The 9 best college hoops teams to not win a title

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

Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble.
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

Vince Carter, Julius Peppers and Antawn Jamison.
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

Paul Pierce with the Jayhawks.
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

Duke star Elton Brand.
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

Patrick Ewing as a Hoya.
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

Clyde Drexler as a member of the Houston Cougars.
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

Derrick Rose at Memphis.
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 Runnin' Rebels.
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

Michigan's Fab Five.
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.

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Posted by Josh_Nagel
3 years ago

This is a great water-cooler type piece because the Fab Five movie seems to be getting alot of us, myself included, nostalgic about some of the great college basketball teams of that era. Here's my two cents: I'd leave the LMU team off this list. You're right, the death of Gathers left them obviously at less than full strength, so it's hard to say they left unfulfilled expectations. But even with him, I think they were sort of a novelty that was fun to watch but far from a legitimate national contender given the strength of the field that year. One team nobody has mentioned here is the great LSU clubs of the late 1980s and early 90s. The 89-90 LSU team had four NBA first-rounders with Shaq, Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts and Geert Hammink. Two others, Harold Boudreaux and Vernel Singleton, played in the CBA or overseas. The club never sniffed a Final Four. For that matter, the 2006-07 Texas club with Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, Damion James and A.J. Abrams deserves strong consideration for this list. I'd also put the 1999 Duke club, listed here at No. 6, No. 1 on my list. In terms of overall collective talent, I think they have the Fab Five and UNLV's 1991 team beat. Although that was a great Rebels team, they were from a weak conference and basically went unchallneged until the Final Four. Sometimes I think the mystique of Duke's upset is a little overstated because UNLV was undefeated, but if you look at the two clubs, there wasn't a great mismatch talent-wise. I'd also leave 2008 Memphis off the list, only because the field was loaded that year and all No. 1 seeds made the Final Four for the first time. Although their choke was epic, I don't think they had the best team in that field. Anyhow, good work and thanks for the memories.
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Posted by bevsports
3 years ago

What about the UCLA teams under Ben Howland. Kevin Love, Westbrook, Farmar, Collison, etc. 3 consecutive final fours no titles. How are they not on this list?
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Posted by buddyluv
3 years ago

How can you not have the 90-91 UNLV defending champions not #1? They were seniors and playing a team in the finals that they destroyed a year earlier.... Also there were a couple of Arizona teams that choked
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Posted by hockeytown71
3 years ago

Keep in mind that those were 18-20 year old kids on that Michigan team. All true freshman and going to the title game and then again as soph's. No titles, but damn!
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Posted by hockeytown71
3 years ago

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Posted by BriDigiDigi
3 years ago

UCONN team who lost to George Mason not on the list?!?!??!
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Posted by EMU2005
3 years ago

Got to agree with my man who posted the 89 ILLINI squad they beat michigan 2 that year, that rebels squad who lost to duke a still feel threw that game and the fab 5 they because of coaching but man I miss that ride with the fab 5. Was and still proud to sat I was from Michigan. Also had the chance to watch Rose and Webber in highschool. Webber played at my HS (Saginaw Nouvel) and they were so afraid that he was going to rip the rim out the wall that they went and got another backboard for the game. we won but he dunked on 3 guys and one was 6'10, But to be honest J-Rose highschool team (Detroit Southwestern) was ranked as high as 3 in the country. They had him, voshon lenard, howard isley,and anderson hunt (hope im correct) forgot who was the last player Michigan had good ball back then.
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Posted by Terp1135
3 years ago

You need to go back a little further, the Maryland team in 73-74 that lost to David Thompson's NC St in the ACC tourney definately belongs at least in the top 5 of this list!
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Posted by EMU2005
3 years ago

I remember that squad, with lowell hamilton comming off the bench, I have old vhs tapes of them playing Michigan. lol
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Posted by jrickner
3 years ago

I would say that Illinois should have won a national championship and unfortuantly, i assume, anyone on this site posting is too young to remember Bardo, battle, liberty, Gill and Nick Anderson, good gracious. And I am a huge Indiana Fan.
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Posted by BURG2VEGAS
3 years ago

man ,that runnin rebels team was the best i grew up watching them ,as i did the fab 5, but id have to say that that unlv losing was bigger upset,man rebels shoulda beat that team by 20, as for the fab 5 ,i agree best recruiting class in history and chris webber was a MONSTER, i seen him play in high school, man this dude was scary , but the fab 5 in biggest games always choked,but on the other end, people[media] hated on teams like unlv,michigan, certain people wanted these talented players to lose ,because it was thought that they have cheated, we will never see teams like this in college sports again, because the ncaa is so damn greedy not give these kids spending money,until that happends we will see the derrik roses, reggie bushes, and ca newton stories
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Posted by jpanoma1
3 years ago

WHAT ABOUT THE ILLINOIS TEAM FROM THE 04-05 SEASON WHICH LOST TO UNC IN THE TITLE GAME
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Posted by realthrowback
3 years ago

Give me a break man. The 90-91 UNLV is the best college basketball team of all time. I'm laugh my ass off looking at the 92-93 Michigan team being better than them.... Please. For them not to be #1 on this list is a joke. Best college basketball team of all time period.
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Posted by Ponch
3 years ago

Which team had the better pros?
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Posted by Ponch
3 years ago

Great article.. That 96-97 Kansas team was sick and the Kentucky team from last year will go down as one of the most talented.
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Posted by OLD-DUDE
3 years ago

Makes me sad when I see teams as talented as Mich and UNLV not win titles. Just as well, after they leave they bring down the programs. Mich and UNLV and to a point Gtown have not been the same.
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Posted by drifter44
3 years ago

Really enjoyed this write-up!! I started getting irritated cause the more I scrolled down and not seen UNLV, until I got to 2 on the list. These were all good teams and really brought back memories of all these great players. I played pick up games with some of the Rebels back in the late 80s and early 90s. I miss being able to run the court and hit J or the open man!!!! REBELS!!!!!! REBELS!!!!!
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Top Response

Posted by BURG2VEGAS
3 years ago

"man ,that runnin rebels team was the best i grew up watching them ,as i did the fab 5, but id have to say that that unlv losing was bigger upset,man rebels shoulda beat that team by 20, as for the fab 5 ,i agree best recruiting class in history and c..."