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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | February 12, 2021

How do the preseason Top 25 fare in March Madness?

Everything you need to know about March Madness

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
1 0 22 100% 6
2 1 14 97% 5
3 1 14 97% 4
4 3 14 91% 3
5 5 11 86% 1
6 1 7 97% 4
7 3 7 91% 2
8 1 3 97% 1
9 3 3 91% 2
10 5 3 86% 0
11 3 6 91% 1
12 6 4 83% 0
13 5 1 86% 0
14 9 1 74% 0
15 6 0 83% 0
16 7 2 80% 0
17 12 3 66% 0
18 8 1 77% 1
19 9 2 74% 1
20 8 0 77% 0
21 12 2 60% 0
22 7 2 77% 0
23 8 0 73% 0
24 10 3 67% 0
25 7 0 77% 0

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.

DON'T MISSEven unranked teams find success in the NCAA tournament

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
‘08-’09 UNC 34-4 1 Won championship
‘07-’08 UNC 36-3 1 Lost in Final Four
'06-'07 Florida 35-5 1 Won championship
'05-'06 Duke 32-4 1 Lost in Sweet 16
'04-'05 Kansas 23-7 3 Lost in first round
'03-'04 UConn 33-6 2 Won championship
'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
'95-'96 Kentucky 34-2 1 Won championship
'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
'91-'92 Duke 34-2 1 Won championship
'90-'91 UNLV 34-1 1 Lost in Final Four
'89-'90 UNLV 35-5 1 Won championship
'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.

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