15 Best Teams That Did Not Win the NCAA Tournament

These teams were dominant, but none were able to win it all in the NCAA Tournament

Gonzaga entered the 2021 NCAA Tournament with an opportunity to make history by going undefeated but the heavy favorites fell to Baylor in the national championship game. As great a season as the Bulldogs had up to that point, they will always be remembered for the one loss, and they aren't alone.

 

In fact, the 2020-21 Gonzaga Bulldogs barely make the list of the 15 best college basketball teams whose paths to championship glory were cut off by the single-elimination, one-and-done roadblock that is March Madness.

 

1. 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels

(34–1, 18–0 Big West)
Coach Jerry Tarkanian
Lost to Duke, 79–77, in Final Four

 

Vegas was the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world in college basketball before falling to Duke in a rematch of the 1990 title game, in which the Runnin' Rebels humiliated the Blue Devils, 103–73. With three 1991 NBA Lottery picks — national player of the year forward Larry Johnson (No. 1 overall), wingman Stacey Augmon (No. 9) and point guard Greg Anthony (No. 12) — and the reigning Final Four MOP in Anderson Hunt, UNLV was as intimidating as it was dominant.

 

2. 1975 Indiana Hoosiers

(31–1, 18–0 Big Ten)
Coach Bob Knight
Lost to Kentucky, 92–90, in Elite Eight

 

Bob Knight and Joe B. Hall nearly went to blows during a 98–74 IU win over Kentucky in December 1974. The Hoosiers were riding a 34-game winning streak heading into their rematch with the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. But without a full-strength Scott May — who scored two points due to a broken arm, after scoring 25 in the first meeting — undefeated Indiana fell to Kentucky, a team that went on to lose the national title to UCLA in John Wooden's final game.

 

3. 1983 Houston Cougars

(31–3, 16–0 Southwest)
Coach Guy Lewis
Lost to NC State, 54–52, in NCAA title game

 

Texas' tallest fraternity, "Phi Slama Jama" was led by a pair of future Hall of Famers in shot-swatting big man Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon and high-flying Clyde "the Glide" Drexler. The middle of three straight Final Four appearances and first of two national title game runner-up finishes was the most painful, as NC State pulled off one of the greatest Cinderella upsets in Big Dance history.

 

Related: 10 Greatest NCAA Tournament Buzzer-Beaters

 

4. 1985 Georgetown Hoyas

(35–3, 14–2 Big East)
Coach John Thompson
Lost to Villanova, 66–64, in NCAA title game

 

The Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas were runner-up to North Carolina in 1982, national champs in 1984, and heavily favored to repeat as champs in 1985. But the overwhelming edge in talent for Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and the rest of John Thompson's team was no match for the magical shooting night of Rollie Massimino's Wildcats, who shot 22-of-28 from the field to beat "Hoya Paranoia" on April Fools' Day.

 

Related: 10 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

 

5. 1984 North Carolina Tar Heels

(28–3, 14–0 ACC)
Coach Dean Smith
Lost to Indiana, 72–68, in Sweet 16

 

On paper, this was Dean Smith's most talented team, on the court and on the bench. National player of the year Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, and freshman Kenny Smith headlined a loaded roster, while Roy Williams, Bill Guthridge and Eddie Fogler served as assistant coaches for a group of Tar Heels that couldn't even make it to the Final Four.

 

6. 2015 Kentucky Wildcats

(38-1, 18-0 SEC)

Coach John Calipari

Lost to Wisconsin, 71-64, in Final Four

 

Kentucky was the first team in history to go 38-0 as it reached the Final Four on a mission to become the first team to hit that magical 40-0 number. The Wildcats' stifling defense and imposing big men met their match against the historically efficient Wisconsin offense. This UK team didn't have the star power of perhaps other teams on this list, but it was among the deepest teams of the modern era.

 

7. 1973 NC State Wolfpack

(27–0, 12–0 ACC)
Coach Norm Sloan
Banned from postseason play

 

David Thompson and Tommy Burleson led NC State to an undefeated regular season but were unable to go dancing after being banned from postseason play due to NCAA sanctions. When the ban was lifted, the 1973-74 Wolfpack went 30–1 cut down the nets following a national championship.

 

8. 1993 Michigan Wolverines

(31–5, 15–3 Big Ten)
Coach Steve Fisher
Lost to North Carolina, 77–71, in NCAA title game

 

The sophomore season of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — produced the same (since vacated) results as their freshman campaign. Michigan marched all the way to the national title game with their signature baggy shorts, black socks and swagger, only to lose to ACC power UNC, after losing to Duke in the championship game the season before.

 

9. 1997 Kansas Jayhawks

(34–2, 15–1 Big 12)
Coach Roy Williams
Lost to Arizona, 85–82, in Sweet 16

 

KU had it all, with NBA size down low in Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, clutch shooters in Paul Pierce, Jerod Haase and Billy Thomas, and steady point guard play from Jacque Vaughn and Ryan Robertson. But Roy Williams' Jayhawks could not close the deal against Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and eventual champion Arizona.

 

10. 1974 UCLA Bruins

(26–4, 12–2 Pac-8)
Coach John Wooden
Lost to NC State, 80–77 in 2OT, in Final Four

 

The next-to-last team coach by the Wizard of Westwood ended UCLA's streak of seven consecutive NCAA titles. Despite being led by Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, the Bruins were unable to outlast NC State in double-overtime in the Final Four.

 

11. 1954 Kentucky Wildcats

(25–0, 14–0 SEC)
Coach Adolph Rupp
Elected not to participate

 

Coach Adolph Rupp chose to take a stand against the NCAA by keeping the unbeaten Wildcats out of the Tournament after Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagan and Lou Tsioropoulos were ruled ineligible due to a graduation rule that is no longer in place.

 

12. 1999 Duke Blue Devils

(37–2, 16–0 ACC)
Coach Mike Krzyzewski
Lost to Connecticut, 77–74, in NCAA title game

 

One of Coach K's most talented teams was anchored by No. 1 overall pick Elton Brand, sharpshooting senior Trajan Langdon, point guard William Avery and athletic freak frosh Corey Maggette — all of whom went in the top 14 of the 1999 NBA Draft.

 

13. 1962 Ohio State Buckeyes

(26–2, 13–1 Big Ten)
Coach Fred Taylor
Lost to Cincinnati, 71–59, in NCAA title game

 

Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek are two of the greatest players in Ohio State history, playing in three consecutive NCAA title games — losing the last two trips as a heavy favorite against in-state rival Cincinnati.

 

14. 1957 Kansas Jayhawks

(24–3, 11–1 Big Seven)
Coach Dick Harp
Lost to North Carolina, 54–53 in 3OT, in NCAA title game

 

Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain was unable to follow in the championship footsteps of San Francisco's Bill Russell — who led the Dons to titles in 1955 and '56. The Stilt lost in triple-overtime in what old-timers have called the greatest game ever played.


15. 2021 Gonzaga Bulldogs

(31-1, 15-0 WCC)
Coach Mark Few
Lost to Baylor, 86-70, in NCAA title game

Gonzaga rolled into the NCAA Tournament as the heavy favorites to finish off an undefeated season. The Bulldogs waltzed their way to the Final Four, extending their streak of double-digit victories to 27 in the process. Gonzaga then survived a spirited upset bid from UCLA, thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime, only to run into a buzzsaw in the national championship game against a quicker, stronger and more athletic Baylor team.

 

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