College Basketball – Title Droughts
Within the last 30-40 years, we have seen some of the most dominant stretches in college basketball history. Legendary coaches established their respective universities as powerhouses that will be forever remembered.
However, many of these programs that once enjoyed historical success are on massive title droughts. A handful of traditionally great schools have fallen off since their legendary coaches retired, while other programs have remained relevant but cannot get over the national title hump.
We have also seen several schools steadily rise to sustained success in the last 20 years, becoming some of the most prominent programs in modern college basketball. But like other teams on title droughts, these teams have experienced plenty of bitter disappointment and letdowns in the last 20 years.
Here are 10 of the most notable ongoing title droughts.
Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim has taken the Syracuse program to new heights with five Final 4s and the program’s only national title in 2003.
Nineteen years without a national championship is not too bad for a program like Syracuse, which had marginal historical relevance before Boeheim took the reins. But still, can the legend Boeheim grab another national championship before he decides to retire? It will be a tall task with the Orange failing to eclipse 20 wins in three straight seasons.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
From 1989-92, UNLV went on one of the most dominant stretches in college basketball history. During this stretch, UNLV went a ridiculous 95-8 and appeared in three Elite 8s, two Final 4s, and won a national title in 1990. The 1990-91 Rebels are considered one of the greatest teams of all time to not win a national title after they went 34-0 but lost in the Final 4.
So, what has happened to UNLV? Since legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian retired at the end of the 1992 season, the Runnin’ Rebs have appeared in eight NCAA Tournaments and their peak was one Sweet 16 berth. UNLV has experienced a massive falloff; will the Rebels’ 32-year title drought be snapped?
Under the legendary John Thompson, Georgetown’s program was among the elite during the 1980s. From 1982-85, the Hoyas played in three national title games and won one championship in 1984. Their combined record for the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons was an astounding 69-6.
Since Thompson retired in 1999, Georgetown’s program has severely dipped. After little success under Thompson’s successor, Craig Esherick, the Hoyas brought in Thompson’s son, John Thompson III. During Thompson III’s tenure — from 2005-17 — they reached one Final 4 and four Sweet 16s.
Former Georgetown legend Patrick Ewing has coached the Hoyas since 2017. It felt like Georgetown finally found some momentum after making a shocking run in the Big East Tournament last season and earning its first March Madness berth since 2015. However, that was not the case. At 6-24 and 0-19 in the Big East, Georgetown is in the midst of their worst season since the 1971-72 season. The Hoyas’ 38-year stretch without a national championship will only become longer.
When it comes to Houston basketball the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic Phi Slama Jama. The Cougars went on a tear from 1982-84, appearing in three straight Final 4s. In 1982-83 and ‘83-84, Houston went a combined 63-8 and lost back-to-back national title games.
Houston’s Phi Slama Jama squad featuring the likes of Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon remains one of the most iconic teams in college basketball history. Before the memorable Cougar squads in the 1980s, Houston was put on the map after going 58-6 and appearing in back-to-back Final 4s in 1967 and 1968. Will Houston ever grab its first national title?
Current Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars on the right page; they appeared in their first Final 4 since 1984 in 2021.
Arizona, like UNLV and Georgetown, had a celebrated head coach take the program to the promised land. Lute Olson coached the Wildcats from 1984-2007. During this span, Arizona appeared in 23 NCAA Tournaments, missing the tournament only in Olson’s first season. The Wildcats enjoyed 22 seasons with 20 or more wins under Olson. They appeared in four Final 4s from 1988 to 2001 and won a title in 1997 behind their stars: Michael Dickerson, Miles Simon, and Mike Bibby. It has been 25 years since Arizona won a title.
Since Olson’s departure in 2007, Arizona has reached six Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. Can the Wildcats reach elite status again? Their first-year Head Coach Tommy Lloyd is off to a fantastic start. Arizona went 28-3 during the regular season and is on the path to a one seed in this year’s tournament.
Michigan this high on the list could be a surprise for most, but the Wolverines have quietly had a great track record since the late 1980s. In 1989, Michigan won its only national championship in program history. Since then, the Wolverines have appeared in four more Final 4s and national title games.
It has been 33 years since Michigan won a national championship, and to lose four national title games during that span is simply brutal. Some of these teams have been iconic as well, like the Fab Five in the 1991-92 season, which also lost in the national championship.
The Wolverines are coming off an Elite 8 appearance in 2021, but this squad will have to pull off several shockers to get this far again in March Madness.
Michigan State Spartans
Staying within the state of Michigan, Michigan State is on a pretty lengthy title drought. The Spartans have two titles in program history, one in 1979 behind Magic Johnson and in 2000 led by current Head Coach Tom Izzo.
Michigan State has not won a national championship in 22 years, but the Spartans have made six Final 4s since. Appearing in six Final 4s within a 22-year span with no title to show for is quite a letdown. Izzo is fifth place all-time with eight Final 4s for a head coach. Will the Spartans finally finish the job if they are to appear in another Final 4 under Izzo?
Gonzaga’s title drought is the one most expect to end sooner rather than later. The Bulldogs’ Head Coach Mark Few has turned Gonzaga into a powerhouse. Before Few took over in 1999, the Zags had appeared in two NCAA Tournaments.
Gonzaga has been in the tournament every season under Few; this will make 22 straight. Few’s program has been outstanding over the last six seasons going 190-17. In the last four tournaments, the Zags made two Final 4s and lost in two national title games.
Will Few finally get Gonzaga its first national championship? It feels like only a matter of time as the Bulldogs continue to trend upward. They are now recruiting at a high level and genuinely have one of the most talented rosters in the country every season. This tournament will be Gonzaga’s fourth No. 1 seed in the last five tournaments. Will the drought finally end?
Now, we get into one of the best programs in college basketball history. UCLA was considered hands down the best program ever after doing the impossible with John Wooden as head coach. From 1963-76, the Bruins made 12 Final 4s and won 10 national titles. How was this kind of sustainability possible?
UCLA has won only one national championship since, in 1995. It has been 27 years since the Bruins cut down the nets. They made three straight Final 4s from 2006-08, but no national title was won.
Mick Cronin, UCLA’s current head coach, led the Bruins to a Final 4 in last year’s tournament. From a talent perspective, UCLA has a better roster this season. Will one of the best programs of all time finally hoist another national championship trophy?
Indiana was on top of the world with Bobby Knight, one of the greatest coaches, at the helm. The Hoosiers made five Final 4s under Knight and won three national titles. Indiana’s 1974-75 and 1975-76 teams put together an incredible stretch, going 63-1. The 32-0 1975-76 Indiana team is still the last squad to go undefeated and win a national title.
Since Knight’s storied career came to a close, the Hoosiers appeared in 2002’s national championship game but lost. Indiana had not made an NCAA Tournament since 2016 until this team got an at-large bid. Indiana has not made an Elite 8 since 2002. This year marks 35 years since Indiana won a national championship. Will one of college basketball’s storied programs fix itself?
That wraps it up for the 10 most notable title droughts in college basketball. Tell us what you think of the list!