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Best college basketball teams not to win a title: The Sweet 16

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The Florida Gators arrived at the 2014 Final Four on a 30-game winning streak, needing two wins for not just a national championship but also to tie the NCAA record for victories in a single season. Alas, the Gators lost in the national semifinals, proving once again that while the NCAA tournament is the most entertaining way to crown a champion in American sports, it is also the most unfair. Thus the Gators, like dozens of fallen favorites before them, could only watch as a team that had been inferior all season long — in this case a No. 7 seed (Connecticut) that Florida had lost to on the road in December by one point on a buzzer-beater — raised the national championship trophy.

The other 15 teams below also knew that feeling. From squads that entered the Big Dance undefeated (1991 UNLV, 1975 Indiana) to those that seemed unbeatable in March, they all share two things in common: They were among the best teams college basketball has seen since the NCAA tournament expanded to allow more than one school from each conference in 1975. And none of them won the championship.

Below are our breakdowns of the 16 teams. We limited the field to one team per year and no more than two years per school. Vote for which teams you think deserve to advance in the bracket, which will be updated with the Elite Eight on Wednesday, the Final Four on Thursday and the title game on Friday. Voting will continue through the weekend with the champion crowned, as it has been for more than 30 years, on a Monday.

No. 1 UNLV (1991) vs. No. 16 Ohio State (2011)

1991 UNLV
Record: 34-1, 18-0 (1st place) in Big West regular season, Big West tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Final Four

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Since Indiana's perfect run to a national championship in 1975-76, only two teams have entered the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record. The most recent was 2013-14 Wichita State, which despite being 34-0, was neither No. 1 in the final regular season Associated Press poll, nor the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAAs. Poll voters and the selection committee doubted that the mid-major Shockers, which lacked a win over a ranked opponent, were really the nation's best, and they eventually lost to Kentucky in the tourney's third round. The other team was 1990-91 UNLV, a defending national champion that entered the NCAAs sparking debate not about whether they were the best team of that season, but whether they were the best team ever.

It did not concern pundits that coach Jerry Tarkanian and his Runnin' Rebels played in the mid-major Big West Conference; they hadn't lost since Feb. 26, 1990, and they had annihilated Duke, 103-73, in the biggest rout in NCAA title-game history. Four of UNLV's national-champion starters were still around: star power forward Larry Johnson (who would be the No. 1 pick in the 1991 NBA Draft), wing Stacey Augmon (the No. 9 pick in '91), point guard Greg Anthony (the No. 12 pick) and shooting guard Anderson Hunt. The Rebels' average victory margin was a remarkable plus-26.8, as they scored 97.7 points per game and allowed just 70.9. In February they went on the road to play the consensus No. 2 team in the nation, Arkansas, and won 112-105. They coasted into the Final Four in Indianapolis, where a repeat title seemed like a given, but Indy became the site of Duke's revenge: The 30-7, No. 2-seeded, Christian Laettner-led Blue Devils stunned the Rebels 79-77 and went on to win their first of back-to-back national titles. That Duke still had to beat Kansas in the '91 finale is largely forgotten. UNLV had been regarded as such a juggernaut that its downfall was the season's defining moment. -- Luke Winn

2011 Ohio State
Record: 34-3, 16-2 (1st place) in Big Ten regular season, Big Ten tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Sweet 16

Although this was Aaron Craft's first Buckeyes team, its legacy should not be defensive. Ohio State used one of the great inside-outside offenses of the past decade to go 34-3, win the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament, and earn the No. 1 spot in the final AP poll. The Buckeyes were built around the precociously efficient post play of freshman Jared Sullinger, who used brute force (and a sizable backside) to average 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Sullinger was surrounded by excellent shooters, and when teams opted to double-team him on the blocks, they often got burned from beyond the arc. Ohio State led the country in three-point percentage at 42.3; it had an all-time marksman in senior Jon Diebler (50.2 percent), along with wings William Buford (44.2) David Lighty (42.9).

