Last week I mentioned the fact that preseason polls do a good job at predicting the future, with some notable exceptions. I detailed the few teams that were ranked in the preseason top 10 and missed the NCAA Tourney.
In this election year, it’s only fair to give equal time to the other side – the surprises that were overlooked in the preseason. I arbitrarily decided that getting a #1 seed in the tournament would define a great season. What follows is the list of teams that were not ranked in the preseason top 20 (AP poll) and earned a number 1 seed in the postseason prom. It has happened more often than I expected.
What’s striking about this list is how poorly these ten teams fared in the dance. There’s only one final four team in the bunch and four of these teams were second round losers. Not counting these castoffs, about 47% of other one seeds have made it to the final four. So I don’t think we’re talking about a coincidence here.
1985 Michigan. The Wolverines had an awful first round performance against Fairleigh Dickinson before succumbing to eventual national champ Villanova in the second round.
1986 St. John’s. Another number 1 seed that had trouble shaking its inferior opponent (Montana State) in the first round. They fell to Auburn in the second round.
1990 Connecticut. Their tournament experience was as unique as any with the wild win over Clemson in the sweet sixteen capped by the Tate George buzzer beater. Then they lost in overtime to Duke in the east regional final when Christian Laettner put the Devils on his back.
1990 Michigan State. The only 1 seed ever to be taken to overtime in their first round game, the Spartans almost fell to a Popeye Jones-led Murray State team. They were knocked off by Georgia Tech in the sweet sixteen.
1994 Missouri. Given previous early exits by the Tigers, they surprised most in the national media by getting to the elite eight before falling to Arizona.
1994 Purdue. Purdue also advanced to the regional finals, losing to Duke.
1996 Purdue. The ’96 Boilermakers barely got by Western Carolina in the first round and were eliminated by Georgia in the round 2.
1997 Minnesota. Minnesota is the only final four participant on this list, losing to Kentucky in Indianapolis that year.
1999 Auburn. Auburn came from way off the radar to make it as a #1 seed. They lost to Ohio State in the regional semifinals.
2002 Cincinnati. The Bearcats continued a string of disapointing postseasons by losing in the second round to UCLA.