Monday, April 4, 2011

The Best NCAA Teams to never Win a Title (since 1990)

I wanted to do this last night but I had to prep for a job fair with an early date with my pillow. Besides, we'll be busy watching UConn and Butler tonight and wondering if Kemba Walker will add one more token to his legend (which I predict) or America will enjoy their gritty "underdog" making up for coming so close last year.

I'd rather take a quick look at those teams that for some reason never hoisted the title despite all their talent. After watching that Fab 5 documentary, it's clear that their legacy will include never winning an NCAA title but it doesn't overshadow how great they were or how great these teams are. 

Here we go (ranked by yours truly)

1. 1990-91 UNLV (34-1): The defending NCAA champs were better this year than they were in 1990. All 5 starters returned as Larry Johnson was named Nat'l Player of the Year. All-American Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony would join Johnson as lottery picks that summer. They blew teams out with no mercy and carried a 45-game winning streak into the Final Four against Duke, the same team they blasted by 30 in the 1990 Final.

Watching that HBO doc on UNLV last month, it's chilling how Jerry Tarkanian believed his team would lose because they were overconfident. Sure enough they did as the same Duke team plus some freshman named Grant Hill beat them by 2. It's a fitting tribute that Sporting News still named this team one of the Top 10 of all time.

2. 1998-99 Duke (37-2): This one stings. The team that helped introduce me to Duke as a fan besides Grant Hill. 4 lottery picks, including National POY Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. The reason I even did this blog in the first place. The team that ran through college basketball like nobody's business.

I was all set to celebrate the greatest team since UNLV and Duke in the early 90's. All we had to do was beat UConn and Rip Hamilton. Long story short, I still swear Trajan Langdon was fouled at the end of regulation before his 3-pointer went up. And yeah, I'm bitter but at least it set up the arrival of Jay Williams the next season.

3. 1996-97 Kansas (34-2): I remember this team like yesterday. Everyone I was talking to as a kid said that Kansas was the overwhelming favorite. Jacque Vaughn and Raef Lafrentz were All-Americans, Scot Pollard came off the bench and Paul Pierce was a deadly sophomore wingman. There was no way they weren't going to win at 34-1 and the #1 team in the nation right?

Somebody forgot to tell Mike Bibby and Miles Simon that. Both of them led Arizona into that Sweet Sixteen matchup with Roy Williams' starstudded roster and beat them by 3 en route to the national title. The #1 Team in the nation didn't even reach the Final Four and taught me a valuable lesson - never bet on Kansas to win a big game. 

4. 1992-93 Michigan: Imagine that Chris Webber doesn't call timeout and didn't travel after getting that rebound. This was the best Fab 5 team and by all accounts, they should've beaten North Carolina like they nearly did earlier this season. Maybe they were too emotionally spent after beating Kentucky in the Final Four?

Or maybe they were just outcoached by Dean Smith and didnt have enough defense on Final Four MOP Donald Williams? Either way, Michigan had all the right pieces to win a title and didn't.

5. 1997-98 North Carolina (34-4): Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Ed Cota (the most underrated PG of the last 15 years), Shammond Williams. I think I was more shocked they made it to the Final Four a year after Dean Smith retired but that team was just loaded. I remember watching that game close cause I had Utah in a tournament pool at my junior high and my mom worked with Andre Miller's mom.

Somehow Utah won that game in a huge upset. But I'm more happy I grew up in the mid-90's/early 2000's where college basketball had dominant teams with guys who stuck around for a few years and got better. Didn't even realize that 98 Carolina team was so loaded until recently.

6. 2005-06 UConn: Senior year of college, me and nearly everyone had UConn winning the tournament. Why not? Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Rashad Anderson, Marcus Williams. The #1 overall seed 4 players from that team got drafted. All they had to do was beat this 11 seed in the Elite 8. 

Yeah that 11 seed was George Mason and they didn't back down in one of the best tournament games in a while. I remember freaking out when UConn's Denham Brown's reverse layup sent the game into OT and then driving home from Bible Study pissed that Anderson's game-winning 3 in OT bricked right.

***Special shout out to the 1982-83 Houston squad of Phi Slamma Jama, who would've probably beat NC State if Hakeem Olajuwon boxed out Lorenzo Charles, and the "nonexistent" 2008 Memphis squad who won more games in a season than anybody but couldn't make free throws to win a national title.***

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