Craft led a more-than-adequate defense that created turnovers while rarely fouling, and the Buckeyes entered the NCAA tournament as the title favorite. They had great college talent but in retrospect lacked NBA-level talent, as only Sullinger has since played in the league -- and their downfall came in the Sweet 16 against a young Kentucky team that had six future NBA players. Even though Thad Matta took a Sullinger-and-Craft-led squad to the Final Four the following season, the '10-11 team was arguably Matta's best in 14 years as a head coach. -- LukeWinn

No. 2 Indiana (1975) vs. No. 15 Connecticut (2006)

1975 Indiana
Record: 31-1, 18-0 (1st place) in Big Ten regular season (no Big Ten tournament)
NCAA tournament result: Elite Eight

Most college basketball fans know that the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to complete an undefeated season by winning an NCAA championship. Yet, the Hoosiers were oh-so-close to completing back-to-back perfect seasons, were it not for a bad break – literally.

The Hoosiers steamrolled through the Big Ten, winning every game by an average of 22.8 points, and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 team in America. Alas, they suffered an awful setback when starting forward Scott May, the Hoosiers’ second-leading scorer and rebounder and the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player, fractured his arm in a late February win over Purdue. May had a foot-long pin surgically implanted in his arm, and while he only missed two games, he was severely limited by the thick cast and wrapping around his arm. Still buoyed by future NBA players like Quinn Buckner and Kent Benson, Indiana managed to win its first two games in the NCAA tournament, but it lost 92-90 to Kentucky in the Mideast Regional final. May only played seven minutes in what would turn out to be Indiana’s only loss during a two-year period. -- Seth Davis

2006 Connecticut
Record: 30-4, 14-2 (1st place) in Big East regular season, lost in quarterfinals of Big East tournament
NCAA tournament result: Elite Eight

It may have been the ultimate Cinderella story, but for the UConn Huskies, it did not have a happy ending. UConn was the No. 1 seed in the East region, thanks largely to four players who would be selected in the first round of the NBA draft: Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone.

When they reached the NCAA tournament’s East Regional final, the Huskies should have easily handled their opponent, George Mason, the 11th-seeded upstart from the Colonial Athletic Association that was fortunate just to make the tournament. UConn built a 12-point lead in the first half and still owned a comfortable nine-point advantage early in the second. Yet, as the Patriots chipped away at UConn’s advantage, the partisan crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., got louder and louder. George Mason pushed the game into overtime and was able to prevail, 86-84. It was one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, and it made the Patriots just the second double-digit seed ever to reach the Final Four.

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The game was punctuated by the words of play-by-play broadcaster Verne Lundquist, who proclaimed on CBS, “By George, the dream is alive!” For Jim Calhoun and his UConn Huskies, however, that dream was a nightmare. -- Seth Davis

No. 3 North Carolina (1984) vs. No. 14 Florida (2014)

1984 North Carolina
Record: 28-3, 14-0 (1st place) in ACC regular season, lost in ACC tournament semifinals
NCAA tournament result: Sweet 16

These Tar Heels opened the season ranked No. 1. They wound up No. 1 in the final AP poll too. In between, they navigated the ACC regular season with a perfect record and lost just twice before the NCAAs, by one point on a neutral court to Arkansas and by two points to Duke at the ACC tournament. Carolina boasted five future first-round picks -- Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith, Brad Daugherty and Joe Wolf -- who together would log 65 seasons in the NBA. As those names attest, the ’84 Heels featured both power and athleticism, with such capable blenders as Matt Doherty, Steve Hale and Buzz Peterson to fill in the gaps.

But a team that coach Dean Smith would later confess he believed to be the best in the country was never quite the same after Kenny Smith, its floor leader, broke his wrist in late January. And in Atlanta, in the semifinal of the East Regional, North Carolina ran into an Indiana team that, after finishing third in the Big Ten, delivered the game of its season.

Freshman guard Steve Alford went off, scoring 27 points, collecting six rebounds and dictating the flow of a game in which Indiana only took 37 shots but made 24 of them. Center Uwe Blab played the Heels’ stout frontline to a draw over 36 productive minutes. And a genial Hooiser named Dan Dakich, who would go on to become a coach (at Bowling Green) and broadcaster (for ESPN), seized his moment. Though he would foul out, Dakich dogged Jordan throughout, holding him to 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting. And Jordan spent most of the game in foul trouble himself, logging only 26 minutes of the Hoosiers’ 72-68 victory. -- Alex Wolff

2014 Florida
Record: 36-3, 18-0 (1st place) in SEC regular season, SEC tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Final Four

In the here-today, holding-a-draft-news-conference-tomorrow world of college basketball, the 2014 Gators were an anachronism. They were driven by four seniors and a junior that had experienced success (three straight trips to the Elite Eight) and failures (an 0-3 record in those Elite Eight games). And that group was driven by the desire to bust Kentucky’s dominance in the SEC. For the most part, it did just that, until the ironic end that saw the Wildcats get one step further than the Gators did.

