Best college basketball teams to never win the championship

Which team is the best team to never win a championship?


Joe Robbins

2004-05 Illinois men’s basketball playing in a game against Wisconsin

It is not easy to win an NCAA Championship in basketball. This requires a team to win six games in a row, and the farther a team gets, the harder the competition. Teams get seeded based on their regular season performance. The first round is the easiest for the top teams but after that, anyone can win. Not even the first round is a guarantee; just ask 2017 Virginia, who became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a sixteen-seed. Junior Jamie Healy, who enjoys watching college basketball thinks that any team can beat anyone no matter their seed.

“I think the one-seed has a more challenging path to the championship,” Healy said. “They are going to get everyone’s best and it’s very possible that they slip up or are worn down by the Elite Eight.”

Teams rarely bring back most of the same players due to players graduating, transferring or if they are good enough going pro. They also bring in recruits and transfers of their own, leading there to be a lot of roster turnover every year, making it even more difficult to win a title. These are the top five teams to never win the championship.

#5: 2020-21 Gonzaga – Lost in the National Championship.
In a COVID-19-shortened year and minimal fans allowed throughout the tournament, the Zags were 31-1 on the year. They beat four top 15 teams and were led by Wooden Award finalist Drew Timme; they also had lottery picks, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert. The lack of depth and a below-average defense ended up costing them the National Championship.

#4: 2004-05 Illinois Fighting Illini – Lost in the National Championship.
Led by future third overall pick Deron Williams and a supporting cast of three other players who would go on to hear their names called at the NBA draft. The Illini finished the year 37-2, tying the record for most victories in a season, but lost the national championship to No. 1 seed North Carolina.

#3: 1992-93 Michigan Wolverines – Lost in the National Championship.
Michigan had three future top 15 picks, and three more players from this team would also go on to play in the NBA. They made the championship game, and had the ball down two with 20 seconds to play against North Carolina. Chris Webber, Michigan’s best player and the first pick in the NBA draft the following season, called a timeout after he was trapped in the corner. Webber did not realize, but Michigan did not have any timeouts left. It resulted in a technical foul, granting North Carolina the ball, free throws and ultimately the National Championship.

In the article Greatest College Basketball Teams That Didn’t Win a Title, writers Ross Kelly and Tony Adame discuss who they thought was the top team that has never won. They claim that the 1982-83 Houston Cougars, 1974-75 Indiana Hoosiers and 1990-91 University of Las Vegas-Nevada are the top three teams to never win the championship.

#2: 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats – Lost in Final Four.
This team set the NCAA record for wins in a season and went 38-1 on the year. Many thought they would be the first to run the table since the 1975-76 season. This team was loaded with talent and would send nine players to the NBA, including superstars Devin Booker and Karl Anthony-Towns. The Wildcats came up short to No. 1 seed Wisconsin.

#1: 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels – Lost in Final Four.
UNLV went 34-1 on the year and had a chance to establish a dynasty if they won the championship. They won the title the year prior and entered the final four on a 45-game winning streak. Five players on this team went on to the NBA and combined to play 42 seasons. Unfortunately, they ran into Duke, who had revenge on their mind as that was who they beat in the championship the year before.

“I think 2018 Duke is the best team to not win because they had 7 NBA players, and one being an NBA All-Star in Zion Williamson,” Junior Anton Augusto said.

As college basketball continues to evolve through NIL, the ability for players to profit off of themselves, it makes things interesting as the best players could basically be bought to come play for the school that will pay them the most. Add in the transfer portal, which allows players to switch colleges while still maintaining their eligibility, and there will be great teams formed that come up just short and someday might end up on this list.