Had they not missed 28 three-point attempts ...

Had Big Ten tournament MVP James Augustine not fouled out trying to stop All-America Sean May after playing just nine minutes ...

Had they not fallen behind by 15 points in the second half ...

Had any of those things happened in the 2005 national championship game, the Illinois Fighting Illini might have capped their magical season with the first title in school history. A win over North Carolina would have left them 38-1, setting a since-equaled NCAA record for wins in a season and made the Fighting Illini a contender for the Best Team Ever To Win A National Title.

Instead, Illinois lost to the Tar Heels 75-70, thus making them eligible, almost a decade later, for our Best Team Not To Win A Title bracket, in which we asked you to vote on 16 great college basketball teams of the past 39 years that failed to cut down the nets and pick the best of that group.

Despite being an eight-seed in our bracket, the Illini rolled to the title, dropping a 1997 Kansas team that went 34-2 in the Sweet 16, blowing out No. 1 overall seed 1991 UNLV in the Elite Eight and crushing the Fab Five-led 1993 Michigan team in the semis to reach the title game against 1983 Houston.

For the third time, the Akeem (now Hakeem) Olajuwon-led Cougars — which dropped the ’83 final to N.C. State and the ’84 championship game to Georgetown — lost in a title showdown. Houston was no match for Illinois, which won the voting 79 percent to 21 percent.

Thank you to all the readers who took part. Check back tomorrow to see how SI’s panel — senior writers Seth Davis, Luke Winn and Alexander Wolff, staff writer Brian Hamilton, associate editor Ted Keith and producer David Gardner — would have broken down the bracket. And get set for a new season, which begins with Midnight Madness this week and ends next April 6 in Indianapolis, where a champion will be crowned and, perhaps, a new contender for the Best Team Not To Win A Title will emerge.

 

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