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Florida lost in by six in the second game of the year at Wisconsin and then at the buzzer on the road to Connecticut on Dec. 2. Once the team worked out kinks due to early health and disciplinary issues – it began the season with eight available scholarship players, and neither senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin nor sixth man Dorian Finney-Smith played against Wisconsin due to suspensions – it ran roughshod. The Gators won their next 30 games after the UConn loss, downing ranked foes Kansas and Memphis in non-conference play. They then went 18-0 in the SEC regular season and won the league tournament, beating Kentucky three times along the way, twice by double-digits. Florida then rolled to yet another regional final, and cruised past Dayton to reach the Final Four.

The streak, surprisingly, came to an end in a national semifinal loss to seventh-seeded Connecticut, which ultimately won the title by beating surging Kentucky. Florida lost three times all year, and only to teams that also made the Final Four.

Wilbekin was the breakout force, earning SEC player of the year honors. But this truly was a balanced act. Four players averaged double-figure scoring, and fifth-leading scorer Finney-Smith (8.7 ppg) was the SEC sixth man of the year. The Gators were top 20 nationally in both adjusted offensive efficiency (18th) and adjusted defensive efficiency (second) per, one of only four teams to manage that double in 2013-14. Not one player, though, was selected in the NBA draft. Florida’s parts instead created a formidable sum. The agonizing negative was leaving North Texas without a title. -- Brian Hamilton

No. 4 Michigan (1993) vs. No. 13 Kentucky (2003)

1993 Michigan
Record: 31-5, 15-3 (2nd place) in Big Ten regular season (no Big Ten tournament)
NCAA tournament result: National championship game

Chris Webber. Jalen Rose. Juwan Howad. Jimmy King. Ray Jackson. After having lost badly to Duke in the national championship game as freshmen, the Fab Five returned as sophomores and went 31-5. The Wolverines started the season No. 1, finished it No. 3 and were never lower than No. 7 in the AP poll. Michigan set a Big Ten conference record for single-season blocked shots and led the conference in rebounding margin.

The Wolverines entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed in the West and after an overtime win against a loaded Kentucky team in the Final Four, they met North Carolina for the championship. Chris Webber vowed that Michigan would take home the title this time, and he was very nearly right. The Wolverines came from eight down in the second half to lead by four with under five minutes remaining, but the Tar Heels rallied with a 9-0 run to take a 72-67 lead. Michigan cut the deficit to three at 72-69 with 49 seconds remaining and took its last timeout. A UNC turnover and a putback by Webber got the Wolverines within 72-71. The Tar Heels' Pat Sullivan made one free throw but missed the second, and Webber grabbed the rebound with 20 seconds to play. He attempted to call a timeout but it went unnoticed by the officials. Then, as he started upcourt, he traveled, but again the refs didn't notice. Webber then dribbled past midcourt and into a trap in the corner in front of Michigan's bench. He called another timeout, and this time the refs saw him. The Wolverines were charged with a technical foul, and North Carolina sealed the title with four made free throws. Sometimes, one mistake is the difference between Best Team Ever and Best Team Never. -- David Gardner

2003 Kentucky
Record: 32-4, 16-0 (1st place) in SEC East, SEC tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Elite Eight

The greatest Kentucky teams not only win championships, they get nicknames. The Fabulous Five. The Fiddlin’ Five. The Untouchables.

The 2002-03 team got the moniker but not the title. They became known to Wildcats fans as the Suffocats for the way they could smother opponents – they finished third in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to – which they did often en route to a 32-4 record.

To be sure, there have been teams with more and bigger stars in Lexington than that ’03 group, for which senior guard Keith Bogans was the only future NBA player. Certainly many were burdened with higher expectations. After losing Tayshaun Prince to graduation, Kentucky opened its 100th season of basketball ranked just 17th in the nation, and it lost its third non-conference game of the year to Louisville on Dec. 28. But then the 'Cats went wild, rolling through the SEC with a perfect 16-0 record in which nearly half the wins (seven) came against ranked teams, including two over Florida when the Gators were ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. After winning the SEC tournament, Kentucky entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1.

