Who are the best teams and group of players that have not won a NCAA title? When I put together this list, I excluded teams where the main core of players did win a title, just maybe not in one particularly great season. This is why you won’t see UNLV (won in 1990 before losing to Duke in 1991), Kentucky from 1997, or the Ewing-era Georgetown Hoyas on the list.
There are plenty of teams who came close but could not win a title. These are their stories.
#20 Indiana Hoosiers, 1991-1993
This was the last great Bob Knight run at Indiana. Calbert Cheaney’s three-year run as the star for the Hoosiers produced an 87-16 record, two #2 seeds, and a #1 seed in 1993 when they entered the tournament ranked 1st in the country. They only advanced to one Final Four–in 1992 when they lost to Laettner’s Duke Blue Devils in the game after the Kentucky miracle, and lost to the Kansas Jayhawks in the other two years.
Key Players: Calbert Chaney (91-93); Greg Graham (91-93), Damon Bailey (91-93), Alan Henderson (92-93)
#19 St. John’s Redmen, 1983-1986
For a stretch in the 1980’s, Lou Carnesecca ruled New York and Chris Mullin dominated. From 1983 to 1986, St. John’s was a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament three times. Twice, they got upset in the 2nd round (by Georgia and Auburn). In 1985, they finally went to the Final Four–only to run into Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas.
Key Players: Chris Mullin (83-85), Walter Berry (85-86), Bill Wennington (83-85), Mark Jackson (84-86)
#18 Illinois Fighting Illini, 2003-2005
This is the only team on the list who had two different coaches. The core of players put together by Bill Self, including Dee Brown and Deron Williams, had their dominant season after Self left for Kansas and Bruce Weber took over. They went 37-1, until they lost to North Carolina in one of the elite finals matchups of the last 20 years.
Key Players: Luther Head (03-05), Dee Brown (03-05), Deron Williams (03-05), Roger Powell (03-05), James Augustine (03-05)
#17 Kansas Jayhawks, 1995-1998
Over a four-year span, Kansas went 123-17, and were a #1 seed three times (and a #2 in the other year). They entered the tournament #1 in 1997 and #2 in 1998. They never reached a Final Four, losing to Virginia in 1995, in an Elite Eight to national finalist Syracuse in 1996, losing to national champ Arizona in 1997 in the Sweet 16, and getting stunned by Rhode Island in 1998.
Key Players: Raef La Frentz (95-98), Paul Pierce (96-98), Jacque Vaughn (95-97), Scot Pollard (95-97), Jerod Haase (95-97)
#16 Wisconsin Badgers, 2014-2015
The best run in Wisconsin basketball (and yes, I know they won a title back in 1941, before it became the event it is now) saw the Badgers and Bo Ryan go to consecutive Final Fours as top seeds. The 2015 team pulled one of the great upsets in Final Four history by beating undefeated Kentucky, but could not quite get past Duke two days later.
Key Players: Frank Kaminsky (14-15), Sam Dekker (14-15), Nigel Hayes (14-15), Ben Brust (14)