The 15 Best Teams Who Never Won the NCAA Tournament
The 15 Best Teams Who Never Won the NCAA Championship
The NCAA tournament is the single greatest tournament in sports each and every year. For an entire month, casual and die-hard sports fans fix their eyes on each of the 68 teams in the tournament field. Each and every year, all of the teams in the field believe that they will be the champion when all is said and done. On numerous occurrences, the team that goes into the tournament with the best record does not end up being the champion.
Many of these teams were led by some of the game's greatest players and coaches of all-time, and many of these teams have made legitimate cases for being not just the best team in a year, but one of the best teams ever. In several cases, these teams haven't been awarded their just dues because they ultimately came up short in the tournament.
Traditional power programs are among the majority of the teams that stake their claim among the best to never win. By assembling great teams year after year, these teams have assembled the most talented teams in the nation, yet have missed out on incredible opportunities that very rarely come by.
Each of the teams on my list of the top 15 best teams to never win the NCAA tournament could and should have dramatically improved their programs for the near and distant future with some championship hardware.
When all is said and done, my list brings memories of what if and what could have been for these teams. It's a sad and painful reminder of how a break here or there could have changed the fortunes of college basketball history. Here are the 15 best teams that never won the NCAA tournament.
15. 2008 North Carolina Tar Heels
In 2008, all four No. 1 seeds earned berths in the Final Four. The best team out of this quartet were the North Carolina Tar Heels. After only losing tow games all year, the Tar Heels fell behind 40-12 to the eventual champion Kansas Jayhawks and never recovered.
This shocking loss was redeemed in 2009 as four of their starters and their top reserve were prominent NBA players who led the Tar Heels to a dominant victory over the Michigan State Spartans.
14. 1988 Oklahoma Sooners
The 1988 Oklahoma Sooners were one of the most talented teams in Big 8 history. With three future first-round picks on their roster, the Sooners were the overwhelming favorites against the Cinderella Kansas Jayhawks.
The Sooners were one of the most prolific offense in NCAA history, averaging around 102.5 points per game. The team finished 35-4 in the regular season, but lost 83-79. The Sooners have not been back to the title game since.
13. 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes
With the likes of freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, the 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes were dominant all year. Despite some close calls in the tournament, the Buckeyes were talented enough to win it all in 2007.
The Buckeyes, unfortunately, had the misfortune of facing the defending champion Florida Gators with two future NBA All-Star big men in Al Horford and Joakim Noah. The Buckeyes were a great team, but Florida won a close game 84-75 and were the last team that repeated as NCAA champions.
12. 2008 Memphis Tigers
The 2008 Memphis Tigers would eventually have this championship run vacated due to violations from top point guard Derrick Rose. However, their own mistakes would lead them to lose the title game even before the sanctions were handed out.
The Tigers finished 38-2 in the regular season, but in a weak Conference USA. Missed foul shots late in the game and a miraculous three-pointer by Jayhawks guard Mario Chalmers led the Tigers to defeat even before overtime. The Tigers have not been back to the Elite Eight since this collapse.
11. 1957 Kansas Jayhawks
Before Wilt Chamberlain became the most dominant force in NBA history, the "Big Dipper" starred in college with the Kansas Jayhawks. Much like most of his career, Chamberlain's 1957 squad was the most talented team, but Chamberlain and the Jayhawks came up short when it mattered most.
Chamberlain averaged just under 30 points per game and just under 20 rebounds per game in 1957, leading the Jayhawks to a 24-3 record. In the end, the North Carolina Tar Heels completed their own Cinderella season by beating Chamberlain in the title game to finish their season at 32-0.
10. 1966 Kentucky Wildcats
The 1966 Kentucky Wildcats were atop the polls for most of the season, finishing 27-2 in the regular season. Coached by one of the best ever in Adolph Rupp and led by future Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley, the Wildcats were expected to blow out the Cinderella Texas Western Miners (now the UTEP Miners).
The Miners became the first team to start five black players in the title game and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history with a 72-65 win. This would have been the greatest team in Kentucky history had they been victorious over the Miners.
