The winningest programs that never won a championship

The winningest programs that never won a championship

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Photo: St. John’s University

This hasn’t been the best year for college basketball’s blue bloods. Kentucky had its first losing record since 1989. Duke is missing the NCAA field for the first time since 1995. North Carolina has been unranked all year, and the only reason Kansas has avoided a similar fate is how weak the Big 12 has been in general.

It’s weird, sure, but being nowhere near championship contention is nothing new for some of the winningest programs in college basketball history. Here are the teams with the most all-time wins who have never won an NCAA Tournament. Initially, this was going to be a look at teams with the most all-time wins who haven’t won in the tournament’s modern era, whether you consider that to start in 1979 with the introduction of seeds, or 1985, when the field expanded to 64… but that only means two teams not here would’ve been here — Utah (won in 1944) and Cincinnati (won in 1961 and 1962).

Will any of these historically excellent teams finally break through and win it all at the Big Dance this year? Maybe. The list does include one team that’s been near the top of the rankings… but it also includes more who won’t be in the tournament, and one, Penn, that didn’t even play this season.

This is half of the teams in the top 10 all-time in Division I men’s college basketball victories — all without an NCAA championship.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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Washington

Washington

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Photo: AP

After winning the national third place game in the 1953 NCAA Tournament, the Huskies didn’t return to the Big Dance until 1976, didn’t win another game in March Madness until 1984, and still haven’t been past the Sweet 16 in more than half a century. A No. 1 seed in 2005, Washington lost in the regional semifinals to Louisville, and they’ve had two Sweet 16 losses to the East Coast Huskies, UConn, by one point in 1998 and in overtime in 2006. So much for taking advantage of the basketball scene in Seattle after the SuperSonics left town.

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BYU

BYU

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Photo: AP

The Cougars haven’t just not won a national title, they’ve never been to the Final Four, coming closest when they reached the Elite Eight in Danny Ainge’s senior season, 1981. Since then, BYU has advanced to the Sweet 16 only once, with Jimmer Fredette in 2011, but being a power in the WAC, then the Mountain West, and now the West Coast Conference, BYU has been able to rack up plenty of wins — the 19th-most in Division I history.

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Penn

Penn

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Photo: Getty Images

Over the decades, Penn and Princeton have dominated the Ivy League, and the Quakers made a surprise run to the 1979 Final Four before getting blown out by Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Eight years earlier was actually when Penn had its best team, remaining undefeated until the East Regional Final, where the Quakers lost a Big 5 rivalry game to a Villanova team that had to vacate its Final Four appearance. Would Penn have been able to take down the UCLA dynasty had it gotten to the title game? No. Has Penn won a game at the tournament since beating Nebraska in 1994 at Nassau Coliseum? Also no. Can Penn claim the 1920 and 1921 national titles thanks to historical review? Sure. Is that really anything to celebrate a century later in what’s really a totally different sport now? No again. But the Palestra is still the best college basketball arena in the country, so there.

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Texas

Texas

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Photo: AP

Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, and many more stars have come through Austin, but the Longhorns’ only claim to a national title remains the 1933 Premo-Porretta Power Poll, from before the NCAA Tournament came into existence. Texas did win the NIT two years ago, as well as in 1978, but March Madness proper has been little but misery for Texas, which went to the Final Four in 1943 and 1947, but only once in the modern era, when a T.J. Ford-led group fell to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse in the national semifinals. Texas hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2008.

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Illinois

Illinois

Illustration for article titled The winningest programs that never won a championship
Photo: AP

Could this be the year that the 1915 national champions finally get on the board in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe. Illinois could have won it all in 1943, but after three members of the “Whiz Kids” were drafted to the army, the Illini did not play in that year’s postseason. Illinois went to the Final Four in 1949, 1951, 1951, and 1989, but never played for the title until 2005, when the Deron Williams-led team fell five short against North Carolina. Since then, this year is only Illinois’ sixth trip back to the Big Dance — they haven’t been higher than a 4 seed and haven’t advanced back to the Sweet 16.

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Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky

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Photo: AP

A regular in the NCAAs since 1940, when it appeared as Western Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College, the Hilltoppers have been to one Elite Eight, in 1971, and technically they didn’t go to that one, because it was vacated after Jim McDaniels, the tournament’s leading scorer, was found to have been paid. Of course, Western’s loss in the Final Four was to Villanova, which itself had to vacate because Howard Porter signed with an agent before the tournament. The Hilltoppers have been to the Sweet 16 twice in the seeding era — in 1993 and 2008.

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Purdue

Purdue

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Photo: AP

The Boilermakers went to the title game in 1969, but ran into UCLA, whose dynasty was coached by Purdue alum John Wooden, who played for the 1932 team that was recognized as the national champion. Although Purdue returned to the Final Four in 1980, losing to UCLA in the national semifinal this time, coach Lee Rose left after that run to go to South Florida. Purdue hired Gene Keady, who was a legend and won 493 games in 25 seasons, but only got the Boilermakers as far as a couple of Elite Eights. Matt Painter took Purdue to the 2019 regional finals, but he also hasn’t been able to get the black and gold over the hump to its first NCAA crown.

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St. John’s

St. John’s

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Photo: AP

The Johnnies are recognized as the 1911 national champions, and won back-to-back NITs during World War II, including in 1944 when the schedule included Montclair State, Webb Institute, Rhode Island State, Cathedral, Brooklyn Army Base, and Yeshiva. Basketball was, uhh, different then — St. John’s tallest player was 6-5 center Ivy Summer. In 1952, St. John’s went to the NCAA title game, losing to Kansas … and also to the NIT quarterfinals, losing to eventual champion La Salle. Again, times were different. St. John’s has been to one other Final Four, with Chris Mullin in 1985, and since that trip, the Red Storm has made only two trips to the Elite Eight. They haven’t even been to the Sweet 16 in this century. They’re still 10th all-time in wins and still get treated like a big deal in New York, though. (Ed. note: HOW DARE YOU, SIR nah, yeah he’s right, we suck. — Mr. Johnnie, Rich O.)

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame

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Photo: AP

Ranking eighth all time in wins among Division I teams, here’s the entire list of postseason tournaments that Notre Dame has won:

  • 2015 ACC Championship

The Fighting Irish have been a No. 1 seed in exactly one NCAA Tournament — in 1979, the first tournament with seeds, when they lost in the Elite Eight to Michigan State. They’ve been to the regional finals twice since then, but not to the Final Four. Notre Dame’s only foray to the national semifinal was in 1978.

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Temple

Temple

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Photo: AP

The Owls won the 1938 NIT and are considered national champions for that year, and have a storied program that’s only had five coaches — Harry Litwack, Don Casey, John Chaney, Fran Dunphy, and Aaron McKie — since 1952. But postseason success has been tough to come by for the Cherry and White in the modern era, and particularly in this century. In 2001, Temple went to its second Elite Eight in three seasons, and fifth in 14, but the Owls haven’t been back to the Sweet 16 in 20 years. That’s not going to get any better this year: Temple went 4-10 in AAC play to finish ninth in the conference.

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Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.