There have been plenty of great teams of the years that failed to win a national championship. Sometimes they get beaten by even better teams, other times they just make a mistake or get unlucky. This is a list of some of the best teams to never win a championship.
One thing to keep in mind is that this list is not a ranking, and so the teams are not in any sort of order.
Best Men’s Basketball Teams To Not Win A Title
1984-85 Georgetown Hoyas
Georgetown came just three points away from winning three national championships in four years in the early-mid eighties. The Hoyas should have three titles. But alas, they only won the one. But let’s talk about the heartbreak that happened at the hands of Rollie Massimino.
Georgetown was rolling heading into the matchup with one of the greatest tournament Cinderellas of all time, the 8-seed Villanova Wildcats. The Hoyas had played and beaten the highest-seeded team they could have played in every game and won each one convincingly. They were led, of course, to one of the greatest basketball players of all-time and current Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing. Ewing combined with David Wingate, Bill Martin, Reggie Williams, and Michael Jackson formed one of the greatest quintet of players college basketball has ever seen. It was truly remarkable. But coach Massimino and the Ed Pinckney-led Wildcats pulled off one of the biggest title game upsets ever. Everyone agrees that this Georgetown team is one of the best teams to never win a national championship, and I could argue that they were the best one not to win it all.
2020-21 Gonzaga Bulldogs
All year long people knew that Gonzaga and Baylor were easily the best two teams and were going to meet in the National Championship Game. Thankfully they both made it there. Unfortunately though Baylor managed to blow Gonzaga out. It was really unfortunate given how immensely talented both teams were and how it could have been one of the best game ever.
Gonzaga was one of the best cutting teams ever. Until the Final Four they had been blowing everyone out and entered the title game a perfect 31-0. There was great talent all over the roster. They routinely went seven deep and were capable of going ten deep. Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, and Jalen Suggs led the Bulldogs, but were far from the only really good players on that team. Gonzaga led the nation in points scored per game and were also first in offensive rating. They were also number one in the nation in field goal percentage and two point percentage and were second in assists per game. Nobody in the country shot better, scored more total points, shot and made as many free throws, or had more total assists than Gonzaga did. The Bulldogs also had the fourth most total defensive rebounds and the sixth most steals. Their bench had multiple starting-caliber players. Just an incredible team and, in my opinion, one of the best teams ever period.
2014-15 Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin is the first of two teams on this list that is from the 2014-2015 season. People always focus on Kentucky, who Wisconsin beat in the Final Four, as the best team. But I have always loved this Badgers team. Unanimous Big Ten player of the year Frank Kaminsky III, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traevon Jackson, Bronson Koenig, and Josh Gasser was an awesome top six. I am a firm believer that they would have beaten Duke in the title game if Jackson had been at 100%. The Sweet Sixteen game against UNC was his first game action since early January and he clearly was not at his best.
The Badgers won 36 games that season despite having the third toughest strength of schedule. They were elite of both sides of the ball. On defense, they finished 12th in points against per game. On offense, they were number one in offensive rating. It really baffles me that Wisconsin’s squad from that season isn’t held in higher esteem.
2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats
As next-level as I think that Wisconsin team was, Kentucky was right there with them. The team had a whopping nine players that would go on to play in the NBA. Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and the Harrison twins Aaron and Andrew were just a few of them. There was so much talent on that team that they had to use a platoon system. The Final Four game against Wisconsin was the only game the Wildcats lost all season. It was a great game between two of the best teams in recent memory.
They were blowing out everyone, winning six games against ranked teams by double-digits. The key was how great Kentucky was defensively. The Wildcats were first in defensive rating and only gave up an average of 54.3 points per game, which was third best in the country that season.
1992-93 Michigan Wolverines “Fab Five”
The ending of the 1993 national championship game was one of the most bizarre and unfortunate title game endings in basketball history. As we all know, Chris Webber called a timeout late in the game that the Wolverines did not have. UNC made both of their free throws and got the ball to essentially put the game on ice. They are without a doubt one of the best teams to never win a national championship.
The “Fab Five” was one of the best recruiting classes of all time and became known for their style. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson were an incredible group of players. They had gotten to the national championship game the year before but had lost that one too. They were certainly more than capable of winning a championship. Who knows what would have happened if Webber had not called that timeout that they didn’t have. It remains and will continue to remain as one of the biggest “what if’s” in college basketball history.
