Eight|
|‘16-’17||Duke||28-9||2||Lost in second round|
|‘15-’16||UNC||33-7||1||Lost in championship game|
|‘14-’15||Kentucky||38-1||1||Lost in Final Four|
|‘13-’14||Kentucky||29-11||8||Lost in championship game|
|‘12-’13||Indiana||29-7||1||Lost in Sweet 16|
|‘11-’12||UNC||32-6||1||Lost in Elite Eight|
|‘10-’11||Duke||32-5||1||Lost in Sweet 16|
|‘09-’10||Kansas||33-3||1||Lost in second round|
|‘07-’08||UNC||36-3||1||Lost in Final Four|
|'05-'06||Duke||32-4||1||Lost in Sweet 16|
|'04-'05||Kansas||23-7||3||Lost in first round|
|'02-'03||Arizona||28-4||1||Lost in Elite Eight|
|'01-'02||Duke||31-4||1||Lost in Sweet 16|
|'00-'01||Arizona||28-8||2||Lost in championship game|
|'99-'00||UConn||25-10||5||Lost in second round|
|'98-'99||Duke||37-2||1||Lost in championship game|
|'97-'98||Arizona||30-5||1||Lost in Elite Eight|
|'96-'97||Cincinnati||26-8||3||Lost in second round|
|'94-'95||Arkansas||32-7||2||Lost in championship game|
|'93-'94||UNC||28-7||1||Lost in second round|
|'92-'93||Michigan||31-5||1||Lost in championship game|
|'90-'91||UNLV||34-1||1||Lost in Final Four|
|'88-'89||Duke||28-8||2||Lost in Final Four|
|'87-'88||Syracuse||26-9||3||Lost in second round|
|'86-'87||UNC||32-4||1||Lost in Elite Eight|
|'85-'86||Georgia Tech||27-7||2||Lost in Sweet 16|
|84-'85||Georgetown||35-3||1||Lost in championship game|
Preseason No. 1s have made it to the national championship 13 times since 1985, but only six of the 35 preseason No 1s have won the title bout (though that is more than any other preseason rank). The most recent of those came in 2009, when UNC went 34-4 and beat Michigan State for the crown.
But just over half (18 of 35) of the preseason No. 1s have failed to make it out of their regional, losing before the Final Four, so starting the year as top dog definitely doesn't guarantee a trip to the national semifinals.
Still, it’s definitely not a bad place to be.