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Best teams not to win the NCAA Tournament

For the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament, no No. 1 or 2 seeds made it to the Final Four. The four No. 1 seeds — Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and Pitt — were knocked out. The four No. 2 seeds — Florida, Notre Dame, North Carolina and San Diego State — were sent packing, too. So none of the top eight teams that were expected to win the tournament will. It got us thinking about the best teams not to win the NCAA Tournament. Here are some of our most memorable.

UNLV (1991-92)

Maybe the greatest college basketball team assembled. The Runnin' Rebels won the 1991 national championship with a 103-73 drubbing of Duke. With stars Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and Anderson Hunt returning, the Rebels were heavy favorites to repeat. Johnson was the national player of the year as the Rebels went into the Final Four with a 34-0 record and an average margin of victory of more than 28 points. The Rebels faced Duke in the semifinals, and everyone expected another blowout. But Duke, with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and freshman Grant Hill, upset the Rebels 79-77. UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian called it the toughest loss of his career.

Georgetown (1984-85)

Georgetown seemed like a lock to repeat after winning the 1984 national title, especially when it faced 10-loss, eighth-seed Villanova in the final, a team it had already beaten twice. Georgetown was 35-2 going into that game, with the losses coming by a combined three points. The Hoyas also had won 17 in a row, with only two of those wins coming by fewer than nine points. In the last college game without a shot clock, Villanova shot 78 percent against the best defensive team in the nation and won 66-64.

Virginia (1980-81)

This team featured Ralph Sampson, considered one of the greatest college players ever. The 7-foot-4, three-time national player of the year led the Cavaliers to a 25-4 regular-season record, including 13-1 in the mighty ACC. But their national title hopes ended in the Final Four against conference rival North Carolina, which then lost to Indiana in the final. Virginia was a No. 1 seed three times during the Sampson era, but this was the closest it came to a national championship.

UCLA (1973-74)

John Wooden's Bruins won 10 national titles from 1964-75. This is one of the two teams that didn't win one. But it was talented, with standouts such as Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and David Meyers. This was the season UCLA's record 88-game winning streak was snapped by Notre Dame, and the Bruins went into the tournament with three losses. N.C. State, led by David Thompson, ended UCLA's seven-year run as the champ in the semifinals with an 80-77 victory. UCLA returned in 1975 to win it all in Wooden's final season.

Oklahoma (1987-88)

The Sooners had three players — Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock and Harvey Grant — who became first-round NBA draft picks. Their average margin of victory was 25 points. They lost only one of their final 22 games heading into the championship game, and that loss was in overtime. Billy Tubbs' team twice beat Kansas but couldn't beat the Jayhawks a third time. Led by Danny Manning, Kansas beat OU in the final 83-79. The Sooners finished 35-4 and broke 100 points in a game 20 times.

Duke (1998-99)

Duke has won four championships under coach Mike Krzyzewski, but this might have been Coach K's best team. It featured four players who were taken with the first 14 picks of the 1999 NBA draft, including first overall pick Elton Brand. The Blue Devils went 16-0 in ACC play, and their lone loss during the regular season was by two points to then-No. 15 Cincinnati in a Thanksgiving tournament. After that game, the Blue Devils ripped off 32 consecutive victories and were 37-1 when they were upset by Connecticut 77-74 in the championship game at Tropicana Field.Houston (1982-83)

Houston's Phi Slama Jama group, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, went to the Final Four three seasons, from 1982-84, and any of those Guy Lewis-coached teams could have made this list. But we'll go with the 1983 team, one reason being the '84 team lost to another truly great team: John Thompson's Georgetown Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing. The 1983 team lost to Jim Valvano's N.C. State Wolfpack in what some consider the greatest upset in title-game history. Despite the loss, Olajuwon was named tournament MVP.

Indiana State (1978-79)

The 1979 national championship game is best remembered for Magic Johnson's Michigan State beating Larry Bird's Indiana State in perhaps the most famous college basketball game of all time. What's often forgotten is how good Indiana State was. The Sycamores were 33-0 going into the final, and Bird was the national player of the year.

Illinois (2004-05)

The 100th season of Illinois basketball looked as if it would be special. The Illini raced to a 29-0 start and didn't lose its first game until the regular-season finale. Bruce Weber's bunch was the No. 1-ranked team from Dec. 9, 2004, through the rest of the regular season. Led by guard Deron Williams and Luther Head, two first-round NBA draft picks in 2005, Illinois won the Big Ten tournament and was 37-1 when it met North Carolina in the NCAA final. But its season ended with a 75-70 loss.

Michigan (1992-93)

The famed Fab Five, led by future NBA stars Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard, were sophomores and a season removed from advancing to the national championship game as freshmen. The Wolverines went into the tournament as a No. 1 seed with a 26-4 record and went to the final, where they lost to North Carolina in the game in which Webber infamously called timeout in the final minute when Michigan did not have a timeout left. He got a technical foul, and Michigan lost 77-71. That was the closest the Fab Five came to winning a national title.

Memphis (2007-08)

John Calipari's Tigers, led by current NBA star Derrick Rose, left, lost only once during the regular season, by four points to then-No. 2 Tennessee, and entered the NCAA Tournament with a 33-1 record. They got a slight scare in the second round, beating Mississippi State by three, but they won their other games by 24, 18, 18 and 15 points on their way to the final. The Tigers would have won it all had they made a free throw or fouled before Kansas scored on a three-pointer to tie the score at 63 at the end of regulation. Instead, they lost in OT to the Jayhawks 75-68.

Best teams not to win the NCAA Tournament 04/02/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:37am]
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