The 12 Best Teams That Didn’t Win the NCAA Tournament
Not every great college basketball team wins the NCAA tournament. Some incredible college teams have suffered heartbreaking losses only to win the NCAA tournament title the following year (1973 North Carolina State, 1975 Indiana, 1982 Georgetown). Other championship teams have lost in an attempt at repeating (1961 Ohio State, 1985 Georgetown, 1991 UNLV, 1997 Kentucky).
Here are the 12 best teams that failed to win the NCAA tournament:
1956-57 Kansas Jayhawks
The 1956–57 Kansas Jayhawks were led by future NBA great Wilt Chamberlain. Coach Dick Harp’s team had a 20-2 record heading into the NCAA tournament, but they were beaten in the title game by undefeated North Carolina, 54–53, in triple overtime. The contest is considered by many to be one of the greatest NCAA title games ever played.
1967-68 Houston Cougars
With future NBA players Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney on its roster, Houston ran its record to 31-0 heading into the Final Four at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Unfortunately, coach Guy Lewis’ Cougars were beaten by defending champion UCLA and Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), 101-69, in the national semifinals. The Cougars had beaten the Bruins two months earlier in what was known then as the ‘Game of the Century’ at Houston’s Astrodome, but they could not replicate the feat.
1967-68 North Carolina Tar Heels
Under head coach Dean Smith’s guidance, North Carolina made it to the Final Four three straight years (1967, 1968, 1969). Despite averaging 27 wins per season over those years, the best the Tar Heels could do was a title game loss to UCLA in 1968. North Carolina also lost to Dayton (1967) and Purdue (1969) in the national semifinals. Guards Larry Miller (’67-’68) and Charlie Scott (’68-’69) anchored these Carolina teams that fell just short of a title.
1982-83 Houston Cougars
Houston made the Final Four three consecutive years (1982-84), with future NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler leading the way, though Drexler was not on the 1984 team. The high-flying, monster-dunking antics of the team caused the Cougars to be dubbed Phi Slama Jama by a Houston sportswriter. After Michael Jordan and North Carolina beat Houston in the 1982 national semifinals, a 31-win Cougars team suffered a heartbreaking 54-52 loss to North Carolina State at the buzzer of the 1983 championship game. Houston was also defeated by Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the 1984 NCAA final.
1985-86 Duke Blue Devils
With future NBA players Danny Ferry and Johnny Dawkins, Duke rolled to 37 wins in 1985-86. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four team reached the NCAA title game by defeating a 35-win Kansas squad in the national semifinals, but the Blue Devils lost to Pervis Ellison and Louisville, 72-69, in the finals.
1986-87 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Head coach Jerry Tarkanian brought his UNLV team into the 1987 Final Four with a 37-1 record and hopes of a national title. Led by Armon Gilliam and Fred Banks, the Runnin’ Rebels had used a fast-paced style to handily beat opponents for most of the season. However, eventual national champion Indiana beat UNLV, 97-93, in the national semifinals, leaving Tarkanian’s team one victory short of a championship game.
1992-93 Michigan Wolverines
With the ‘Fab Five ‘ of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, Michigan was a dominant basketball team that reached, and lost, the NCAA final in two consecutive seasons. In 1992, the Wolverines lost, 71-51, to Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and Duke. In 1993, a 31-win Michigan team lost, 77-71, to a North Carolina squad that featured Eric Montross and George Lynch.
1997-98 North Carolina Tar Heels
As iconic coach Dean Smith handed his duties off to Bill Guthridge, North Carolina made it to the Final Four in both 1997 and 1998. Under Smith, the Tar Heels, with future NBA players Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, lost in the national semifinals to Arizona in 1997. In 1998, Guthridge, Carter and Jamison led a 34-win North Carolina team that was defeated by Utah, 59-55, in the semifinals.
1998-99 Duke Blue Devils
Duke was 37-1 heading into the 1999 NCAA national championship game against Connecticut. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s deep squad included future NBA players Shane Battier, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. However, Connecticut beat the heavily favored Blue Devils, 77-74, behind Richard Hamliton, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
2004-05 Illinois Fighting Illini
Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head helped lead Illinois to a record of 37-2 in 2004-05. However, the Fighting Illini were defeated by North Carolina 75-50 in the national championship game, which left coach Bruce Weber’s team without a national title.
2005-06 UCLA Bruins
Future NBA stars Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison were among the players on one of the three UCLA teams that won 97 games while advancing to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-2008. Coach Ben Howland’s Bruins could not bring a championship to Westwood, though, when they lost to Florida in the finals in 2006. The Bruins were again beaten by the Gators in the national semifinals in 2007 and lost to Memphis in that same round in 2008.
2007-08 Memphis Tigers
Future NBA MVP Derrick Rose and key contributor Chris Douglas-Roberts were among the players who fueled a four-year run of 33, 33, 38 and 33 wins for Memphis under coach John Calipari. During this time, the Tigers made the Final Four just once, in 2008, when they lost 75-68 in overtime to Kansas in the national championship game. Memphis’ once NCAA-record 38 victories have since been vacated as a result of rules violations on the part of Calipari and the program.