Top 10 CBB Programs Never to Win an NCAA Title
January 14th, 2013| by Lost Lettermen
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Plenty of Division I basketball programs have a rich history replete with victories, Top 25 rankings, berths in the Big Dance and Final Fours. Yet for all that success, they’ve never won it all. We rank the Top 10 Programs Never to Win an NCAA Title since the tournament started in 1939 based on overall past success and legacy as a hoops program.
Entering this season, the Tigers could boast over 1,500 victories. Legendary coach Norm Stewart led Mizzou to 634 of those wins as well as eight Big Eight Conference regular season championships and two berths in the Elite Eight. Two of his four successors, Quin Snyder and Mike Anderson, led the Tigers to one Elite Eight each.
Yet despite plenty of talent passing through Columbia over the years and 25 Big Dances, Mizzou is yet to reach a Final Four, let alone win it all. Off to another strong start under Frank Haith this season, the tenth-ranked Tigers are a darkhorse contender. Fulfilling that potential would be cathartic for a proud, underrated program.
Only a dozen programs can boast more Final Four appearances than the Cougars. All five of Houston’s Final Fours came under the stewardship of Guy Lewis, who recruited a staggering number of talented players — including Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Don Chaney and Otis Birdsong — during his 30 years as head coach, in which he won 592 games.
Alas, since Lewis’ retirement in 1986, Houston hasn’t come close to approaching the glory years of “Phi Slamma Jamma.” The Cougars have only made four NCAA tournaments since then, losing in the first round each time. It’s a bit surprising in light of Houston (and Texas as a whole) being rich in recruits.
Before dreaming about national titles, Houston should be content with fantasizing about a 20-win season. At 12–2 on the season, they could reach the mark for just the fourth time since 1996. While Houston’s program has fallen off, it’s still one of the greatest to never cut down the nets at the Final Four.
Younger fans will know Memphis from when John Calipari was the head coach, but the Tigers’ basketball lineage extends very far back. Gene Bartow’s 1972–1973 team made it all the way to the national title game before falling to UCLA, and center Keith Lee was a two-time First Team All-American in the 1980s.
In the last two decades a number of future NBA players — including standouts Penny Hardaway, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans — have passed through. But none have brought the Tigers to the Promised Land. Rose and the 2007–2008 team came closest, only to lose a heartbreaking title game to Kansas.
While Calipari’s departure for Kentucky was a temporary blow to a program with 20 NCAA tournament bids and three Final Fours, Tigers fans have reason to be optimistic in 35-year-old wunderkind Josh Pastner. His recruiting prowess and growing coaching abilities could send Memphis deep into March on an annual basis for years to come.
7. Kansas State
Among the 25 programs with four or more Final Four appearances, K-State might be the most surprising one. Granted, the most recent of those appearances was nearly 50 years ago (1964), but the Wildcats can still boast over 1,500 wins and 26 NCAA tournament appearances as a program.
And that’s not even mentioning their fair share of college standouts. Rolando Blackman, Mitch Richmond, Michael Beasley and Jacob Pullen all wore Wildcats purple as collegians, with the lattermost star spearheading a run to the Elite Eight in 2010.
If first-year K-State coach Bruce Weber can continue recruiting talented players to the Little Apple just as predecessor Frank Martin did, the Wildcats could continue to be a legitimate Big 12 power and Final Four contender.
Football may the unquestioned king of sports in the Lonestar State, but don’t sleep on Longhorns basketball, the 17th-winngest program in history entering this season with over 1,600 wins.
The program has a rich history that includes 30 NCAA tournament bids and three Final Fours, with the glory days coming all the way back in the 1940s when the ‘Horns reach two Final Fours in the span of five seasons.
After Tom Penders revitalized Texas basketball starting in the late 1980s, successor Rick Barnes took it to the next level. He’s led the Longhorns to two Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and the 2003 Final Four while frequently reeling in some of the nation’s top recruits (most notably Kevin Durant).
Alas, Barnes’ teams haven’t made the second weekend of the Big Dance since 2008. Only if he starts doing a better job at utilizing the talent he brings to Austin every year can Texas start harboring national title dreams.
