Winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship is among the hardest things to do in sports. Not only is it hard to be one of the 65 teams selected for the big dance, squads then have to win 5 games against top flight competition.
It’s a fun exercise looking back at some of basketball’s most loaded college squads that weren’t able to win the title. Many teams featuring future stars and Hall of Famers didn’t get over the hump. Here are NCAA basketball’s best teams that weren’t able to win the Big Dance.
2018 Virginia Cavaliers
Of all the teams on this list, none were further away from winning a National Championship than the 2018 Virginia Cavaliers. Despite entering the tournament with a number one seed, they didn’t make it past the first round.
The Cavaliers fell in a one seed vs. sixteen seed match-up against the University of Maryland Baltimore College. The 2019 Virginia Cavaliers, featuring many of the same players were able to somewhat right the wrong by winning the 2019 title.
2004 St. Josephs Hawks
The St. Josephs Hawks were nearly unstoppable during the 2003-2004 NCAA season. The team blitzed through the competition during the regular season, finishing with a perfect record of 27-0 and seeming primed for a long tournament run.
The Hawks were led by point guard Jameer Nelson who was named the National Player of the Year along with Delonte West. Coach Phil Martelli was named Coach of the Year. St. Josephs failed to win the NCAA title, though, falling to Oklahoma State the Elite Eight.
1996 UMass Minutemen
The 1996 UMass Minutemen had almost everything a championship level team could ask for. They were coached by the incredibly successful John Calipari. While former Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Lou Roe left the year before, the team still had the current Player of the Year Marcus Camby.
The Minutemen were able to make it to the 1996 Final Four but were defeated by Kentucky who went on to win the title. Following the season, the program was hit with major sanctions for illegal gifts given to Camby by boosters.
2008 Memphis Tigers
The Memphis Tigers are one of the best college basketball programs that have never won a title overall. This is especially true of the squad rolled out in 2008, which was coached by the frequently successful John Calipari.
The team was led by point guard Derrick Rose, who was on a one year pit stop before becoming the 1st pick in the NBA draft. Shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts was also a stalwart. The Tigers, however, fell to the Kansas Jayhawks in overtime of the title game.
1979 Indiana State Sycamores
The Indiana State Sycamores are not necessarily a program that is synonymous with NCAA basketball success. It was a different case in 1979 when the team was led by Naismith Player of the Year Larry Bird.
The Sycamores, who went 33-0 in the regular season buzzed through the tournament, setting up a championship matchup against Michigan State and Magic Johnson. Johnson’s squad would win the title and set up a rivalry between Johnson and Bird that would continue in the NBA over the next decade.
2002 Duke Blue Devils
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has had a lot of great teams during his 40-year run at Duke. Five of those teams won National Championships, but the best of Coach K’s team that didn’t win a title might be his 2002 squad.
The team was absolutely loaded with Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy who went 1st and 3rd in the NBA Draft to go along with future NBA star Carlos Boozer. The team, however, fell to the Indiana Hoosiers in that years Sweet 16.
1998 North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina is another school that has had no shortage of high-end title contenders. The team has won six titles in its illustrious history and has come close many more times.
The 1998 team was loaded and the two biggest stars on the team were Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison, who would go on to star in the NBA. The team didn’t quite make it all the way as they were stopped by Utah in the Final Four.
1997 Kansas Jayhawks
The 1997 Kansas basketball team a part of Roy Williams’ successful 15-year run with the program. And while Williams won a ton of games during his tenure at the school, he never won a title there.
The 1997 season might have been his best shot. The team featured future NBA stars like Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, and Jacque Vaughn. The Jayhawks ran into a buzzsaw, though, losing to eventual champion Arizona in that year’s Sweet 16.
2019 Duke Blue Devils
In the one and done era of college basketball, it’s hard for a school to land a better recruiting class than Duke did in 2018. Coach K was rolling out a team with the three best recruits in the country in Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett.
And the talented Blue Devils ripped through the competition for much of the season. The team never quite gelled in their short time together, though, and was taken out by the more experienced Michigan State in the Elite 8.
1989 Illinois Fighting Illini
Coach Lou Henson had a great run at Illinois during his close to 20-year run. The best of his teams was probably the 1989 squad that made it to the Final Four and fell to Michigan, a team it beat twice during the regular season.
