Recruiting is just one side of college basketball. You’ve got to deliver once you’ve convinced a highly talented group of players to join your program. In college hoops, where one bad night in March can end your season, some of the best collections of future NBA players never ended up cutting down the nets.
Here’s a look at the nine most talented college basketball teams over the last 30 years that didn't win the national championship.
9. Loyola Marymount, 1989-1990
This squad wasn’t ranked higher than 19th during the regular season, but that was before mid-major schools got much publicity. Who knows the damage this team could have done in the tourney if Hank Gathers hadn’t died. Gathers, who had an irregular heartbeat, lead the nation in scoring and rebounding the season prior.
Bo Kimble led the team on an emotional run to the Elite 8, including an upset of defending national champion Michigan. Running Paul Westhead’s innovative offense, the up-tempo attack was made for tournament play. But many wonder how far the team could have gone had Gathers been running wild with Kimble on the court in March.
8. North Carolina, 1997-1998
It was Dean Smith's last great recruiting class and the legendary coach stepped aside at the beginning of the season leaving a huge burden on new coach Bill Guthridge to come through. The longtime assistant inherited a roster with a starting five that included four future NBA players. The offensive firepower of Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood, Shammond Williams and Ed Cota wasn't enough to get past Utah in the Final Four.
7. Kansas, 1996-97
This Jayhawk team was stacked. Touting NBA players Paul Pierce, Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, this squad dropped only one game during the regular season, a two-point loss at rival Missouri. But even then, the Jayhawks avenged that defeat with a 27-point beatdown in the Big 12 championship game.
Everything changed once the NCAA Tournament began though. The team had a pair of mediocre, 14-point wins over Jackson State and Purdue before losing by three to the eventual national champion Arizona in the Sweet 16.
6. Duke, 1998-99
The last team to make the Great Alaskan Shootout watchable. Featuring NBA draft picks Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, William Avery, Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell, this squad was so loaded that freshman Corey Maggette came off the bench.
Coach K’s boys dropped only one game all season and cruised through the ACC regular season and tournament without a blemish. The Dance provided a challenge, but the team was a solid favorite over UConn in the title game.
But Duke let a chunky point guard (Khalid El-Amin) and a two guard with limited range (Richard Hamilton) get the best of them on Championship Monday.
5. Georgetown, 1984-85
Someone had to be the victim of the greatest upset in college basketball history. Unfortunately for Hoya hoopsters, it was their team that fell to No. 8 seed Villanova.
The Hoyas were led by Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, a shot-blocking Goliath. But David (Ed Pinckney and Villanova) shot a record 78.6-percent from the floor in the championship game.
John Thompson’s Hoyas entered the final with a 35-2 record and had been outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 16 points per game in the tournament.
4. Houston, 1982-83
Too bad that I wasn’t able to pledge Phi Slama Jama. The greatest basketball fraternity in college hoops history was led by Hall-of-Famers Hakeem (then known as Akeem) Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
The deans of dunk gave the game a mainstream swagger and street feel, while still appealing to casual fans that weren’t quite ready for the And1 Mixtape Tour. This heavy favorite reached the title game on a 26-game winning streak and was expected to slam the upstart North Carolina State Wolfpack to easily claim the championship.
But Lorenzo Charles and the ACC Champions had other plans as a dunk put-back gave the Wolfpack the title, 54-52, and the Cougars a taste of their own medicine.
3. Memphis, 2007-2008
They call them free throws because they are supposed to be free. Someone needs to tell that to stars Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. Touting a nine-point lead over Kansas in the title game with two-minutes and 12 seconds left, the team blew the late advantage and fell to the Jayhawks, 75-68 in overtime. The Tigers already had set an NCAA-record with 38 wins during the season, but missed seven of 19 free throws to end, in heartbreaking fashion, the winningest campaign in college basketball history.
2. UNLV, 1990-91
The defending national champions were coming off a 103-73 rout of Duke in title game and were heavy favorites to finish the season undefeated.
UNLV had the accomplishments to back up swagger that went for miles. Touting Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Player of the Year Larry Johnson, the Runnin’ Rebels appeared poised to accomplish all their goals and make history.
But Duke got the ultimate revenge at the Final Four, winning their national semifinal and upsetting arguably the greatest team in college basketball history, 79-77.
1. Michigan, 1992-93
Baggy shorts, black socks and unfulfilled expectations. Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson left more people unsatisfied than the last M. Night Shyamalan movie.
The Fab Five brought more sanctions than titles to Ann Arbor as the best recruiting class in college basketball history lost the title game to North Carolina a year after blowing it against Duke. In the loss to the Tar Heels, Webber infamously panicked and called a timeout his team didn’t have, allowing UNC to seal the game from the free throw line.
This story was originally posted in November, 2010.