Since the NCAA expanded its tournament to 64 teams in 1985, only four out of 34 national champions were unranked at the beginning of the season. That’s an average of one team in every eight years. However, it does happen, and it can be very lucrative for anyone betting on the NCAA tournament at college ball betting or other online bookies.
Unranked teams that have been successful include the following:
Villanova Wildcats, 1985
The first is one of the most memorable in NCAA basketball history. In 1985, Villanova was left out of the preseason poll after coming off a 19-12 season ending in the second round of the tournament. However, the team rose to become famous for one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history.
At the start of the season, the Wildcats responded strongly with an 8-0 record, enough to rank them in the AP Poll for six weeks. However, they finished their last nine games with a terrible momentum (4-5), heading to the postseason play. Villanova received an 8 seed, leaving it with a tough path to a final four. However, that didn’t matter as the Wildcats won five games in a row to secure a matchup against the No. 1 seed Georgetown Hoyas. In what’s termed as “The Perfect Game,” they proceeded to beat the clear favorites and became the lowest seeded team ever to win the championship.
Syracuse Orange, 2003
After collapsing in the second half to head to the NIT in 2002, Syracuse wasn’t ranked to start the season in 2003. However, Syracuse won 11 out of its 13 last games, climbing to No. 11 by March and entered NCAA tournament as a 3-seed. The Orange then won six straight led by freshman Carmelo Anthony, beating Kansas in the championship.
Florida Gators, 2006
Unranked in 2006, the Gators won 17 straight games to begin the year. Quickly rising to No. 2 in the poll on January, they then went 7-6 in their last 13 games of the season. That saw them slide to No. 16 in the AP poll, before securing a 3-seed and winning the SEC championship. They went on to beat the No. 2-seeded UCLA Bruins 73-57 to win their first ever national championship and won the following year again.
Connecticut Huskies, 2011
The Huskies are the most recent team to win the national championship after being unranked. Following their 18-16 campaign in 2010, the Huskies failed to qualify for the preseason Top 25 in 2011. The team then started the season 17-2, shooting to No.4 in the poll. Powered by the phenomenal play of junior guard Kemba Walker, they won six games with an average of 10.3 points and beat Butler 53-41 to win the title for the third time.
As you can see, being ranked in the preseason doesn’t guarantee success in the NCAA basketball tournament. Since 1985, at least four teams ranked in the preseason failed to rise to the tournament every year. This includes the preseason No. 2, No. 3, and even teams ranking in the top 10.