Today we will look at the greatest college basketball teams in a single season that didn’t finish with a National Championship. Sometimes injuries curtailed winning it all, and some it was bad luck or playing a team that played a perfect game to beat them.
The Tigers were a force of nature with their speed, size, and athleticism. Offensively, Derrick Rose was difficult to keep out the paint, and Chris Douglas-Roberts could score buckets whenever his team needed them.
Joey Dorsey, Memphis’ enforcer, would have been a great fit with the Bad Boy Pistons in the late ’80s. Robert Dozier and Dorsey were both excellent shot-blockers. Memphis’ opponents were only able to shoot 39.1% from the field.
The regular season was a breeze for the Tigers, with Tennessee’s four-point defeat in February being the only setback. The pressure was lifted, and Memphis breezed through the NCAA tournament, winning four out of five by at least 14.
Since 1985, the 2008 Final Four marked the first year all four No. 1 seeds reached the national semifinals.
Why they Didn’t Win The Title: Free-throw shooting was the Tigers’ biggest weakness that season. They managed 61.4 per cent, ranking 329th in NCAA. It would eventually come back to bite them.
With two minutes remaining, the Tigers were leading by nine. Kansas would make a dramatic comeback. Douglas-Roberts scored two free throws, and the Jayhawks went on a quick 5-0 run. The Tigers missed their next four shots at the line, but Derrick Rose made the second of the two free throws to make Memphis three points ahead.
The rest is history. Mario Chalmers would sink ” Mario’s Miracle” while Memphis lost, 75-68, in overtime.
Bill Self had arguably the most outstanding backcourt in the 2000s in Champaign. Bruce Weber brought in the perfect offense when Self-moved to Kansas.
Weber’s motion offense was an incredible sight to see during a season with a balanced team where all five starters were in double figures. Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams could pass, shoot, dribble, and beat the Big Ten.
Head and Brown, two of the team’s top scorers, shot over 41 per cent from three.
The Illini almost had a perfect regular season. They lost a 12-point lead to Ohio State and were down 65-64 when Matt Sylvester of Ohio State hit a three with 5.1 seconds remaining.
Why they Didn’t Win The Title: Although the Illini had an incredible backcourt, they couldn’t match up against Sean May from North Carolina in the championship game.
UNC’s win of 75-70 by UNC May saw May score 26 points. James Augustine was in foul trouble throughout the game and eventually fouled out. He went scoreless in nine minutes.
This is undoubtedly the greatest team Roy Williams has ever coached.
Four Jayhawks players were in their starting lineup: Paul Pierce, Raef Lrentz, Jacque Vanaughn, and Scott Pollard. They all played in the NBA for more than ten seasons. Reserve sharpshooter Billy Thomas enjoyed a cup of coffee in the league.
Pierce is a potential Hall of Famer and has been the most successful professional. He was also the best wing scorer Williams had in Kansas. LaFrentz was the team’s star, scoring 18.5 points per contest that season and being named All-American on the first team twice.
Vaughn running Williams’ patented secondary break, Jayhawks were a high-scoring team, scoring an average of 84.9 points per match and exceeding 100 points five times. This included 134 against Niagara, and 114 against Colorado. The Jayhawks’ only loss was in double overtime against Missouri. In that game, center Pollard was not available.
Why they Didn’t Win The Title: Kansas lost 85-82 in Sweet 16 to an Arizona team that was talented enough to defeat two other No. Their NCAA title was won by the No. 1 seeds. Mike Bibby and Miles Simon were on the perimeter, as were Jason Terry, Michael Dickerson, and Jason Terry.
This injury was not good for KU’s cause. Jerod Haase was the starting shooting guard. He had suffered a wrist injury all season and had to have his shooting wrist re-injured. He only played 14 minutes and made one of three shots. He also had three turnovers.
North Carolina State scored an average of 92.9 points per game and won an average margin of 21.8. This was in a season when the team had nothing but the ACC championship to play for. It was banned from playing in NCAA tournaments for recruiting violations.
The Wolfpack’s one-two combination of “Skywalker”, David Thompson (perimeter) and Tom Burleson (7’2″) in the post made it one of the most successful in college basketball history. Thompson averaged 24.7 points per contest in his first season, while Burleson averaged 17.9 and 12.0 rebounds.
Why They Didn’t Win the Title: The NCAA findings prohibited the 1973 Wolfpack team from participating in the NCAA tournament. It’s pretty funny to read. These rule-breakers allowed the soon-to-be players to become counselors at summer camps, then allowed them to stay in dorms even though they weren’t allowed. They also gave out rides that were not allowed.
The Cougars were cool. They were known by nicknames such as “Akeem, the Dream”, and “Clyde, the Glide”. They had the game to back up their nicknames, such as “Akeem the Dream” and “Clyde the Glide”.
You can imagine that Phi Slama Jama could have bought us baggy shorts if this team had gathered in the ’90s. They irked basketball purists instead with their free-styling, dunking ways.
Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, who would later add the “H” to their names, went on to be two of the most important players in the history of the NBA and won a title in Houston in 1995. The team’s leading scorer Michael Young had a solid NBA career.
Before swagger was a word in basketball vocabulary, the Cougars displayed swagger.
Why they Didn’t Win The Title: The Cougars were a fantastic group of talent who preferred to play fast and was finally slowed down by April 4, 1983. N.C.State played a perfect game, and the Cougars failed at the free-throw line.
Georgetown was the Big East’s bully.
The Hoyas had lost two consecutive games in January to St. John’s, and they would avenge those losses with a 16-point victory against St. John’s in the final game of the regular season. They also won 27 points against Syracuse. The Hoyas defeated both teams in the Big East tournament for good measure.
With its three titles in four seasons, Georgetown was the leader in field-goal defense percentage defense (39.5%), thanks to Ewing’s 128-blocked shot.
Ex-Villanova guard Harold Pressley said that “they’re one the best defensive teams I’ve ever seen.” I still think about those guys and marvel at their abilities. We would sit down and watch the film and then watch them on TV. We were amazed at how fast they could trap us. They seemed to have everything covered.”
Why they didn’t win the title: Villanova played close to a perfect game and they had already played two close games so they were not afraid of the Hoyas.
The Blue Devils demolished people, winning 34 of their 37 games by double digits. For instance, the ACC tournament championship game was a 96-73 beatdown of North Carolina.
Duke’s starting lineup included four players who would be first-team All-Americans at some point in Durham—Elton Brand and Trajan Langdon in 1999, Chris Carrawell in 2000 and Shane Battier in 2001.
Duke was close to going undefeated in the regular season, losing on a last-second play to Cincinnati in the Great Alaskan Shootout. Point guard William Avery had tied the game with three seconds left, and then Bob Huggins drew up a fantastic play that included a length of the floor pass to Kenyon Martin, who caught the ball and passed in one motion to Melvin Levett for the game-winning dunk. Avery would hit the miraculous game-tying shot, but the basket was waved off after it was determined the shot had not beat the buzzer.
After that game, the Blue Devils won 32 straight on their way to the title game.
Why They Didn’t Win the Title: Duke lost, 77-74, to a two-loss Connecticut squad starring Richard Hamilton and point guard Khalid El-Amin.
UConn shot 52.5 per cent in the championship game, but the Blue Devils still had their chances in the final minute. Trailing by one point, Duke gave the ball to Langdon to go one-on-one against Ricky Moore. Langdon tried a spin move from about 15 feet, lost his balance and traveled.
After El-Amin made two free throws with five seconds left, Duke went back to Langdon for the tie. He dribbled up the left sideline into traffic and lost his dribble, unable to get up a shot.
The Wildcats embraced the 40-0 talk under John Calipari and nearly achieved perfection after an unbeaten regular season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein were almost unstoppable down low, and Andrew and Aaron Harrison kept the back-court humming. Kentucky advanced to the Final Four before losing in shocking fashion to Wisconsin 71-64.
Why they didn’t win it: A veteran Wisconsin team was on fire, refused to lose, and took down the Wildcats in the end. Experience does matter, sometimes.
The defending champs were the Runnin’ Rebels. They had defeated Duke by 30 in the 1990 final.
There were always controversies with the Runnin’ Rebels, whether Jerry Tarkanian’s fights with NCAA officials were legendary.
It didn’t matter how many rumors there were; this team just ran everyone out of the gym in 1991.
UNLV averaged 26.8 points per game, scoring 97.7 points per game. Larry Johnson was the team’s top scorer with 22.8 PPG, and eventual No.1 NBA Draft pick.
Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and Stacey Augmon ran the break. The Runnin’ Rebels scored more than 100 points fourteen times that year.
UNLV reached the Final Four with a winning streak of 45 games and was amidst the inevitable greatest team of all time discussions. Then…
Why They Didn’t Win the Title: Duke managed to win the Final Four game with a 79-77 victory. The Blue Devils were loaded also and behind Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, and Bobby Hurley the Blue Devils played a perfect game.
Perfection is what the 1976 Hoosiers are famous for. However, it would have been a two-year run if Scott May, the star big man, hadn’t broken his arm against Purdue.
This team was as successful as the 1976 team and went undefeated during the regular season. Four players scored double figures using Bob Knight’s motion offense. This team also had the strongest front line as May was paired with senior Steve Green, who averaged 16.6 per game.
Why They Didn’t Win the Title: Indiana lost in the Regional finals to Kentucky, 92 to 90, without May at his best. The Hoosiers beat the Wildcats 98-74 at Assembly Hall just a few months prior, with May at full strength.
It would have been great to see Indiana battle UCLA in Wooden’s last game, but it was not to be. That was a very good thing for John Wooden, as a healthy Hoosiers team would have spoiled Wooden’s retirement party.
North Carolina 1998
Wichita State 2014
Indiana State 1979
North Carolina 2012
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