Best college basketball teams not to win a title: The Final Four

Which is the best team that didn't win the NCAA tournament? Cast your vote on the Final Four: 1983 Houston, 1993 Michigan, 2005 Illinois and 1985 Georgetown.
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March Madness, it would appear, extends even to September. The Elite Eight round in our Best Team Not To Win A Title saw one upset after another, and mostly by sizable margins: No. 8 2005 Illinois drilled No. 1 1991 UNLV, 66 percent to 34 percent; No. 7 1985 Georgetown rejected No. 2 1975 Indiana, 58 percent to 42 percent; and 1983 No. 6 Houston slammed No. 3 1984 North Carolina 58 percent to 42 percent. The only higher seed to advance in our bracket was 1993 Michigan, which won a No. 4 vs. 5 matchup (65 percent to 35 percent) with an arguably superior 1999 Duke team that had finished its season 37-2.

What’s in store for the Final Four matchups? Vote below for which team should advance to our fictional championship game, the voting of which will run all weekend, with the winner to be announced on Monday.

No. 4 Michigan (1991) vs. No. 8 Illinois (2005)

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

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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

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.

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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

No. 6 Houston (1983) vs. No. 7 Georgetown (1985)

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

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.

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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