Although college basketball teams and their loyal fans must reevaluate their 2020 March Madness hopes and dreams, we can all still reflect on past NCAA tournament successes. Several of the traditional college powers have won a lot of games in March Madness, but which ones are the most successful? Here are the five teams with the most wins in NCAA tournament history.
5. UCLA (101 games)
The Bruins fell on hard times in recent years, but they maintain a place on this list thanks to John Wooden’s incredible run as coach. From 1964-75, UCLA went 44-1 in the tournament and won 10 national championships in 11 years. Everything changed when Wooden retired. They’ve only won 50 games and one title since then, in 1995 when Ed O’Bannon led Jim Harrick’s team to glory.
4. Kansas (107 games)
The inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was the first coach at Kansas University, so it’s only fitting the Jayhawks have one of the best pedigrees in the college game. Under the tutelage of former coach Roy Williams and current leader Bill Self, the school hasn’t missed out on the big dance since 1989 — the current and all-time record NCAA tournament appearances.
Despite their consistency, Kansas has only one won title during that time. In 2008, the Jayhawks beat a Memphis Tigers team starring a young Derrick Rose in a 75-68 win in overtime. (Rose’s presence on the team eventually led to Memphis’s season being vacated due to academic infractions.)
3. Duke (114 games)
The team everyone loves to hate is a reliable performer on the big stage. Duke owns the second-longest winning streak in NCAA Tournament history. They won 13 straight games from 1991-93. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has made this team incapable of being less than a favorite.
The Blue Devils have been lower than a four seed just once this century. They’ve won three-quarters of their tournament games in school history. But they don’t call it March Madness because Goliath defeats David when they play; Duke has only won two championships in the last 10 years.
2. North Carolina (126 games)
The Tar Heels’ greatness spans generations. UNC is one of two schools with 50 NCAA tournament appearances (the other being the No. 1 team on this list) over the course of eight decades. They’ve made it to at least one Final Four every 10 years and won six championships, which is the third-most all-time. North Carolina wasn’t likely to add more wins to the tally this year; the Carolina squad was on track to be the worst Tar Heel team since 2002.
1. Kentucky (129 games)
As a whole, the most successful NCAA tournament team is the Kentucky Wildcats. No school has competed in more tournaments (59), played or won more games, and made it to at least Elite Eight stage than them. After a low period, John Calipari became the coach and brought the Wildcats back to where they want to be. They won a title in 2012 — their first since 1998 — and have won at least one tournament game every year except for one.
Why do these teams win so much?
The players change, but the brands stay the same. Since the rosters of college basketball teams change drastically every year, the colleges with a track record of success always have a leg up when it comes to recruiting. By signing up to play with the likes of Kentucky, Duke and Kansas, players can feel like they are a part of a basketball lineage.
Playing for a big-name college can also can help prospects prepare themselves for the NBA. The major schools draw more attention, which makes it easier for players to display their talents to NBA scouts. These schools also play each other during the season, further validating the skills of future lottery picks. That said, plenty of great players who never played in the NCAA tournament go on to compete in the NBA.