The Wildcats pushed their winning streak to 26 heading into their Elite Eight matchup with Marquette and appeared destined for the Final Four, only to have two things conspire against them: Bogans’ ankle and Dwyane Wade’s brilliance. Bogans, their leading scorer on the season, suffered a high ankle sprain in the Sweet 16 win over Wisconsin and hobbled around the court for 24 largely ineffective minutes. Wade, meanwhile, introduced himself to a national audience with a triple double: 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 83-69 blowout that suffocated Kentucky's title hopes. -- Ted Keith

No. 5 Duke (1999) vs. No. 12 North Carolina (1998)

1999 Duke
Record: 37-2, 16-0 (1st place) in ACC regular season, ACC tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: National championship game

How good were the 1999 Blue Devils? So good that when Connecticut beat them, 77-74, in the national title game, Huskies point guard Khalid El-Amin ran over to CBS’ Jim Nantz and said, “We shocked the world!” Never mind that UConn had been ranked No. 1 itself for almost two months or that it entered the tournament No. 3 in the nation. Duke was considered an unbeatable juggernaut, and with good reason. It averaged almost 92 points and beat opponents by an average of more than 24 per game.

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The Blue Devils boasted not just Wooden Award winner Elton Brand, who would be the top pick in that June’s NBA draft, but three other players who would be chosen among the first 14 selections: senior sharpshooter Trajan Langdon (No. 11), freshman wing Corey Maggette (No. 13) and sophomore point guard Will Avery (No. 14). Duke was so deep with talent that neither Chris Carrawell nor Shane Battier, who would follow Brand as ACC player of the year in 2000 and ’01, respectively, averaged even 10 points per game in ’99.

After losing by two points to Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout in December, the Blue Devils reeled off 32 consecutive wins, including all 19 against ACC foes to win both the league’s regular season and tournament titles.

They advanced to the program’s first Final Four in five years by winning their four games in the East Regional by an average of 30 points. Duke then held off No. 2-ranked Michigan State in the national semifinal to set up a showdown with UConn in the final. The Blue Devils led by two at halftime but the Huskies refused to wilt, eventually pulling in front by five in the final minutes. Down one with under 10 seconds to go, Langdon – who had been a freshman on a Duke team that went 13-18 four years prior – was forced into a travel by UConn defender Ricky Moore. After two El-Amin free throws, Langdon had another chance but turned it over again at the buzzer during his rush up the court, leaving a Blue Devils squad that outscored the next-closest team in the country by more than 650 points four points shy of its goal. -- Ted Keith

1998 North Carolina
Record: 34-4, 15-3 (2nd place) in ACC regular season, ACC tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Final Four

For much of the season, the 1997-98 Tar Heels looked like the finest team in the country. In the first season of the post-Dean Smith Era, unanimous National Player of the Year Antwan Jamison and high-flying swingman Vince Carter helped the Heels win their first 17 games. UNC won the ACC Tournament and entered the NCAAs with just three losses. North Carolina beat Michigan State and UConn at the East regionals by double digits to advance to its second strraight Final Four, but it was upended in San Antonio by an underdog Utah squad coached by Rick Majerus. The Utes, who were led by point guard Andre Miller and center Michael Doleac, were a capable defensive team, but the Tar Heels picked the worst moment to have their coldest shooting night of the season: They were 3-for-23 from three-point range. Shooting guard Shammond Williams, who was one of the best long-range marksmen in the country that season, converted just 1 of his 9 attempts from behind the arc. The Tar Heels’ untimely exit was further sullied when senior forward Makhtar N’Diaye claimed afterward that a Utah player had directed a racial epithet at him during the game. N’Diaye later retracted the accusation, saying he had made it up because he was angry about the loss. It was a regrettable conclusion to what should have been a most memorable season. -- Seth Davis

No. 6 Houston (1983) vs. No. 11 Kansas (2010)

1983 Houston
Record: 31-3, 16-0 (1st place) in Southwest Conference regular season, SWC tournament champion
NCAA tournament result: National championship game

First of all, the Cougars had an all-time nickname: Phi Slama Jama. More importantly, that nickname was earned. The Cougars were trendsetters, playing explosive, frenetic and fun basketball and shaping the modern college game in many ways. Whereas legendary UCLA coach John Wooden had disliked dunking, Houston coach Guy Lewis insisted on it. And he had all the athletes he needed for his freewheeling brand of basketball.

