The 10 best SEC basketball teams that didn't win the NCAA Tournament
Yes, we’re still missing that 2020 NCAA Tournament. Probably the only thing we don’t miss is the heartache of our favorite team going down. That’s the thing about the Big Dance — 67 teams go home heartbroken. That’s not to say those team don’t deserve to be remembered. In fact, here are the top 10 SEC teams that didn’t win the NCAA title.
10. 2018-19 Auburn (30-10, lost in Final Four)
Yes, this team was 18-9 and 7-7 in the SEC after it lost to Kentucky by 27 points in late February. But from that point on, Auburn was the hottest team in the country. The No. 5 seed Tigers smoked Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky consecutively to reach the Final Four, and they were a missed walk call from appearing in the title game. Nobody wanted any part of this team in April 2019.
9. 1994-95 Arkansas (32-7, lost in NCAA final)
This team retained the nucleus of the previous year’s squad that won the national title. With guys like Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman, this Arkansas team had its occasional moments of faltering, but it came up big in the clutch. It took a historic comeback for UK to beat them for the SEC Tournament championship, and then in the Big Dance, Arkansas survived its first 3 games with a 1-point win and 2 overtime victories. They beat a loaded North Carolina team (Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace) in the Final Four, and only No. 1 UCLA kept them from a 2nd consecutive title.
8. 2002-03 Kentucky (32-4, lost in Elite Eight)
Tubby Smith’s best team probably wasn’t the 1998 squad that won the title. It was this group of glue guys, led by Keith Bogans, Gerald Fitch and Chuck Hayes. After losing at Louisville on Dec. 28, Kentucky won 26 games in a row, including a perfect SEC season. That included a 15-point beatdown of then-No. 1 Florida. The top team in the nation, UK suffered a pivotal ankle injury to Bogans right about the time they ran into Dwyane Wade and Marquette in the Elite Eight.
7. 1980-81 LSU (31-5, lost in Final Four)
Dale Brown’s most talented team (which by the way, is really saying something) boasted a group of NBA-level players, led by Howard Carter and Rudy Macklin. After losing the second game of the season, LSU won 26 in a row, missing a perfect SEC season by one basket in their regular-season finale at Rupp Arena. As a No. 1 seed, the Tigers reached the Final Four, winning by 22, 16, and 11 points, but after taking an early lead, lost to No. 3 seed Indiana led by Isiah Thomas.
6. 2009-10 Kentucky (35-3, lost in Elite Eight)
John Calipari’s first Kentucky team was a trend-setter … but it also was a tenacious basketball team. Led by veteran Patrick Patterson and super freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, UK was in the top 5 all season and had loads of momentum in March. The one weakness was outside shooting, and West Virginia capitalized on a poor shooting game to upset No. 1 seed UK in the Elite Eight.
5. 1952-53 LSU (22-3, lost in Final Four)
UK was banned from SEC in play in 1953, and LSU took advantage and then some. The Tigers had the best player in the game in forward Bob Pettit, who shot 51% while scoring 24.9 points per game (and grabbing 12.7 boards a game). Guard Norman Magee and forward Don Belcher averaged 13 and 12 points per game, respectively, and LSU outscored opponents by 15 points per game. After losing to Tulsa in the 3rd game of the year, LSU won 18 in a row, including a perfect SEC season. Unfortunately, they lost to Indiana in the Final Four.
4. 1974-75 Kentucky (26-5, lost in NCAA final)
Joe B. Hall had 2 great teams here — the senior class was led by Kevin Grevey and Jimmy Dan Conner, and the freshmen included future stars Jack Givens and Rick Robey. The season was marked by an early 24-point loss to Indiana in which IU coach Bob Knight cuffed Joe B. Hall on the back of the head.
Kentucky retaliated by upsetting Knight’s previously unbeaten, No. 1 Indiana squad in the NCAA regional final. After Kentucky knocked off Syracuse in the national semis, they seemed likely to win the title. Until UCLA coach John Wooden announced that the title game would be his final game in coaching. Whether it was inspiration (as UCLA would claim), poor officiating (as UK would claim), or just a confluence of bad luck, UCLA bested the ‘Cats for the title.
3. 2013-14 Florida (36-3, lost in Final Four)
Billy Donovan’s next-to-last Gators squad felt like a title shoo-in. After a loss to UConn on Dec. 2, Florida won 30 games in a row. Ranked No. 1 by late February, UF cruised through a perfect SEC season and an SEC Tournament title (their 3rd win of the year over Kentucky coming in the title game). In the Final Four, Florida fell flat against No. 7 seed UConn, which then knocked off Kentucky for the title. This team was a lot like Kentucky’s 2003 squad — names like Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin may not inspire fear now, but Florida was a tight collection of very, very good players … that somehow didn’t win it all.
2. 1953-54 Kentucky (25-0, did not participate in NCAA Tournament)
Of all the woulda, shoulda, coulda teams, this one has a special claim. They never lost. The previous year, Kentucky was not allowed to compete due to NCAA probation. Rupp apparently practiced his team as if they had a full season to play, and in ’53-’54, he unleashed his wrath on college basketball. Led by future NBA greats Cliff Hagan and Frank Ramsey, not only was Kentucky unbeaten, but they were rarely approached.
Only twice, in an early 77-71 win over Xavier and in a 1-game playoff for the SEC title with Bob Pettit and LSU (63-56) was Kentucky even challenged.
But when the NCAA ruled that seniors Hagan, Ramsey and Lou Tsioropolous could not play in the Tournament because they had graduated, Kentucky was finished. Rupp famously allowed the players to vote on whether to participate, and then overturned their vote, allegedly 9-3 in favor of playing.
1. 2014-15 Kentucky (38-1, lost in Final Four)
As special as the 1954 team was, the 2015 one might have been an even rarer animal. We’re now more than 4 decades from the last undefeated NCAA champ (Indiana, 1976). When this team fell to Wisconsin in a brutal Final Four loss, there probably went our collective last, best chance to see it again.
With a squad so talented that he often relied on 5-man platoons, Calipari had a veritable NBA squad in Lexington. Ranked No. 1 all season, Kentucky embarrassed foes like Kansas (72-40) and UCLA (83-44) en route to a perfect regular season.
An Elite Eight squeaker over Notre Dame seemed to be the close game that UK would have to survive … but nobody told Bo Ryan’s great Wisconsin squad, whose 71-64 upset shocked the world. At least on this list, UK is still No. 1.