Preseason polls are the pinnacle of expectations. If your favorite team is included in that initial AP Top 25, that undoubtedly means the assumption is a trip to the NCAA tournament.

To the surprise of zero sports fans, those predictions don't always come true. For a handful of programs, though, the season is more like a roller coaster. Early losses lead to questions, but a late-season surge returns a team to the March Madness picture.

And in mid-February, those delayed rises are starting to appear.

How to define a fallen contender is subjective, but this is our qualification: Any preseason AP Top 25 program that has since dropped 12-plus spots, relative to current KenPom rankings, but is still included on the latest BracketMatrix projections.


Virginia Cavaliers

Preseason AP Ranking: 25

KenPom Ranking: 78

Hanging on by a thread, these Cavaliers.

If not for Reece Beekman's recent game-winning shot at Duke, Virginia very likely wouldn't be included on any projections. Right now, one—seriously, one—of the 119 current BracketMatrix projections has Tony Bennett's squad in the tournament field.

Holding a 16-10 record, the Hoos are approaching two major opportunities for their postseason hopes.

First, on Feb. 19, they travel to Miami, which is currently on the correct side of the bubble. Then, the Cavaliers host Duke on Feb. 23. Given the locations and caliber of opponents, Virginia could pick up two much-needed Quadrant 1 wins.

Barring an ACC tournament title, though, UVA needs a hot regular-season finish to keep this fragile thread intact.


North Carolina Tar Heels

Preseason AP Ranking: 19

KenPom Ranking: 48

When the Tar Heels dropped consecutive games to Miami and Wake Forest by a combined 50 points, the sky began falling. Could they recover to even crack the NCAA tournament?

Short answer: Yes. Maybe.

The longer story is that everything has been a challenge. Since those nightmare losses, UNC has posted a 6-2 record that includes uncomfortable road victories over Louisville and Clemson—and an ugly 20-point margin at home to archrival Duke, plus a rough loss to Pitt. To date, the Heels are holding a projected No. 11 seed.