Ranking the Most Disappointing Preseason No. 1 Teams in NCAA Basketball History
When a college basketball team is selected as preseason No. 1, expectations go through the roof.
Immediately, fans assume that the coach and players will produce a national championship.
A few teams have started as the top-ranked team and stayed that way all the way until they cut down the nets in the final game of the collegiate season.
Yet, many No. 1 teams have lost their way en route to the Final Four.
Here is a list ranking the most disappointing preseason No. 1 teams in NCAA basketball history.
These are teams that had talent in place but came up short of the success that they should have achieved.
Here we go!
7. Kansas Jayhawks (2004-2005)
Kansas entered the 2004-05 season with hopes of making some monstrous March Madness noise.
They made a deep run in the 2004 NCAA tournament, advancing to the Elite Eight before losing to Georgia Tech in the regional final.
Their core of Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, J.R. Giddens and Aaron Miles were all back on campus and should have been ready to go.
After being the preseason No. 1, they finished the regular season as the No. 12 ranked team in the country. They ended up in second place in the Big 12 and had a 23-7 record.
Probably the biggest setback during the Jayhawks’ disappointing season was their first-round loss in the NCAA tournament to 14th-seeded Bucknell.
6. Kentucky Wildcats (1980-81)
The 1980-81 Kentucky Wildcats were deep and talented.
They were led by Sam Bowie, Dirk Minniefield, Derrick Hord and Fred Cowan.
The Cats had a decent run through the regular season, going 22-4, finishing second in the SEC, and they finished ranked No. 8.
But, UK did not end the year well.
They opened the SEC tournament against Vanderbilt, whom they had beaten by 32 and 16 points earlier in the season. But, strangely, Vandy beat the Cats 60-55.
After their opening-round bye in the NCAA tournament, Kentucky drew Alabama-Birmingham, whom they had also beaten back in a December game at home.
Win and move on? Nope!
UAB used balanced scoring and a strong second half to take down the Wildcats, oddly bouncing them from the tournament before they could build up a head of steam.
5. UConn Huskies (1999-2000)
After winning the 1999 NCAA championship over Duke, Connecticut started off as the No. 1 team in the nation for the 1999-2000 season.
Richard “Rip” Hamilton, a first team All-American and the 1999 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, was gone.
But the Huskies had Khalid Al-Amin, Kevin Freeman and Jake Voskuhl back. This should have been a good enough core to make a quality showing in defending their title.
Instead, UConn finished the regular season as the No. 20 ranked team. They posted a 25-10 overall record and finished in third place in the Big East.
After beating No. 12 seed Utah State in the opening round of the 2000 NCAA tournament, the Huskies got handled by Tennessee, 65-51.
4. North Carolina State Wolfpack (1974-75)
After North Carolina State won the 1974 NCAA championship and they returned David Thompson the following year, everyone in Raleigh must have expected another exceptional performance.
Thompson put up amazing numbers in the 1974-75 season, averaging 29.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
While the Wolfpack went a respectable 22-6 overall, they finished in fourth place in the ACC.
Even though this was the first year that teams that did not win their conference championship were allowed in the NCAA tournament, N.C. State was not selected to defend their NCAA title.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (1977-78)
The 1977-78 North Carolina Tar Heels had a chip on their shoulder.
The Heels had made it to the 1977 NCAA national championship game, falling short against Marquette.
They were welcoming back two of the top players in school history: Phil Ford and Michael O’Koren. These two scoring specialists caused opposing coaches to stay up late coming up with a strategy to stop them.
On the year, Dean Smith’s squad went 23-8, finished the regular season ranked No. 16, and they won the ACC.
But everything fell apart in the postseason.
They lost in their first game of the ACC tournament to Wake Forest.
You would think that setback would have served as a wake-up call for North Carolina.
But, it did not.
They dropped their opening-round game of the NCAA tournament, losing to San Francisco in the first round.
Talk about things unraveling fast.
2. Duke Blue Devils (1978-79)
The 1978-79 Duke Blue Devils had a score to settle.
In the 1978 championship game, they ran up against Kentucky’s Goose Givens having a career night, pouring in 41 points as the Wildcats won it all.
Head coach Bill Foster had the veteran trio of Mike Gminski, Gene Banks and Jim Spanarkel to lead the way.
Duke finished second in the ACC regular season, they lost to North Carolina in the conference tournament final and finished the regular season being ranked No. 11 in the nation.
But, the real disappointment came when the Blue Devils played St. John’s in their opening game of the NCAA tournament.
This was supposed to be a payback game for second seed Duke. They had already lost to the Johnnies earlier in the season.
But, there was no evening of the record here.
Instead, it was a frustrating finish to a year that just did not pan out.
1. Syracuse Orange (1987-88)
The 1987-88 Syracuse Orangemen were expected to win it all.
Why would anyone expect them to do anything but tear through their schedule and cut down the nets with a roster that featured three members of Syracuse’s Mount Rushmore: Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas and Rony Seikaly.
This same nucleus played for the 1987 NCAA championship against Indiana, falling short because of Keith Smart’s last-second jumper.
Even with this talented core in place, head coach Jim Boeheim could not get the Orange to consistently play up to their potential.
His team would allow opponents to hang around, and games would be closer than they should have been.
And, because of the free-throw shooting issues of this team, some of the closing minutes of those games were filled with anxious moments.
Even though this Syracuse squad won the Big East tournament, they lost in the second round of the 1988 NCAA tournament to Rhode Island, falling far, far short of where they should have finished.
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