Since it's March Madness time, I decided to do a little research and came up with a list of the top teams that never won the NCAA tournament. I'll say this, my list won't be one that most agree upon , but I think it will be tough to dispute. This list comes from 1980 to present day.
5. 1991 Arkansas Razorbacks- The Razorbacks were deep, talented, and athletic as any team in the nation which includes the dominant UNLV team that failed to win that year. They just didn't have UNLV's mental toughness. Led by Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, big man Oliver Miller, and coached by Mr. 40 minutes of hell, Nolan Richardson.
For all the talent they had, for some reason they couldn't put it together come tournament time. Arizona State gave them all they could handle in the second round and people started questioning whether Arkansas had what it takes to make it to the Final Four. They seemed to answer that question when they dismantled Alabama, a team that gave them fits in the SEC. Then they ran into a hot Kansas team and it looked like the Razorbacks tried to out-talent the Jayhawks instead of outplaying them.
Everyone figured it would be UNLV vs. Arkansas for all the marbles but both teams came up short. The Hogs finished 34-4.
5a. 1991 LSU Tigers- Any team with Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Jackson (Abdul Mahmoud Rauf), and Stanley Roberts belong on my list. The Tigers underperformed most of the year finishing with a 23-9 record. The supporting cast wasn't that bad either outside of LSU's big three. The problem was that Dale Brown couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag. I know he did more with less previously, but when he had serious talent he couldn't win.
The Tigers bowed out in the second round of the 1990 NCAA tournament to Georgia Tech and Lethal Weapon 3 (Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver, and Kenny Anderson) in a 94-91 thriller. What I remember from that game was Shaq and Stanley blocking every shot Georgia Tech's centers put up and Jackson missing an off balance three that ended the season of a team that started ranked number two in the country.
A serious waste of talent as Jackson went pro and Muslim, Roberts flunked out and went overseas and Shaq saw zone defenses for two more years.
4. 1993 Michigan Wolverines- The Fab Five was at full strength for two years and ran roughshod over the college basketball world. Although they looked undisciplined at times these kids could flat out play.
After falling short against Duke in the 1991 finals as freshman, it was predetermined that the championship was theirs for the taking as long as they were in Ann Arbor.
When the Wolverines won the Maui Invitational, beating eventual national champion North Carolina and Final Four participant Kansas, many figured the Wolverines would run to a top seed and Big Ten title. They got a top seed but not a Big Ten crown, being edged out by Indiana twice by one point.
In the tournament they got a second round scare, having to go to overtime against UCLA and close games against George Washington and Temple. Somewhere John Chaney is still seething. After beating Kentucky in the semifinals, I figured that Michigan had the title in the bag. The game against Kentucky was one of those games where everyone says "the winner of this game will win the championship". Well, we all know what happened in the championship, close game, the timeout that wasn't, ballgame thanks for coming. Michigan lost to North Carolina 77-71 to finish 30-4.
Chris Webber left for the NBA and the fabs were no more.
3. 1991 UNLV Runnin Rebels- It was a close call to put this team at number three. They were one of the most dominant teams to ever hit the hardwood. Others will point out that they played in the Big West, but when they went out of conference they blew them out as well, Check out the scores over NCAA tourney teams Louisville, Michigan State, Princeton, Rutgers, Florida State, and Arkansas. The Arkansas game was a 1 vs. 2 matchup on the road and the even though the score ended up 112-105 the second half wasn't that close.
It was only a matter of time before the college basketball world crowned Jerry Tarkanian and the Runnin Rebels for a second straight year. They won in dominant fashion, but they didn't blow everyone out like they did in the regular season. The Tarkanian's worse fear happened. They played Duke in the semis, a team they steamrolled by 30 in the championship game the year before.
Duke knocked off the Rebels 79-77 in one of college basketball's biggest upsets. I think it's one of college basketball's biggest shams. I don't know which players were responsible, but someone shaved some points or outright threw the game. And I'll die believing that until I'm convinced Duke won straight up.
The Rebels finished 34-1 and haven't tasted the success they had since Tark the Shark was ran off campus.
2. 1985 Georgetown Hoyas- It pains me to put the Hoyas at number two, since they also were the most dominant of that year. Led by Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas smothered teams on defense and were efficient on offense. They had a two game slide when they were knocked off by St. John's and Syracuse in back to back games, but later avenged both losses.
The Hoyas had really had no top notch competition as they ran through all comers until the Georgia Tech game in the Elite Eight. Then they had the misfortune of trying to beat a Villanova team for a third time. Georgetown escaped the Wildcats twice in the regular season but couldn't complete the sweep as they fell to Villanova 66-64 in the finals.
Georgetown finished 31-3.
1. 1983 Houston Cougars- Yes youngsters, the Houston Cougars made Final Fours and actually have a proud history, they've yet to restore. I place Houston at number one for one reason. They made three straight Final Fours and came up short each time. Houston's failures were based on bad timing, defections, and a cinderella miracle finish.
In 1982 they played North Carolina in the semis, led by James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Sam Perkins. They lost shooting guard Rob Williams to the NBA after that season. And in 1984 they went up against a Patrick Ewing led Georgetown team and lost Clyde Drexler to the league after the '83 season. Which means I have to explain 1983.
This team had serious talent, even with the loss of Williams. Drexler, Larry Michaeux, Michael Young, and a young Hakeem Olajuwon, when he was still Akeem. Take this into account, Olajuwon barely played in '82. Coach Guy Lewis championed the dunk calling it a high percentage shot and Houston dunked so much they started a fraternity called Phi Slamma Jamma.
The Cougars went 31-3 that year, but they were the most entertaining, high octane team in college. They played in an epic semifinal game against Louisville's Doctors of Dunk and won 94-81. Another game in which the "winner of this game should win it all". There was a fly in the ointment called North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack slowed the game down and controlled tempo. Drexler was hit by early foul trouble and Houston couldn't get it going. When they did get it going, they went up by five until Guy Lewis went all Thomas Hearns on me and slowed it back down ( check the first Hearns vs. Leonard fight, when Hearns started boxing and let Leonard back in the fight), going four corners and playing right into N.C. State's hands.
The came the coup degrace, when the Wolfpack's Dereck Whittenburg threw up a long airball only to have Lorenzo Charles dunk in the miss. What a way to lose. By your favorite weapon. No matter what I'll always love Phi Slamma Jamma.
Honorable Mention- 1981-1983 Virginia Cavaliers, 1980-1981 DePaul Blue Demons, 1992 Indiana Hoosiers, 1999 Duke Blue Devils