Ranking the Best College Basketball Programs Without a National Title
For every team cutting down the nets at the end of the college basketball season like the Louisville Cardinals did in 2013, there are hundreds of others watching on television as another championship-less year comes to an end.
Since only one squad actually wins the crystal basketball, there are tons of excellent programs that don’t have a single national title banner hanging from the rafters. Read on to see the best 10.
Statistics are courtesy of sports-reference.com, and winning percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number.
No. 10: BYU
Brigham Young doesn’t have any Final Four appearances in program history, despite entertaining tournament performances from the likes of stars such as Jimmer Fredette and Danny Ainge, but there is one incredible number working in its favor.
The Cougars have won 25 regular-season conference titles in program history. Only 10 other schools in the history of the sport have more, and powerhouses such as Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina are included in that prestigious group.
Furthermore, BYU has won 1,690 games in its history at a 62 percent clip and qualified for 27 NCAA tournaments. The Cougars also count three conference tournament titles on their resume and were ranked in the final AP Poll of the season 10 times.
On an individual level, Ainge and Fredette both earned Wooden Awards as national players of the year.
No. 9: Pennsylvania
Before you laugh at Pennsylvania from the Ivy League being included in this list, consider the overall numbers and formidable resume it brings to the table.
The Quakers have won more than 1,700 total games at a 63 percent clip throughout their history. They also have an astounding 37 regular-season conference titles, which is good enough for third all-time behind powerhouses Kentucky and Kansas. That’s right, Pennsylvania has more conference crowns than the likes of North Carolina, UCLA, Duke and others.
The Quakers have been invited to 23 NCAA tournaments and made the Final Four in 1979 behind the impressive efforts of Tony Price. Notable coaches such as Chuck Daly and Fran Dunphy honed their craft on the sidelines for Pennsylvania as well.
Throw in the fact that a Quaker has been named to an All-American team 24 times, and Pennsylvania’s resume can stand up against almost any program.
No. 8: Purdue
Purdue shares a similar situation with programs such as Kansas State and North Carolina State. Each is very successful on its own merits but also has to live under the shadow of more historically excellent programs within its state.
That doesn’t mean the accomplishments of the Boilermakers should be overlooked. Purdue has won 1,676 games at an impressive 64 percent clip. The Boilers also count 22 regular-season conference titles and one conference tournament championship on their resume.
The NCAA tournament has featured a Purdue team 26 times, two of which saw the Boilers make the Final Four. The 1969 team made the national championship game, but like many teams during that era was thwarted by a dominant UCLA program.
On an individual level, a Boilermaker has been named to a national All-American team 28 different times, including the three times John Wooden and the two times Glenn Robinson were honored.
No. 7: Texas
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the gaping hole on the Longhorns’ historical resume where a national championship would go, but that doesn’t mean Texas doesn’t have a formidable basketball program.
The Longhorns have won 1,674 total games at a 63 percent clip. They have been ranked in the final AP Poll 11 times and also have 25 regular-season conference championships and two conference tournament titles.
Texas has made 30 NCAA tournaments and reached the Final Four three different times, only to be defeated when it got there. Nevertheless, three Final Fours is nothing to sneeze at, and when you combine that with the fact that there have been 10 Longhorns, including Kevin Durant and T.J. Ford, named to All-American teams it is fairly impressive.
No. 6: Memphis
Regardless of the various conferences Memphis has played in, the historical numbers for its basketball program are head-turning.
The Tigers have won 67 percent of the time they have taken the court, been ranked in the final AP Poll 16 different times, earned 19 regular-season conference crowns and cut down the nets at the conference tournament 11 times. Memphis has also qualified for 24 NCAA tournaments.
The Tigers have been to three Final Fours, an impressive number in its own right, but their tale is one of what could have been. Two of those three years saw Memphis reach the title game, only to be thwarted by a historically great UCLA team in 1973 and poor free-throw shooting in 2008.
Had Derrick Rose and Co. made a few more from the charity stripe, Mario Chalmers wouldn’t have would not have had the chance to break their heart and the Tigers wouldn’t be on this list.
No. 5: Houston
Houston may not be much now, but back in its heyday it was one of the best basketball programs in the country.
Only 13 schools in the history of college basketball have been to more Final Fours than the Cougars, who count five appearances on their resume. They have qualified for 19 NCAA tournaments, meaning that the Cougars have gone to the Final Four at a better than 25 percent clip when they make the Big Dance.
Much of Houston’s historical success can be attributed to the duo of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The Cougars went to three consecutive Final Fours with at least one of these future NBA superstars on the roster in the early 1980s.
The Cougars also have five conference titles in their history and six conference tournament championships, but it is because of the five Final Fours that they are on this list.
No. 4: Kansas State
Barring an unprecedented historical run for the foreseeable future, Kansas State is never going to match its in-state rival’s success on the basketball court, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impressive history of its own.
The Wildcats have won more than 1,500 games at a 59 percent clip, earned 27 NCAA tournament appearances and been ranked in the final AP Poll of the season 15 different times. Throw in 18 regular-season conference titles and two conference tournament championships, and Kansas State has some notable numbers.
However, it is the four Final Fours that locked a spot on this list for the Wildcats. Sure, much of that success was in the 1950s and '60s, but there are still only 17 schools with more Final Fours in the history of the sport.
Seven Kansas State players have been named to the national All-American team, including Michael Beasley and Mitch Richmond.
No. 3: Oklahoma
Like a handful of schools on this list, Oklahoma is better known for its success on the gridiron than the basketball court, but that doesn’t mean the impressive accomplishments of the hoopsters should be overlooked.
The Sooners have won more than 1,500 total games at a 61 percent clip throughout their history. They have been ranked in the final AP Poll 16 times, won 14 regular-season conference crowns and took home seven conference tournament titles.
Furthermore, Oklahoma has qualified for 27 NCAA tournaments and reached the Final Four on four different occasions. In fact, the Sooners were playing on college basketball’s final weekend as recently as 2002 when Aaron McGhee and Hollis Price combined to average better than 32 points a night.
No. 2: LSU
In terms of individual brilliance, few schools across the country can match some of the players that have suited up for LSU.
Superstars such as Bob Pettit, “Pistol” Pete Maravich and Shaquille O’Neal combined to make seven All-American teams (LSU has 11 All-Americans in its history) and revolutionize the point guard and center spots in the process.
Yes, the SEC and the Tigers in particular are better known for their football success, but the basketball team has been ranked in the final AP Poll 12 times, won 11 regular-season conference crowns and taken home an SEC tournament title. LSU has also been to 20 NCAA tournaments and four Final Fours.
Although the past few years have been rough, the most recent of those Final Fours came in 2006 under the formidable combination of Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Tyrus Thomas.
No. 1: Illinois
Outside of the lack of a national championship, the numbers surrounding Illinois’ basketball program are very impressive.
The Fighting Illini have won 1,688 total games thanks to a 65 percent winning percentage. They also have 17 regular-season conference titles and two conference tournament titles. The Big Ten is always one of the toughest leagues in the country, so the conference crowns were well-deserved.
Illinois has appeared in 30 NCAA tournaments and reached the Final Four five different times. There were some heartbreaking losses once Illinois reached the sport’s biggest stage, including the 2005 team’s national title game loss (only its second defeat of the season).
Twenty Fighting Illini players have earned spots on the national All-American team, including notable names Deron Williams, Kendall Gill and Andrew Philip (who was an All-American three times).
Illinois is a consistent winner and will continue to add to its legacy under John Groce.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.