1982-83 Houston Cougars “Phi Slama Jama”
The early 80’s Houston teams with the worlds tallest fraternity “Phi Slama Jama” were some of the most entertaining and fun to watch basketball teams of all. They were also really, really good at basketball. 1983 was probably the best of those years. Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, Michael Young, and Larry Micheaux were an incredible group of players. All here 6’7″ or taller and all were very athletic. Also, none of them averaged less than 13.8 PPG or 5.7 RPG. The Cougars as a team averaged 82.4 PPG, which was fifth most in the nation. They were also on a 26-game winning streak heading into the title game.
Jim Valvano and his NC State squad made a magical Cinderella run to the title that season. Thanks to a game-winning dunk by Dereck Whittenburg, which is ironic given who their opponent was, the Wolfpack were able to get the upset win. You can also look at the other Houston teams too. The year before in 1982 Phi Slama Jama lost to UNC in the Final Four and in 1984 they lost to Georgetown in the title game, although they didn’t have Drexler in that one. The Phi Slama Jama years produced some of the best teams to never win a title.
1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
There are many people that think that 1991 UNLV was one of, if not the best, team in men’s college basketball history, let alone one of the best to never win a title. Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, and Anderson Hunt were one of the greatest forces to be reckoned with ever. Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels entered the title game undefeated at 34-0. It was a rematch with Duke, a team they had absolutely embarrassed the year before, winning that title game by 30 points. But UNLV couldn’t pull off the repeat.
This team really didn’t have any weaknesses. They were great on both offense and defense, great at rebounding and passing. UNLV was riding a 45-game winning streak heading into the title and that season had only two games in which they won by less than double-digits. The fact that they didn’t win their second straight championship is, quite frankly, a tragedy. That’s not to take anything away from Duke. They were great and wanted revenge and they got it. But there is no dying how great the Runnin’ Rebels were that year.
1998-99 Duke Blue Devils
The ’99 Blue Devils were led by five future NBA players, including number one overall pick Elton Brand as well as Trajan Langdon and Shane Battier. Heading into the NCAA tournament that year Duke only had one loss, which was only by two points to Cincy. They then dominating in their run to the Final Four, winning their first four tournament games by 41, 41, 17, and 21 points. The Richard “Rip” Hamilton led UConn Huskies were just as good despite not having nearly as much pro talent.
That season Duke was pretty incredible. The Blue Devils led the nation in scoring by averaging 91.8 points per game. They were also first in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating. They did all of this while having the eleventh toughest schedule. As many great teams as Mike Krzyzewski and the Dukies have had over the years, this one is right there at the top. That’s what makes them one of the best teams to never win a title.
1983-84 North Carolina Tar Heels
The ’84 Tar Heels were loaded with talent. National Player Of The Year Michael Jordan, who went on to become the greatest basketball player of all-time, was on the team. Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, and others were on the Tar Heels. In total the team had five NBA lottery picks, including four that went in the top six in their respective drafts. Unfortunately though the team’s season was derailed by a season-ending injury to Smith. They would end up getting upset by Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen. Even if UNC had made it farther and to the Final Four they still would have run into two other phenomenal teams in Houston and championship-winning Georgetown.
1956-57 Kansas Jayhawks
I’m putting this Kansas team on my list of best teams to never win a national title for two big reasons. Number one, they had Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged an incredible 29.6 points and 18.9 rebounds per game. The second reason is because the older generation have called their triple overtime loss to North Carolina in the National Championship Game that year “the greatest game ever played.” That is, of course, debatable. But what is not debatable is that in 1957 if you had Wilt Chamberlain you probably should have won a title.
1961-62 Ohio State Buckeyes
In 1962 the incredible Buckeye duo of John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas reached their third straight national title game. However it ended with their second straight title loss to in-state rival Cincinnati after winning it all against Cal two years earlier. You know those two losses had to hurt. But that duo of Lucas (21.8 PPG, 17.8 RPG) and Havlicek (17 PPG, 9.7 RPG) was too good to fail to lose in the title game again, especially when their Buckeyes team was heavily favored against the rival Bearcats.
1987-88 Oklahoma Sooners
You’ve heard people say that it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season. That is exactly what happened with Oklahoma in 1988. They beat Kansas twice in the regular season. Then the one seed Sooners lost to the six seed Jayhawks in the national championship game. Oklahoma’s five Final Four appearances without a title is second only to Houston’s six.
Oklahoma’s frontcourt of Stacey King and Harvey Grant was dominant. The duo were double-double machines. Their backcourt was just as good. Mookie Blaylock led the nation in steals and was second in the conference in assists. Speaking of assists, his backcourt mate Ricky Grace was tops in the conference in assists. The Sooners’ offense was great, and they averaged 102.9 points per game, second in the nation. That ’88 squad was the best one that OU has ever had, and that championship has still eluded the program to this day.