5. Notre Dame
Sticklers will point out that Notre Dame was the Helms Foundation National Champion in 1927 and 1936, but we’re not counting those as they came before the advent of the NCAA tournament.
While not steeped in heritage like the Irish football program, Notre Dame basketball has generated its fair share of history. It was the Irish that halted UCLA’s record 88-game win streak, in 1974, and also produced future NBA standouts like Adrian Dantley, Austin Carr, Bill Laimbeer and John Paxson.
Alas, the Irish also hold the dubious distinction of having made the NCAA tournament more times (32) than any other non-championship program. They have only reached one Final Four (1978) and we have to dock them for a down decade in the 1990s.
If Mike Brey’s sweet-shooting squad can maintain their surprise early-season run, there’s a chance the Irish could reach their second Final Four in 2013.
For a mid-major program, Temple basketball’s success is mind-blowing.
After all, no team in Division I has won as many games as Temple (1,800 and counting) and failed to win an NCAA tournament title. Hall of Fame coach Harry Litwack led the Owls to the 1956 and 1958 Final Fours, but they haven’t been back since.
Despite prolonged periods of success under the legendary John Chaney, the Owls didn’t get any farther than the Elite Eight. Granted, they were regulars there — making five of them between 1988 and 2001 — but could never break through to the Final Four.
Under Chaney successor Fran Dunphy, Temple has made the tournament each of past five seasons, two of which saw the Owls win the regular season A-10 title. Can a move to the Big East improve those fortunes even further, despite the conference’s upheaval?
The school that produced the coach who won more NCAA titles than anyone else (John Wooden) has yet to experience the joy of being the final team standing. The program is always consistently good and has 25 NCAA tournament appearances to its credit, but the Boilers are rarely great.
A litany of star players — Wooden, Rick Mount, Joe Barry Carroll, Glenn Robinson — have helped the Boilermakers to a winning record against every single current Big Ten team. Yet the best they have to show for all that history is a 1969 runner-up finish to Wooden and UCLA. Heck, the program hasn’t even made the Final Four since 1980.
Coach Matt Painter stabilized the program after lean years in the early- to mid-2000s, but the program has taken a step back in 2012–2013. It might take a recruiting class similar in caliber to the “Baby Boilers” of Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson for Painter & Co. to reemerge as a threat out of the Big Ten.
Oklahoma basketball has been down the last couple seasons, but its overall success is undeniable.
It was approximately 30 years ago that Billy Tubbs turned the Sooners into a national power thanks to players like the late Wayman Tisdale — the first player ever to be a First Team All-American as a freshman, sophomore and junior — as well as Mookie Blaylock and Stacey King.
OU came painfully close to its first and only national title in 1988, only to fall to Kansas’ “Danny and the Miracles” in the national title game despite beating the Jayhawks twice during the regular season. The Sooners have great credentials in the form of 26 NCAA tournaments, eight Elite Eights and four Final Fours.
Kelvin Sampson and Jeff Capel also led the Sooners deep into March, with the former leading Oklahoma to its last Final Four in 2002. But both left under clouds of controversy, leaving the program in the hands of journeyman coach Lon Kruger. He’s trying to lead OU to its first NCAA tournament since 2009.
With its proximity to talent-rich Chicago talent and all the great players that have come through Urbana-Champaign — Dave Downey, Ken Norman, Nick Anderson and the “Flyin’ Illini,” Deon Thomas, Dee Brown and Deron Williams, to name a few – it’s hard to believe Illinois has never won a national title.
With 29 NCAA tournaments, nine Elite Eights and five Final Fours, the Illini have certainly had their chances to cut down the nets, but always come up just short. The most excruciating of those near-misses was a last-second, overtime loss to Michigan in the 1989 Final Four, which came after beating the Wolverines twice earlier in the year.
New head coach John Groce has Illinois on the rise and in contention in a brutal Big Ten. Some day delivering the school its first-ever national title would make him a God at a basketball-crazy school.