Five Best Ohio State Basketball Teams Not to Win a Title

Bruce Hooley

It's not difficult picking the best Ohio State basketball team of all time, since only one has emerged as the NCAA Tournament title.

That's the ultimate, "Scoreboard," argument for the Super Sophomores of Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Mel Nowell to play as their trump card in arguing that OSU's 1960 national champions stand above all other teams in Buckeye history.

But that's only one of the seven instances Ohio State has advanced to the Final Four since 1960, so the Buckeyes have been close to the ultimate prize plenty of times.

Which teams in OSU history would rank among the Top Five not to win a championship?

The ranking is subjective, of course, but here's a countdown from No. 5 to No. 1:

5....Third time's the charm for the Fab Five

Year: 1992

Coach: Randy Ayers

Record: 26-6 overall, 15-3 Big Ten (1), No. 3 final ranking.

Losses: at USC, at No. 5 Indiana, at Seton Hall, at Iowa, vs. No. 7 Indiana, vs. Michigan in NCAA Elite 8.

Overview: Led by two-time All-American and national player-of-the-year and Big Ten player-of-the-year Jim Jackson, OSU lost in overtime to the Fab 5 to fall just short of the Final Four.

The Buckeyes defeated Michigan both previous time they played that season.

Coach Randy Ayers team lost twice to Indiana after sweeping the Hoosiers the year before, but won the Big Ten title on the season's last day when Indiana lost at Purdue.

Jackson, Chris Jent, Mark Baker, Jamaal Brown and Lawrence Funderburke made up the starting lineup on a team that defeated North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

4...Tournament's top seed overall suffers Sweet 16 heartbreak

Year: 2011

Coach: Thad Matta.

Record: 34-3 overall, 16-2 Big Ten (1), Big Ten Tournament champions, No. 1 final ranking.

Overview: The NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed, OSU rode freshman Jared Sullinger to a magical season in the year after losing national player-of-the-year Evan Turner a year early to the NBA.

William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty joined Sullinger in a lineup that started the season 24-0 before losing by four points at Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes avenged that loss in the season finale by 28 points. A Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky exposed OSU's lack of bench depth, where only freshman guard Aaron Craft contributed meaningful minutes.

3...Lucas' knee injury in Final Four semis ruins chance for revenge

Year: 1962

Coach: Fred Taylor

Record: 26-2 overall, 13-1 Big Ten (1), No. 1 final ranking.

Overview: The third straight year of dominance in the Jerry Lucas-John Havlicek era ended with a 71-59 loss to Cincinnati in the NCAA title game in a rematch of the previous year's championship.

This time, the Buckeyes were reeling because Lucas injured a knee in the win over Wake Forest on Friday at the Final Four. He tried to play the next day, but was ineffective and only years later admitted the knee was "about 30%" for the Bearcats.

OSU lost only one Big Ten game, at Wisconsin in the next-to-last game of the regular season, to break a 27-game conference winning streak. The Buckeyes were ranked atop the polls the entire season.

2...Thad Five lives up to its billing, but comes up one win short

Year: 2007

Coach: Thad Matta

Record: 35-4 overall, 15-1 Big Ten (1), Big Ten Tournament champs, No. 1 final ranking.

Overview: The Thad Five era arrived and was gone in an eye blink with five-star freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley leading the way. Oden broke his right hand in the pre-season and didn't play until after OSU lost its first game, at North Carolina.

He began participating after that, but wasn't able to use his right hand for much more than rebounding. Five games after he returned, the Buckeyes got embarrassed at defending national champion Florida, 86-60.

Oden soon learned how to manage the hand, however, and holdovers Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler and Ivan Harris meshed well with Conley and Oden.

OSU lost its only Big Ten game, 72-69, at No. 4 Wisconsin, but avenged that loss with a 49-48 win over the No. 1 Badgers in the final game of the regular season. A week later, OSU hammered Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Tournament, 66-49, and sailed into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed.

Lewis' three-pointer at the end of regulation allowed the Buckeyes to escape Xavier in Round Two. OSU needed a 20-point comeback against Tennessee -- which had lost in Columbus by two points in December -- to survive the Sweet 16 and then defeated Memphis and Georgetown to reach the NCAA title game.

The Buckeyes ran into Florida, the first team in NCAA Tournament history to return all five starters from its title team of the previous season, and could not survive Conley's early foul trouble in an 84-75 final that blunted a 22-game winning streak.

Oden, his right hand finally functional, destroyed Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Maurice Speights -- three guys who had long careers in the NBA -- with 25 points and 12 rebounds in the title game.

1...Quest for back-to-back NCAA titles comes up just short in overtime

Year: 1961

Coach: Fred Taylor

Record: 27-1 overall, 14-0 Big Ten, No. 1 final ranking.

Overview: OSU lost starter Joe Roberts and top reserve Dick Furry off its national championship team from the year before, but was nevertheless ranked No. 1 in the preseason and all year. Lucas shot less than he did as a sophomore, a matter of consternation to head coach Fred Taylor, but still had eight 20-20 games (at least 20 points and at least 20 rebounds) during the season. The Buckeyes only close win in the Big Ten was a 62-61 nail-biter at Iowa, and they had a similar close call in the NCAA's first round against Louisville, 56-55. The Cardinals collapsed on Lucas and held him to nine points. In his next game against Kentucky, Lucas had 33 points and 30 rebounds, outrebounding the Wildcats' entire team by one. OSU was a solid favorite against Cincinnati in the NCAA Championship game and owned a 56-52 lead with nine minutes left, but scored only five points the rest of the way. The game entered overtime locked at 61-61 and Ohio State had a chance to get even with 47 seconds left when Larry Siegfried missed one of two free throws. UC added two free throws and another bucket for the 70-75 upset win.

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