The one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament often leads to the best team going home without a title. Amazing seasons tend to crash and burn in the maelstrom that is March Madness. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, we look at the best teams — since 2000 — to not win it all.
1. 2002 DUKE (31-4)
After beating Arizona for the 2001 national championship, Duke was on a mission to repeat. Led by Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon, Mike Krzyzewski’s team was ranked No. 1 heading into the NCAA Tournament. But eventual national runner-up Indiana, a No. 5 seed, stunned the Blue Devils 74–73 in the Sweet 16.
2. 2005 ILLINOIS (37-2)
There had not been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game since 1975 until top-ranked Illinois played next-in-line North Carolina. Deron Williams and the Fighting Illini took aim at the school’s first national championship. Instead, the UNC won the school’s fourth title all-time, beating Illinois, 75–70.
3. 2006 CONNECTICUT (30-4)
Rudy Gay led a group of five UConn players who were selected in the 2006 NBA Draft. Even with all that talent, the Huskies didn’t reach the Final Four — falling to No. 11 seed George Mason, 86–84, in overtime of the Elite Eight, in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
4. 2008 MEMPHIS (38-2)
John Calipari’s club won its first 26 games and set the NCAA record (since vacated) for victories in a single season. The maturation of freshman point guard Derrick Rose elevated the play of the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament, but poor free throw shooting doomed Memphis. Kansas rallied from a nine-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation and won the national championship 75–68 in overtime.
5. 2008 NORTH CAROLINA (36-3)
The Tar Heels made their 17th Final Four appearance, and coach Roy Williams made his fourth trip to the national semifinals in seven seasons. But Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Co. were unable to beat Williams’ old school, losing 84–66 to Kansas.
6. 2008 UCLA (35-4)
Thanks to top talent like Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook and freshman Kevin Love, coach Ben Howland’s Bruins made their third consecutive Final Four appearance. UCLA fell short of the title yet again, however, losing to Memphis, 78–63, in the national semifinals.
7. 2003 KANSAS (30-8)
The Jayhawks couldn’t get past freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse in the title game. Kansas missed 18 free throws, Syracuse made 11 3-pointers and the Orange won 81–78, ending the KU careers of Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. One week later, coach Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.
8. 2007 OHIO STATE (35-4)
The Buckeyes helped usher in the one-and-done era of college basketball with a team that included freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook. The No. 1-ranked Buckeyes carried a 22-game winning streak all the way to the national title game before losing to Florida, 84–75.
9. 2004 DUKE (31-6)
Coach K seemed to have found perfect offensive balance with J.J. Redick hitting 102 3-pointers and Shelden Williams doing the heavy lifting inside. The Blue Devils reached the Final Four and led eventual champion Connecticut by seven at halftime before losing, 79–78.
10. 2010 KENTUCKY (35-3)
John Calipari’s first team at Kentucky consisted of a record five NBA first-round picks, including freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Although they were immensely talented, the young Wildcats’ inexperience — and cold shooting — proved to be their downfall in a 73–66 loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight.