Looking Out For #1: Only Four of Last 35 Top-Ranked Teams Won NCAA Title
Annually, there is a clear and present danger for pole sitters such as Villanova. Five years ago, Kentucky became only the fourth of 35 schools atop the national rankings entering the NCAA playoffs since North Carolina '82 to capture the national championship.
In 2006, Duke became the ninth No. 1 team in 17 years to fail to advance to a regional final when the Blue Devils were eliminated by LSU. In 1992, Duke defied a trend by becoming the first top-ranked team in 10 years entering the NCAA Tournament to win a national title. The five top-ranked teams prior to Duke failed to reach the championship game. UNLV lost twice in the national semifinals (1987 and 1991) and Temple '88, Arizona '89 and Oklahoma '90 failed to reach the Final Four.
Temple, a 63-53 loser against Duke in the 1988 East Regional final, and Kansas State, an 85-75 loser against Cincinnati in the 1959 Midwest Regional final, are the only teams ranked No. 1 by both AP and UPI entering the tourney to lose by a double-digit margin before the Final Four.
The school gaining the sweetest revenge against a top-ranked team was St. John's in 1952. Defending NCAA champion Kentucky humiliated the Redmen by 41 points (81-40) early in the season when the Catholic institution became the first to have a black player on the floor at Lexington, Ky. The African-American player, Solly Walker, played only a few minutes before he took a hit sidelining him for three weeks. But St. John's, sparked by center Bob Zawoluk's 32 points, avenged the rout by eliminating the Wildcats (64-57) in the East Regional, ending their 23-game winning streak. The Redmen, who subsequently defeated second-ranked Illinois in the national semifinals, lost against Kansas in the NCAA final.
In the 1982 championship game, North Carolina needed a basket with 16 seconds remaining from freshman Michael Jordan to nip Georgetown, 63-62, and become the only top-ranked team in 13 years from 1979 through 1991 to capture the NCAA title. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for seven of the 11 top-ranked teams to lose in the NCAA championship game in overtime or by two or three points in regulation.
Nova is the latest #1 to learn it's win or go home as the Wildcats became the third top-ranked team in the last eight years to be eliminated in the second round. Less than one-third of the top-ranked squads captured the NCAA crown. Following is analysis sizing up how the No. 1 teams fared in the NCAA playoffs since the Associated Press introduced national rankings in 1949:
20 - Won national title (Kentucky '49; Kentucky '51; Indiana '53; San Francisco '56; North Carolina '57; UCLA '64; UCLA '67; UCLA '69; UCLA '71; UCLA '72; UCLA '73; North Carolina State '74; UCLA '75; Indiana '76; Kentucky '78; North Carolina '82; Duke '92; UCLA '95, Duke '01, and Kentucky '12).
13 - Finished national runner-up (Bradley '50/defeated by CCNY; Ohio State '61/Cincinnati; Ohio State '62/Cincinnati; Cincinnati '63/Loyola of Chicago; Michigan '65/UCLA; Kentucky '66/Texas Western; Indiana State '79/Michigan State; Houston '83/North Carolina State; Georgetown '85/Villanova; Duke '86/Louisville; Duke '99/Connecticut; Illinois '05/North Carolina, and Ohio State '07/Florida).
9 - Lost in national semifinals (Cincinnati '60/defeated by California; Houston '68/UCLA; UNLV '87/Indiana; UNLV '91/Duke; Massachusetts '96/Kentucky; North Carolina '98/Utah; North Carolina '08/Kansas; Florida '14/Connecticut, and Kentucky '15/Wisconsin).
9 - Lost in regional final (Kentucky '52/defeated by St. John's; Kansas State '59/Cincinnati; Kentucky '70/Jacksonville; Michigan '77/UNC Charlotte; Temple '88/Duke; Indiana '93/Kansas; Kentucky '03/Marquette; Louisville '09/Michigan State), and Kansas '16/Villanova).
7 - Lost in regional semifinals (North Carolina '84/defeated by Indiana; Arizona '89/UNLV; Kansas '97/Arizona; Duke '00/Florida; Duke '02/Indiana); Duke '06/Louisiana State, and Ohio State '11/Kentucky).
8 - Lost in second round (DePaul '80/defeated by UCLA; DePaul '81/St. Joseph's; Oklahoma '90/North Carolina; North Carolina '94/Boston College; Stanford '04/Alabama; Kansas '10/Northern Iowa), Gonzaga '13/Wichita State) and Villanova '17/Wisconsin).
1 - Lost in first round (West Virginia '58/defeated by Manhattan).
1 - Declined a berth (Kentucky '54).
NOTE: After United Press International started ranking teams in 1951, UPI had just three different No. 1 teams entering the national playoffs than AP - Indiana lost in 1954 East Regional semifinals against Notre Dame, California finished as 1960 national runner-up to Ohio State and Indiana lost in 1975 Mideast Regional final against Kentucky.