The Cougars featured not one but two future NBA Hall of Famers in Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. Add in Michael “The Silent Assassin” Young and Larry “Mr. Mean” Michaeux, and you have one of the most talented -- and well-named -- rosters ever in college hoops. Entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed in the Midwest, the Cougars cruised to the national championship game, beating opponents by an average of 12 points. In the title game, the Cougars lost to No. 6 seed North Carolina State in one the most memorable buzzer beaters in history: a 30-foot air ball from Dereck Whittenburg was corralled by Lorenzo Charles and dunked as time expired. Olajuwon went on to be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, the last man to date to earn that award in a losing effort. -- David Gardner

2010 Kansas
Record: 33-3, 15-1 (1st place) in Big 12 regular season, Big 12 tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Lost in Round of 32

These Jayhawks are remembered for getting Farokhmaneshed -- upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament by ninth-seeded Northern Iowa, the dagger three-pointer delivered by guard Ali Farokhmanesh -- but they were also Bill Self's best KU team that didn't win a national title. They had seven future NBA players: center Cole Aldrich, twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris (otherwise known as the Morrii), backup power forward Thomas Robinson, and guards Tyshawn Taylor, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry. They went 15-1 in the Big 12, and entered the NCAA tournament 32-2 and ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, ahead of the John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins Kentucky team.

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Kansas also ranked No. 1 in efficiency on heading into the 2010 NCAAs. It had the country's best interior defense, powered by the shot-blocking prowess of Aldrich and the length of Markieff Morris, but its biggest strength was one of the most balanced, diverse offenses of the era. KU could score from beyond the arc, with three better-than-40-percent long-range shooters (Henry, Markieff Morris and Tyrel Reed); it could attack off the dribble (with Collins and Taylor); and it could score on the blocks (Marcus Morris and Aldrich were both highly efficient around the rim). And the Jayhawks were so deep that the ninth guy in their rotation, Robinson, was a future No. 5 overall NBA draft pick. -- Luke Winn

No. 7 Georgetown (1985) vs. No. 10 Duke (2002)

1985 Georgetown
Record: 35-3, 14-2 (2nd place) in Big East regular season, Big East tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: National championship game

This was Team Maypole -- Patrick Ewing at center, with Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Bill Martin and Michael Jackson arrayed around him. Ewing had been the Most Outstanding Player of the previous year’s Final Four, and in his valedictory season he proved to be even more imposing. The latter four were almost interchangeable, and with everyone highly attuned to the wishes of coach John Thompson, the Hoya whole seemed to be more effective than the sum of its parts, even when a Perry McDonald or Horace Broadnax came off the bench to spell someone at guard or forward.

Mercurial forward Michael Graham had joined Ewing to lead the Hoyas to their NCAA title the season before, when Georgetown routed Kentucky and thumped Houston in Seattle. But in the intervening months Thompson kicked Graham off the team for academic lassitude, and the team actually seemed steadier in his absence. Following narrow, back-to-back losses to Big East rivals St. John’s and Syracuse at midseason, the Hoyas raced through the remainder of their schedule, leveling accounts with the Redmen and Orange at the Big East tournament.

It was another rematch with a Big East rival, in the NCAA final at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, that undid the Hoyas. They had defeated Villanova twice during the regular season, by seven at home and two in overtime on the road. But coach Rollie Massimino’s charges knew how to keep things close, Ewing et al. notwithstanding. On the night it mattered most the Wildcats shot 78.6 percent, missing only six times from the field all evening and just once in the second half, in a 66-64 victory. Georgetown wound up 35-3, with those three losses coming by a total of five points.

To the Hoyas, looking back, it’s of little solace, but a mark of how superlative a performance it took to subdue them on the sport’s biggest stage: If Villanova had shot merely 77 percent that night, Georgetown would have won. -- Alex Wolff

2002 Duke
Record: 31-4, 13-3 (2nd place) in ACC regular season, ACC tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Sweet 16

Rarely does a repeat NCAA championship look as plausible as it did for Duke in 2002, which returned four starters from the previous year’s title-winning team. So never mind the amazing bit about the Blue Devils not even making the Final Four, given a roster featuring three future NBA first-round draft picks and two future second-rounders. It’s stunning the team lost at all, let alone four times in 35 games.

