Polls don’t mean much in a sport where the champion is decided on the playing field. But in college hoops the preseason poll is a pretty good gauge as to which schools will be the power brokers in March. Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only seven teams ranked in the preseason AP top 10 have failed to make it to the tournament. That works out to a 96.5% success rate – and it’s higher if Steve Alford isn’t associated with the team. Here are the seven that dissapointed…
1984-85 Indiana (preseason #4) – Indiana upset UNC in the sweet 16 the previous year, then lost to Virginia with a Final Four bid on the line. With Alford as a sophomore, this team imploded when Mike Giomi was booted off the team for academic reasons. The Hoosiers lost 9 of its final 13 regular season games including the Purdue game where Bob Knight tossed a piece of furniture across the court. They finished the year by losing in the NIT championship.
1986-87 Louisville (#2) – The Cards were a legitimate threat to be the first to win back to back championships since Wooden’s UCLA teams – or so people thought. "Those people" were in love with Pervis Ellison who helped Louisville win a title the year before as a freshman. However Louisville lost three senior starters, including backcourt mates Jeff Hall and Milt Wagner. They were swept in the season opening Great Alaska Shootout by three unranked teams. This knocked them out of the polls and they never returned. Louisville finished 18-14 and rejected a bid to play in the NIT.
1994-95 Duke (#8) – After being national runner-up in ’94, Duke was given tremendous respect even while losing Grant Hill to graduation. Like the ’85 Indiana team, Duke suffered from an unexpected January defection that dramatically altered their season. Coack K left the team with a 9-3 record to undergo back surgery. The team fell apart in ACC play, finishing last in the conference with a record of 2-14. The biggest highlight was Jeff Capel’s halfcourt buzzer beater to force UNC to double overtime, in a game the Dukies eventually lost. They finished with a record of 13-18.
1996-97 Michigan (#9) – The Wolverines returned four starters and had Robert Traylor coming back from an injury to fill the 5th spot. (And boy could he fill it.) In what would be Steve Fisher’s last season at the school, Michigan won their first eight, including a win in Durham against #10 Duke. They entered the Rainbow Classic in late December at #4, but lost twice on the islands – to mediocre Memphis and Pittsburgh. They struggled in Big Ten play and ended the regular season 19-11. Michigan won the NIT title, and then NCAA investigators circled the program and sealed Fisher’s fate.
2001-02 Iowa (#9) – In Steve Alford’s third year as coach, he was the rising star in the coaching profession. It was his stardom and a great finish to the previous season that contributed to a lofty ranking. They finished the ’01 regular season with a 18-11 record, 7-9 in conference. They were NIT-bound, but changed their plans after winning four straight in the Big 10 tournament. The Hawkeyes tacked on a 1st round NCAA tournament win for good measure. They lost point guard Dean Oliver off that team, but still managed to start ’01-’02 12-3. An easy win at #2 Missouri on December 15th made it appear as if Iowa belonged. It turned out both teams were overrated. Iowa finished Big Ten play at 5-11 and headed for the NIT after a loss in the Big Ten championship. They lost in the NIT first round.
2001-02 Saint Joseph’s (#10) – The Hawks returned just about everybody important from a team that won 26 games the prior year. In Jameer Nelson’s sophomore season, he teamed up with senior Marvin O’Connor in the backcourt. The Hawks began the season by losing to Eastern Washington. Consecutive December losses to Georgia State and a woeful edition of UNC convinced most that pre-season expectations would not be met. SJU finished 19-12 after a 2nd round exit from the NIT.
The pollsters had a rough time of it in ’01-’02. Not only did Iowa and St. Joe’s settle for the NIT, but #11 Virginia and #12 Memphis also failed to make it to the dance. Pre-season #8 Missouri was one of the last at-large teams picked.
2003-04 Missouri (#5) – After almost making this list in 2002, last year’s Tigers had no problem dissapointing. They returned two potential all-Americans in Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson. But they lost point guard Ricky Clemons due to, ahem, legal problems. While Quin Snyder was glad to see Clemons leave, he was not easy to replace on the court. They entered the second week of February at 9-10, but a six game winning streak put them in position to make the tournament field. They lost to Kansas twice in March when a win in either game would have put them in the dance. They lost in the first round of the NIT.