The team was loaded with future pros like Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, and Kendall Gill. Four players on the team averaged double-digit points for the high scoring Illini in the heartbreaking loss.
2014 Wichita State Shockers
Wichita State has long been a powerhouse baseball school but wasn’t well known for its basketball teams. That is until the mid-2010s when the team put together a squad that could compete at a championship level.
The 2014 team blew into the tournament with a record of 34-0. The team was led by future NBA players Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, and Fred Van Vleet. Thanks to a brutal bracket, the Shockers dropped their second-round match up to the Kentucky Wildcats.
1994 North Carolina Tar Heels
The 1993 North Carolina Tar Heels took home the NCAA title by taking down the loaded Fab Five Michigan team. The squad had huge aspirations for 1994 as All American center Eric Montross was returning from injury.
The team also brought in star freshmen Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. The team roared into the tournament as the number 1 squad in the country. Back to back titles weren’t meant to be, though, as the Tar Heels lost in the 2nd round to Boston College.
2010 Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari began coaching the Kentucky Wildcats in 2009, but he didn’t actually get to bring in his own personal recruiting class until the 2010 season. And that year’s recruiting class was absolutely loaded.
The 2010 team featured four Five Star prospects in John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, and Daniel Orton. The Wildcats were a beast during the regular season but lost early on in the tournament to West Virginia. Cousins and Wall then departed to the NBA.
2000 Cincinnati Bearcats
During much of the 1990s, the Cincinnati Bearcats were a top-flight team under Coach Bob Huggins. The best year for Huggins’ squads may have been 2000 when the team was led by National Player of the Year Kenyon Martin.
The Bearcats finished the season 28-2 with a perfect 16-0 record in Conference USA. Their title hopes were dashed, though, when Martin broke his leg before the tournament and Cincinnati fell in the second round. Martin still went 1st overall in the NBA Draft to the New Jersey Nets.
2007 Ohio State Buckeyes
By 2007, Ohio State had long been a team on the verge of winning a national title but had never quite gotten there. That year’s squad though, coached by Thad Motta had eyes on the Buckeyes first championship since 1960.
The team was led by All-World center Greg Oden, one of the best college basketball prospects in years. The Buckeyes also featured future lottery pick Mike Conley Jr. running the point. Oden and Conley Jr. weren’t enough, though, as Ohio State fell to Florida in the title game.
1995 Arkansas Razorbacks
It is incredibly hard to repeat as the NCAA National Champion. Arkansas had won the tournament in 1994 thanks to in part to a huge performance by Corliss Williamson, who was named the tournament’s Most Oustanding Player.
Williamson was back for the Razorbacks in 1995 and he wasn’t alone as fellow stars Scottie Thurman and Clint McDaniel also returned. Arkansas came perilously close to repeating as champs but fell to the UCLA Bruins in the title game.
2008 UCLA Bruins
The teams that normally win the NCAA Tournament have some veteran stars and have had the benefit of playing together for a while. That experience usually trumps teams that are running on sheer talent and ability.
And few teams have had more talent and ability that the 2008 UCLA Bruins. The team featured future NBA superstars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love as well as Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. It wasn’t enough for the team, though, as they lost in the Final Four.
2002 Kansas Jayhawks
Roy Williams’ career at Kansas was marked by lots of great runs, but also an inability to get over the top despite some incredibly talented teams. The 2002 Kansas team might have been the deepest when it came to NBA talent.
The squad featured three future NBA lottery picks in Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick Collison. Future NBA players Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, and Aaron Miles were also on the squad. The team fell to the Maryland Terrapins in the semis.
1993 Michigan Wolverines
A team like the 1993 Michigan Wolverines couldn’t happen in modern-day college basketball. With today’s rules, the vaunted Fab Five of Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Juwon Howard, and Chris Webber would have played one season then been off to the pros.
But all five of the incredible freshmen returned to Ann Arbor for their sophomore year. They buzzed through the year waiting for their shot at a title. They again fell short, though, losing to a more experienced North Carolina team.
1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who were an unstoppable force the previous season, were back for another run in 1991. The squad, coached by Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian, ferociously blew out nearly every team that went against them.
The Rebels were loaded with talent, specifically future NBA stars Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, and Greg Anthony. The season before, they had beaten the Duke Blue Devils by 30, but this time around, the Blue Devils took them out in the 1991 title game.