But that’s college basketball, when one of the most loaded and statistically dominant outfits in relatively recent times doesn’t even sniff a title. Three prolific performers drove the Blue Devils that season: Jay -- the known as Jason -- Williams, who averaged 21.3 points and 5.3 assists en route to first-team All-America honors; Mike Dunleavy Jr. (17.3 ppg, 7.2 rebounds per game) who landed on the All-America second team; and Carlos Boozer (18.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg), who earned a third-team All-America spot. Not surprisingly, Duke was the No. 1 team in the country by adjusted offensive efficiency, per, with 117.7 points per 100 possessions. More surprisingly? The Blue Devils were also the No. 1 team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing just 87.3 points per 100 possessions. No team has managed to top both categories since, and only three times since have teams registered a top-10 defense to go with the nation’s most efficient offense.

Yet Duke fell to a 12-loss Indiana team in the South Region semifinal, blowing a 17-point first-half lead. Williams and Dunleavy would be picked No. 2 and No. 3 overall, respectively, in the 2002 NBA draft. Boozer went No. 34 overall that year but has scored more than 13,000 career points as a pro. Dahntay Jones, who averaged 11.2 points in 2001-02, would go No. 20 overall in the 2003 draft. Chris Duhon, a role player as a sophomore, was a second-round pick in 2004 and then spent nine seasons in the NBA. The Devils aimed to repeat their own history and become the first back-to-back champions since the program accomplished that feat in 1991 and '92. Somehow, all that talent fell well short. -- Brian Hamilton

No. 8 Illinois (2005) vs. No. 9 Kansas (1997)

2005 Illinois
Record: 37-2, 15-1 (1st place) in Big Ten regular season, Big Ten tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: National championship game

This was the most captivating team of college basketball's past decade. From Dec. 1, 2004 -- the night they blew out Chris Paul and No. 1-ranked Wake Forest in Champaign, Ill. -- to March 6, 2005 -- the afternoon Illinois' perfect run ended at 29 games, in Columbus, Ohio -- the regular season was all about the Illini. They had a lovable jitterbug of a point guard in headbanded-and-braided junior Dee Brown; another point guard who was a physical, soon-to-be lottery pick in Deron Williams; and an efficient wing scorer in shooting guard Luther Head. That trio would go on to play in the NBA, and coach Bruce Weber -- in just his second season at Illinois after taking over for Bill Self -- put on a clinic in how to run a three-guard offense, all while getting them to play his trademark, suffocating man-to-man D.

The loss to Ohio State on the final day of the regular season hardly derailed the Illini, as they recovered to win the Big Ten tournament and enter the NCAAs 32-1. In the Elite Eight, they pulled off one of the great tourney comebacks of all-time, erasing a 15-point deficit with four minutes to go against Arizona to book a trip to the Final Four. The team that stopped the Illini in the dance was the only team that was more talented: North Carolina, which beat them in the title game, 75-70, and then put four players into the first round of the following NBA draft. -- Luke Winn

1997 Kansas
Record: 34-2, 15-1 (1st place) in Big 12 regular season, Big 12 tournament champions
NCAA tournament result: Sweet 16

When the Final Four gathered in Indianapolis that March, three No. 1 seeds were present. The only one absent was the one everybody expected would make it. But the Jayhawks, which had been ranked No. 1 for all but the season’s first two weeks, had been shockingly derailed a week earlier in the Sweet 16 by an unheralded Arizona team.

That loss to the Wildcats -- who went on to beat two other top seeds in North Carolina and Kentucky en route to the national title -- was only Kansas’ second of the year. Its first had come in early February by two points at Missouri in double overtime. It was considered such a blip that AP voters kept the Jayhawks right where they had been since the first week of December: atop the national polls. They stayed there, too, through the remainder of the regular season and the Big 12 tournament, which KU capped with a 27-point beatdown of the Tigers in Kansas City.

Led by All-America forward Raef LaFrentz, senior point guard Jacque Vaughn and a sophomore wing from California named Paul Pierce, Kansas entered the NCAAs as overwhelming favorites, and two easy wins over Jackson State and Purdue did nothing to dispel that theory.

But with Vaughn slowed by bronchitis and senior guard Jerod Haase dealing with a broken wrist, the Jayhawks' backcourt had trouble slowing down Arizona's trip of quick guards, Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Jason Terry. Trailing by 13 with three and a half minutes remaining, Roy Williams' team staged a furious rally to close within one. Two Bibby free throws pushed the lead to seven and Kansas had three shots to tie from three different players (none of whom were Pierce, who had scored a team-high 27 points). All three missed, and so too did the Jayhawks miss their chance at winning the national championship. -- Ted Keith