9. 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini
The 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini's lone loss in the regular season came in the season finale. The team also boasted one of the best backcourt trios in NCAA history with Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head. Unfortunately, the Illini came up short in the final game of the season to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
In any other year, the Illini would have won the national championship, but this Tar Heel squad had four NBA lottery picks. The Illini kept the game close until the final minutes, but Carolina forward Sean May had the game of his life and the Illini would lose 75-70. The program has not gotten anywhere near the 2005 team in the successive years.
8. 1983 Houston Cougars
The Houston Cougars are the only team to feature multiple NBA Hall of Famers on the same college team in Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The 1983 Cougars had a 31-3 regular season record and were nicknamed "Phi Slamma Jamma" for their high flying dunking style.
Unfortunately, the Cougars fell victim to the biggest Cinderella story in tournament history in the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Cougars would lose on a last-second dunk by Lorenzo Charles. After another championship game appearance the following year, the Cougars have never been the same since.
7. 1979 Indiana State Sycamores
The 1979 title game is most remembered for the individual rivalry between Magic Johnson of Michigan State and Larry Bird of Indiana State. The Sycamores came into the title game looking to complete a perfect season, but much like their NBA days, Johnson would prevail over Bird.
For the Sycamores, one of the greatest players in NCAA and NBA history could not carry his team to the championship. The Sycamores kept it close most of the way, but the Spartans pulled away late in the game beating the Sycamores 75-64.
6. 1999 Duke Blue Devils
The most talented Duke team to never win the title, the 1999 Duke Blue Devils had only one loss the entire regular season and had a perfect 16-0 record in the ACC. The team had five future lottery picks on their roster and the No. 1 pick in the following draft in Elton Brand.
The Blue Devils lost in the title game to the surprising Connecticut Huskies 77-74. The loss would not last long. Two years later an even more talented squad won the national championship.
5. 1993 Michigan Wolverines
Another team that eventually would be stripped from the record books. The 1993 Michigan Wolverines, or the "Fab Five," boasted the first great lineup that consisted with mainly young players. Despite losing the 1992 title game to Duke, the Wolverines made it back the next year to face the North Carolina Tar Heels.
With Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard leading the team, the Wolverines were expected to roll over the Tar Heels. Fate said otherwise; as the Wolverines were trying to tie the game, Webber called a timeout that Michigan never had and this move would ultimately cost the team a chance at a national championship. The Wolverines would not have the same success until last year's title game loss to the Louisville Cardinals.
4. 1985 Georgetown Hoyas
The 1985 Georgetown Hoyas are by far the most talented Hoyas team to not win the title. Led by Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams, the Hoyas were major favorites over the supposedly inferior Villanova Wildcats. Due to a once in a lifetime performance, the Hoyas fell just short.
The Wildcats had the perfect game, shooting 79 percent from the field against the Hoyas' top ranked defense. The Wildcats also shot 9-for-10 in the second half, sealing one of the biggest upsets in sports history with a 66-64 victory. The Hoyas would not get back to the Final Four until two decades later.
3. 1984 North Carolina Tar Heels
The 1984 Tar Heels were the most talented squad in their program's history. Led by Michael Jordan, Kenny Smith, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty, the Tar Heels were the overwhelming favorite to win it all in 1984. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Smith and the team was not the same since.
Jordan was held to only 13 points by Dan Dakich and the Indiana Hoosiers and lost 72-68. What's most important about this squad is that the Tar Heels would not win another title until a decade later.
2. 1974 UCLA Bruins
The 1974 UCLA Bruins would see their all-time record 88 consecutive regular season wins streak snapped, and was only the second Bruin team to not win a title in the previous 11 seasons. The Bruins would fall to one of the greatest college players who ever played in North Carolina State's David Thompson.
In Bill Walton's final season, the three-time National Player of the Year and one of the sport's most dominant players could not go out on top as the Bruins lost 80-77. The Bruins would win the title the next season, but have won only one since.
1. 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels
The 1991 UNLV squad is without a doubt the best team that didn't win the title. Although the previous year's team defeated Duke by 30 to win it all, the 1991 squad was undefeated going into its rematch with the Blue Devils. In the national semifinal, Duke pulled one of the biggest upsets ever with a 79-77 win.
While the Duke dynasty prospered with this win, the Runnin' Rebels would never be the same again as the trio of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony would leave for the NBA. The Runnin' Rebels have not reached an Elite Eight in the three decades since this defeat.