Notre Dame, meanwhile, saw its more distant at-large hopes likely end with a loss to Duke on Thursday night.
Arizona State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame share something else besides March Madness uncertainty, however: All three teams are teetering on the bubble despite having been ranked in the top 5 of the Associated Press poll at some point this season. Should any of them miss the NCAA tournament, they would join a small, unfortunate group of early high achievers who couldn’t close the deal.
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984-85, only nine teams have failed to make the NCAA tournament after reaching the AP top 5 during the season. Take out the teams that reached their pinnacle only in the preseason poll, before any games were played, and that number shrinks to seven teams.
Indiana 2016-17: No. 3 (third poll of the season)
Kentucky 2012-13: No. 3 (first two polls)
Alabama 2006-07: No. 4 (fifth poll)
LSU 2006-07: No. 5 (preseason poll; rough year for the SEC)
Louisville 2005-06: No. 4 (sixth poll)
Missouri 2003-04: No. 3 (fourth poll)
Michigan 1996-97: No. 4 (sixth and seventh polls)
Virginia 2001-02: No. 4 (seventh and eighth polls, as of now the lone team to miss the tournament after reaching such heights after the new year)
Indiana 1984-85: No. 4 (preseason poll)
All three of this year’s vulnerable teams saw their fortunes go south in their own special way.
— The Sun Devils tied their all-time high ranking — No. 3 — during a season-opening 12-0 spurt that included wins over Xavier and Kansas. But Arizona State dropped its Pac-12 opener to rival Arizona and followed that up with an overtime loss at middling Colorado. The Sun Devils closed the season on a 1-5 skid, with opponents exposing their relative lack of size by shutting down the perimeter.
— With freshman Trae Young setting the college basketball world ablaze, Oklahoma went from unranked to No. 4 by mid-January. They proceeded to lose 11 of their final 15 games, with Young struggling to carry his team over the course of an entire season (he averages 5.19 turnovers, the worst mark in the nation, though that number is inflated by the sheer amount of time he has the ball in his hands).
— The Fighting Irish rose to No. 5 after winning six straight to start the season, but losses to Michigan State, Ball State (at home) and Indiana sent Notre Dame tumbling out of the poll altogether. Things only got worse after star big man Bonzie Colson broke a bone in his left foot during practice (he returned late in the season).
Despite the swoons, some of the key characters remain confident, at least outwardly.
“I believe we’re in the NCAA tournament,” Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley said after Wednesday’s loss, per the AP. “Now, there is going to be debate about that, and with good reason, because we didn’t finish the season the way I’d hoped. But, again, we lost some close ones, some games that could have gone either way.”
Said Young: “Instead of us taking care of our business we left it in the committee’s hands. We played in the toughest conference in America. I think our resume speaks for itself.”
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