NCAA Basketball is one of the most competitive college leagues in the entire world. Nowhere else can we see the best and the brightest college basketball players and coaches battle it out for supremacy, and a multitude of college basketball stars have gone on to have legendary careers in the NBA. However, not all legendary players and teams can win it all in the NCAA.
Much like the NBA, the NCAA throughout its history has witnessed a handful of powerhouse teams. These NCAA teams were composed of high-caliber players who later on have found success in the NBA. However, not all these teams were fortunate enough to win an NCAA championship, be it because of an injury, an upset, or simply having tougher competition.
These are the top teams in NCAA history that didn’t win a championship.
1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
The ’91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels squad is widely considered as among the top college basketball teams of all time. Under head coach Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV breezed through the Big West, and was the No. 1 ranked team in the United States.
The Runnin’ Rebels’ roster for that season had the eventual number one overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft in two-time NBA All-Star Larry Johnson and also had the 12th overall pick in Greg Anthony.
UNLV was however upset by the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils squad which had Christian Laettner and Grant Hill and eventually won the NCAA Championship that season.
1983 Houston Cougars
The 1983 Houston Cougars were the number one ranked team in the NCAA, and had a perfect record at the Southwest Conference. Coached by Hall of Famer Guy Lewis, the squad that was affectionately called as Phi Slama Jama was not short in star power.
The Cougars had two NBA legends in the making in their roster that season, in Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeen Olajuwon. Drexler is a 10-time NBA All-Star while Olajuwon was the first overall pick in the famed 1984 Draft and was 1994 NBA MVP and back-to-back Finals MVP in 1994 and 1995. Drexler and Olajuwon eventually reunited in the Houston Rockets in the mid-90’s where they won the NBA Championship in 1995.
The ’83 Cougars squad made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament Championship game where they faced off against No. 16 ranked North Carolina State University, which had an unforgettable Cinderella run and eventually upset Houston to win it all.
1985 Georgetown Hoyas
Coach John Thompson’s ’85 Hoyas squad is among the best teams ever assembled in the school’s history. Georgetown was ranked first overall in the country and finished the season with an astounding 35-3 record.
The team was led by esteemed center Patrick Ewing, who was eventually picked first overall in the NBA Draft of the same year, and made 11 All-Star appearances. Together with Ewing was future first-round pick Reggie Williams and an exceptionally assembled supporting cast.
That year’s Georgetown team was looking to win back-to-back championships but was thwarted by Big East Rival No. 16 Villanova in the championship match, in what is widely recognized as one of the greatest upsets in the history of college basketball.
1998 North Carolina Tar Heels
Head coach Bill Guthridge was blessed with a star-studded squad in his first year of coaching for North Carolina. The ’98 Tar Heels were ranked first overall by the Associated Press and won the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In the team were three future first-round picks who all had prolific careers in the NBA. That year’s North Carolina squad had eight-time All-Star and Toronto Raptors icon Vince Carter, two-time All-Star and 2004 Sixth Man of the Year Antawn Jamison, and 2011 NBA Champion Brendan Haywood.
The Tar Heels made it all the way to the Final Four where they were unfortunately knocked out by the No.7 ranked Utah Utes under head coach Rick Majerus.
2008 UCLA Bruins
The 2008 UCLA Bruins squad is among the most renowned college basketball teams in recent history. Under head coach Ben Howland, the Bruins were ranked by the Associated Press third overall in the country and had a stellar 16-2 record in the regular season, in addition to eventually winning the Pac-10 Conference Championship.
Among the team’s roster are current NBA players Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and free agent Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and former NBA player Darren Collison. Love eventually made five All-Star appearances so far in the NBA and won the NBA Championship in 2016, while Westbrook is a nine-time All-Star and two-time All-Star Game MVP and was also named the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2017.
The Bruins made it all the way to the Final Four where they eventually fell against coach John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers which had future number one overall pick and NBA MVP Derrick Rose.
2010 Kentucky Wildcats
Another college squad that produced popular NBA standouts, the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats was the first Wildcats team coached by Calipari. Kentucky ended its season with a 35-3 record, and won the SEC Championship as well.
That season’s Kentucky roster boasted of a handful of future NBA players, including 2019 All-Defensive First Team member Eric Bledsoe, fifth overall pick and four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, and first overall pick and five-time All-Star John Wall.
The team was unfortunately knocked out in the Elite Eight by the West Virginia Mountaineers.