|The Hurricanes are a veteran group having the most surprising season in college hoops. (US Presswire)|
Miami has become the "It" team of college basketball in 2012-13. That's because, in large part, nobody saw this coming. Like, n-o-b-o-d-y. Not even Jim Larranaga in his sleepy sleep dreamy dreams could've expected Miami, on Feb. 13, to be 19-3, the No. 3 team in the country and off to the first non-Duke/UNC 10-0 start in ACC play since Ralph Sampson and Virginia three decades ago. (And it's the best major-conference team on the road this season, to boot.)
Not only was Miami unranked in the preseason, it wasn't in the polls once last season, either. How often does something like this happen? I've done the legwork and looked it all up. As you'd expect, these kinds of unforeseen campaigns don't always evince big-time success in the NCAA tournament.
Since the big bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 12 programs have reached the top five of the AP Poll's rankings after not being ranked in both the previous season and subsequent preseason poll. Some have claimed Miami should own the No. 1 spot this week. If the Canes do wind up getting to the top, they'll be the first team to ever be both unranked the previous year and unranked the following preseason to sit atop college hoops. The only other team that has done that is the random Wake Forest club of '09 (god, how long ago does that feel?) which started the season No. 24 and then ultimately lost to Cleveland State in the first round of the tournament.
A letdown to be sure, and not an aberrational one. Let's get to the history here. Here are brief dossiers on the 12 teams that broke through, even if briefly, college basketball's top five in the AP Poll after nobody believed in them at season's beginning -- and were also unranked the season before.
|Team||Year||Weeks in top five||Highest rank||Notes|
|'87-88||1||3||BYU had a short stay on Feb. 1, 1988, and went on to lose as a 4 seed to Louisville in the second round of the NCAAs.|
|'89-90||1||4||Michigan State didn't crack the top five until the final poll of the regular season. It earned a No. 1 seed but was upset in the Sweet 16 by No. 4 Georgia Tech.|
|'92-93||1||5||Vanderbilt also had a slow climb, not getting top-five until March 8 of '93. It earned a 3 seed and got taken out in the Sweet 16 by No. 7 Temple.|
|'93-94||2||3||Missouri rode its season to a No. 1 seed as it cracked the top near the end of the year. Then it went to the Elite Eight before falling to No. 2 Arizona.|
|'96-97||1||4||South Carolina had to wait until March 3 to be a top-five team, and then, as a No. 2 seed -- perhaps the most transparent 2 ever -- it fell to Coppin State in the first round.|
|'98-99||5||2||Auburn cracked the top five on Feb. 8, 1999. What a random team. Tigers lost in S16 to No. 4 Ohio State. The next year, Auburn was preseason No. 1, with Chris Porter on the cover of SI.|
|'01-02||2||5||Oklahoma State spent two quick weeks among the elite, around Christmastime, but wound up as a 7 seed and didn't win a game.|
|'02-03||1||5||Notre Dame was the No. 5 team in the country on 1.6.03, and it ultimately earned a No. 5 seed, exceeding expectations, reaching the Sweet 16.|
|'02-03||3||2||Louisville broke through on Feb. 3 in '03, wound up with a No. 4 seed, then helped build Butler's mystique by being upset by the 12th-seeded Bulldogs in the second round.|
|'03-04||3||3||Georgia Tech had some sort of year. The Yellow Jackets came out of nowhere, basically. Unranked, then were No. 13 in the third poll following 5-0 start, and top five on Dec. 15. G-Tech wound up with a 3 seed and lost to UConn in the title game. One of the worst runners-up in NCAA history? Luke Schenscher, baby!|
|'09-10||1||5||Kansas State wasn't top-five until March 1, but it made it to the Elite Eight, losing to No. 5 Butler.|
|'10-11||1||4||San Diego State was the No. 4 team on Jan. 24, 2011 but fell out after one week. SDSU had its best year ever that season, earning an unprecedented No. 2 seed and reaching the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual champs UConn.|
As you can see, longevity isn't usually part of the equation for flash-in-the-pan types. And neither is consistent NCAA tournament success. There are a number of upsets depicted above. When you average out the March results, here's what you get:
Average seed: No. 3 (2.9)
Average tourney exit: Sweet 16 (1.9 wins per team)
Highest seed: No. 1 (three times)
Lowest seed: No. 7
Zero tournament wins: twice
Final Fours: one
History isn't always right, but it is fascinating to see how teams that weren't perceived as good, by and large, didn't melt our faces in March. There's something to that, you know? A lot of people have a hard time trusting the new, hot team. Gotta prove it, etc. It's why your casual buddy who will be in the pool this year isn't likely to pick Miami past the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes just look weird as a top seed in 2013.
By the way, if we extend the historical view of teams and include all groups that weren't ranked the entire previous season but did make it into the preseason polls, here's who eventually cracked the top five. There's a little more success on the whole, but still disappointment.
-- '87-88 Temple -- preseason No. 12 -- spent two weeks in top five, and so did Wyoming (preseason No. 10) that year. Temple did this twice, in fact, being preseason No. 8 in '93-94 and getting back to the top five. It lost in the Elite Eight as a 1 seed in the '89 tournament and fell in the second round in '94 as a 4. Wyoming, a No. 7, fell to high-scoring LMU in the first round in '88.
-- '89-90 Arkansas was preseason No. 9 and made the Final Four.
-- '90-91 Ohio State was No. 10 preseason and spent 10 weeks in the top five, the longest stretch along with 2008-09 Oklahoma, which began No. 12 in the preseason. Ohio State was a 1 seed in '90 and fell in the Sweet 16. Oklahoma reached the Elite Eight as a No. 2 with Blake Griffin.
-- Wake with Tim Duncan in '94-95 was No. 24 in the preseason before getting top five in the last week of polls that season. It was felled in the Sweet 16 by fourth-seeded Oklahoma State.
-- Memphis in '95-96 was preseason No. 13 team, earned a 5 seed, lost to Drexel in first round.
-- Minnesota was No. 22 in '96-97 before the season began. It became a No. 1 seed, made the Final Four, then eventually had the whole thing vacated by the NCAA.
-- Purdue in '97-98 was preseason No. 9, an NCAA tournament No. 2 and lost, you guessed it, in the Sweet 16.
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