The story of the men’s NCAA tournament started in 1938. This year’s event was the 83rd edition of March Madness, providing plenty of opportunities for the best college basketball programs to win a national title.
However, the unpredictable nature of the tournament has left many of the biggest names still looking for the ultimate performance. Several of these teams ran this postseason before falling short again. Some have historically been very good, but are experiencing a recent downturn. Everyone has come close and will probably again.
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A list of the top eight programs that can never cut the web down at the Final Four.
25 years ago, it would have been unthinkable that the Bulldogs would be on this list. In fact, most people would not even have known Gonzaga unless they were fans of John Stockton. Blink forward to today, and the program has just completed its 23rd NCAA appearance in a row and has emerged as the elite in college basketball. The only thing missing is the intangible title. The Bulldogs have been seeded No. 1 five times, including this season, and have played two championship games in the last five tournaments.
Even if the Cougars had not reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in the last two seasons, they would be on this list. In the 1960s, led by Elvin Hayes, the two made Final Fours before losses to UCLA. Hakeem Olajuwon led them to three consecutive Final Fours in the 1980s, including defeats to North Carolina State and Georgetown in consecutive national championship games, in which the Wolfpack completed one of the tournament’s biggest disruptions to deny Houston a title. The Cougars have played six appearances in the Final Four, more than any school on this list.
The Fighting Illini has been No. 1 seed four times and reached the Final Fours twice (1989 and 2005) when they achieved that status. Among the five national semifinals, Illinois lost to Kentucky in 1947 and 1951 before finishing in third place both years. The Wildcats also beat them in a controversial regional final in 1984 at Rupp Arena that prompted the NCAA to ban teams from playing at their home ground in the regional round. It is one of nine regional finals for Illinois. The closest it came to winning the title was a narrow loss to North Carolina in the 2005 championship.
Aside from reaching the Final Four in 1939 and 1947, the Sooners had no NCAA history to speak of until Billy Tubbs arrived in 1980. They were seeded No. 1 four times in six years from 1984 and lost the national championship game in 1998 to Kansas. In all, Oklahoma equals Gonzaga by being No. 1 seed five times. Only six teams have done it more. Kelvin Sampson and Lon Kruger also led the school to the Final Four in 2002 and 2016, respectively, giving the school five national semifinal appearances.
A disappointing loss to Saint Peter’s was just the latest tournament frustration for the Boilermakers, who have apparently used up all their good karma in the regular season and then seen their expectations after the season ruined. They have won 44 tournament victories, most of any team without a title, but only won two Final Fours. A memorable loss to Virginia in 2019 prevented Purdue from reaching a third. Perhaps the law of averages will play to its advantage. This year was the 30th appearance in 39 tournaments, so at some point they have to break through, right?
No other school has been to more tournaments and failed to win a title than Fighting Irish. A significant portion of those 37 appearances came during the tenure of Digger Phelp, who took Notre Dame to the Final Four in 1978 and also completed UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak in 1974. The best chance of winning the title may have been in 1979 when Fighting Irish became seed No. 1 before losing to the Magic Johnson Michigan State team. Mike Brey has taken the school to regional finals in 2015 and 2016.
The Longhorns played the Final Four in the early era of the tournament in 1943 and 1947, when the field was only on eight teams. The second trip to the national semifinals was in 2003 during 14 consecutive tournaments under Rick Barnes. Texas played its 36th appearance this season, placing them one behind Notre Dame on this list.
This may come as a surprise when you think of the Wildcats in the shadow of their rivals in the state, but they have their own significant tournament pedigree. Much of it, however, came in the last century. K-State has reached the Final Four four times, including a second place finish in 1951. Only six programs boast more than its 12 appearances in Elite Eight. The bad news is that only 10 of their 31 tournament places have come since 1996.