First played in 1939, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has given fans some of the greatest moments in sports history. From the opening rounds all the way to the Final Four, the tournament is easily one of the most popular events in sports.
Just eight teams were included in the tourney for the first dozen years. The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and moved to the current number of 68 in 2011. There are currently 351 teams in Division I and just 91 of those have made it to the Final Four. The number would actually be 95 but four teams have had their lone appearance vacated for one reason or another.
Of those 91, just five schools have made it to the Final Four 15 times or more. (Numbers have been updated to include the 2021 Final Four.)
5. Kansas-15 Final Four appearances
The Kansas Jayhawks have made 15 appearances in the Final Four, doing so under six different head coaches. Phog Allen, the coach for whom Allen Fieldhouse is named, led the Jayhawks to three Final Four berths, in 1940, 1952 (also won the national title), and 1953. The season after Allen retired, Dick Harp took Kansas to the national semis in 1957.
Kansas’ next trip came in 1971 under Ted Owens, who took them back to the Final Four in 1974. Larry Brown took them twice in 1986 and 1988, winning the national championship in ’88 with Danny Manning. Roy Williams took over the following season and led the Jayhawks to four Final Fours (1991, 1993, 2002, 2003) before leaving for North Carolina. Bill Self guided Kansas to three appearances (2008, 2012, 2018), winning the national title in his first trip.
4. Duke-16 Final Four appearances
The Duke Blue Devils have reached the Final Four on 16 occasions. 12 of those have come since Mike Krzyzewski took over as the head coach in Durham in 1980. Duke reached the final weekend in 1963, 1964, 1966, and 1978. None of those appearances resulted in a national championship.
Since Coach K took over the program, the Blue Devils have become a perennial powerhouse. Duke has gone to the Final Four 12 times under Krzyzewski, including five straight from 1988-1992 and seven out of nine from 1986-1994. They’ve won five national championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015) during Coach K’s tenure.
3. Kentucky-17 Final Four appearances
One of the most successful schools in NCAA Tournament history, the University of Kentucky has won eight national championships, the second-most in history, and has been to the Final Four 17 times. Adolph Rupp led the Wildcats to six of those appearances, the first one coming in 1942. In the next four trips (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958), Kentucky went on to win the national championship. Rupp’s final appearance came in 1966.
Joe B. Hall led UK to three Final Four berths (1975, 1978, 1984), with the middle trip ending in a championship. Rick Pitino took the team three times as well (1993, 1996, 1997), with his middle trip also resulting in a national title. When Pitino left for the NBA, Tubby Smith took over and immediately took the Wildcats back to the national semis in 1998, winning a title in his first year. John Calipari took over the team in 2009 and guided Kentucky to four Final Fours (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), winning one title in 2012.
2. UCLA-18 Final Four appearances
UCLA would be sitting at 19 appearances had it not been for a vacated Final Four appearance in 1980 due to two players being ruled ineligible under coach Larry Brown. Alas, the total is 18. The majority of those appearances came under the legendary John Wooden, who led the Bruins to 12 Final Fours (1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975). Only the 1974 team failed to win the national championship. Gene Bartow took over when Wooden retired and made the Final Four in 1976.
Jim Harrick guided the team to the Final Four in 1995, winning a national championship with a 32-1 record, the Bruins’ most recent title. Ben Howland’s team took three straight trips from 2006-2008 and Mick Cronin took the 11th-seeded Bruins to the national semifinals in 2021. UCLA’s 11 national championships lead the all-time list.
1. North Carolina-20 Final Four appearances
Leading the way with the most appearances in the Final Four is the University of North Carolina with 20. Following their first trip in 1946, the Tar Heels won their first national championship in their second appearance in 1957. The team would make six more appearances over the next 25 years (1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1977, 1981) before finally winning another national championship in 1982 under Dean Smith. Smith would guide UNC to four more appearances (1991, 1993, 1995, 1997), winning a second title in 1993.
Bill Guthridge, Smith’s longtime assistant, took over ahead of the 1997-1998 season and led the Tar Heels back to the Final Four that year. He did so again in 2000 before retiring. In 2003, Roy Williams took over the program and has led North Carolina to five appearances (2005, 2008, 2009, 2016, 2017), including three national championships.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference