Kansas men's basketball team ranks high on 'bridesmaid' list


I was fascinated when I received an e-mail from Kansas fan Scott Zwink earlier this week.

Zwink, a 1985 KU graduate, did some extensive research on one question: Which men’s basketball teams have lost the most times in the NCAA Tournament to the eventual national champion?

Let's call it our own "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride" list.

Zwink started researching the topic after watching KU have so many close calls between 1988 and 2008.

Without looking at the numbers, it seemed like KU should be pretty high on the list. The Jayhawks lost to Syracuse in 2003, Maryland in 2002 and Arizona in 1997. Whether it was by luck or not, the Jayhawks have frequently seemed to lose to the team that eventually went on to win it all.

Zwink didn’t settle for wondering. He pulled brackets from all the NCAA Tournaments held and charted every team that has lost to an eventual national champion.

The results?

KU actually does rank high on the list, as the Jayhawks are tied for second with 10 losses to eventual national champions.

You can see the full list in an Excel spreadsheet here*.

* — More information can be found by clicking on the plus signs on the left next to each team. When you do, you can see the years and eventual national champions that each team lost to. Also listed is the round in which each loss occurred. This is a little tricky because in 1939 there were only three rounds. Scott chose to always give the championship game No. 1, so the higher the number, the earlier the two teams played in the tournament.

Let’s take a look at KU’s losses to eventual national champions.
1940 — Indiana (Championship)
1953 — Indiana (Championship)
1957 — North Carolina (Championship)
1966 — UTEP/Texas Western (Elite Eight)
1971 — UCLA (Final Four)
1991 — Duke (Championship)
1993 — North Carolina (Final Four)
1997 — Arizona (Sweet 16)
2002 — Maryland (Final Four)
2003 — Syracuse (Championship)

Kansas State is second in the Big 12 with six LTENCs*. Nebraska is the only league school to have never lost in the tournament to an eventual national champ.

* — Losses to eventual national champions

In case you were wondering, Duke leads all teams with 11 losses to eventual national champions. That means, if Michigan State takes the title this year, KU could tie the Blue Devils. If Villanova wins, Duke will have a two-game lead on the field.

As mentioned before, the Jayhawks are tied for second with 10 LTENCs.

Any guesses as to the team they are tied with?

North Carolina? Kentucky? UCLA?

Actually, none of the above. Surprisingly, Utah also has 10 LTENCs, with five of them coming in the 1950s and ’60s.

If history is any indication, then Villanova should be the favorite this weekend. As Zwink pointed out to me, the Wildcats have beaten teams with the highest combined number of LTNECs: American (0), UCLA (9), Duke (11) and Pitt (2).

This also brings me to another question: If you’re a KU fan, do you cheer for Michigan State on Saturday? (Vote here.)

Do you feel better if your team is beaten by the eventual national champion? Or is it frustrating to see that team advance, all the while thinking that it could have been KU?

And is it any consolation when your team loses to the national champion? Is that a form of twisted comfort? Or is it additional agony?

Thanks again to Scott for sharing his research.


sevenyearhawk 13 years, 4 months ago

Well, I'd say this ... combined with the Final Four being played in Detroit means that Michigan State pretty much has it in the bag!

Thanks for doing the research on this topic, I've always wondered, but never been motivated enough.

5a5quatch 13 years, 4 months ago

I think KU is also second in all-time National Runner-Ups, with 5. Once again, I think Duke leads this list, with 6.

Gordon Penny 13 years, 4 months ago

I definitely cheer on the team that beats us in the tournament. When the team that beats us loses, I can't help but think how things would have turned out had we played in that next game instead of the team that beat us playing in it and losing.

Justin LoBurgio 13 years, 4 months ago

As far as Nebraska never losing to the chapion in the tournament: I guess you have to MAKE the tournament first.....ha ha ha. I thought it was funny.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 4 months ago

I was actually thinking about this exact topic the other day. Thanks for the research Scott.

A couple of thoughts on what a stat like this means:

1) A team that loses to the eventual national champion a lot is a team that is gets to the tournament a lot. The more you play in the dance, the higher your odds of meeting up with the champion. KU, clearly, gets to the tournament quite a bit. This leads to,

2) Teams that consistently go far in the tournament will lose to the national champion more. The farther you get in the tournament gives the team that beats you a greater chance of winning it all, as they have that many fewer games to win. Obviously if you make the championship game a lot, this stat (LTENC) will be high. And that goes right along with the stat 5a5quatch wrote above (if that stat is indeed accurate). It makes sense that Duke and KU are 1 and 2, respectively, as those two teams get to the championship game relatively often.

I'm curious what coach has the most LTENC's. I ask that because 5 of our 10 LTENC's were under the helm of Roy, and he picked up a 6th last year. My guess is he's at the top, and I don't know what to think of that. What does something like that say about a coach?

And how many of Duke's LTENC's are Coach K's?

Lance Hobson 13 years, 4 months ago

What an incredible stat! It's sad that we are so high, and very frustrating. Coach K has a ton, he made it to the Final 4 several times before finally winning (against us no less).

LA JHawk, what were you thinking picking WVA over us?

chalmers2wright 13 years, 4 months ago

"Whether it was by luck or by chance"

Is there a difference?

LAJayhawk 13 years, 4 months ago



As I've explained before, I'm in several pools, and in this one I just picked crazy crap. I didn't know it would be posted below my comments or I would have taken it more seriously -- I'm currently in 2nd place in my main money pool of 120 people. Second, I tend to pick against KU because it's my reverse jinx. I'm a ridiculously superstitious person, and that's just one of the things I do.

But good job criticizing when you didn't even make picks yourself.

LAJayhawk 13 years, 4 months ago


Any chance on getting a number of LTENC's for Coach K? I'm too lazy to count it up myself.

Jesse Newell 13 years, 4 months ago

Coach K has coached at Army and Duke. Army has no LTNECs. Coach K has been at Duke since 1980, so according to the chart he has eight LTNECs (1986 Louisville, 1987 Indiana, 1988 Kansas, 1990 UNLV, 1994 Arkansas, 1998 Kentucky, 1999 UConn, 2004 UConn).

jayhawkerCO 13 years, 4 months ago

I'd rather lose to the eventual national champions because that means we lost to a team that was better than us instead of just blowing it.

Ryan Wood 13 years, 4 months ago

Good point jayhawkerCO, but the 1997 team still blew it despite 'Zona going all the way.

dustfan 13 years, 4 months ago

Ah yes, the 97 team. That may have been a better team than last years. That one still hurts.

I was rooting against MSU in the next game after they beat us but I will be rooting for them from this point. That may be b/c I don't want to root for the Big East and definitely not for UNC.

chalmers2wright 13 years, 4 months ago

The 2002 team should have won it all too. That Maryland team was good but they played a weak Indiana team in the finals. Whoever won our semifinal was going to win the tourney so I wouldn't say that were a better team and we didn't blow it...just a good team that we lost too.

Eurekahwk 13 years, 4 months ago

Roy Williams was always the bride's maid and never the bride! And yet we all got so upset when he left. Actually, it was the part about him finally getting his ceremony with UNC in 05 that is the most irritating.

smelliott 13 years, 4 months ago

As LA Jayhawk mentioned in their analysis, the stat reflects our success in the tourney more than anything else so it doesn't make me too upset. Most of our losses to eventual champs occurred in the championship game or the Final Four. No shame in that I say! In my memory, the ones that "sting" the most are the 1997 Arizona loss and the loss to Rhode Island (was it 1998?). Even though Rhode Island wasn't an eventual champ...they were the cinderella that made it all the way to the Final Four, if my memory serves. One more little tidbit, in 1997 I think Arizona beat 3 number 1 seeds to win that championship so they really did earn it (even though I could never stand Lute Olson). Maybe we can take some solace that we weren't the only highly seeded team that went down to the 'Cats that year.

Ray March 13 years, 4 months ago

this is a dumb stat and a dumb story...

the other leaders are UNC, Duke, UCLA, etc...

it just means that we're in the mix a lot. we're at that elite level when we're having a chance to play the championship quality team for a chance at the title.

Jesse Newell 13 years, 4 months ago

Bad day, mush?

Utah having more LTENCs than the teams you listed is surprising to me. Even KU being higher than UCLA is not what I would have expected.

To me, it's an topic that most people have wondered about but no one has sat down to research (until now).

And everyone by now should have figured out that I like to discuss numbers and statistics in my blogs ...

actorman 13 years, 4 months ago

You're right, smelliott, that it was '98 when KU lost to Rhode Island, but you're wrong about them making the Final Four. They should have made it, as they had a late lead on Stanford. But Stanford pulled it out, in one of the great games in tournament history (that virtually no one remembers). Stanford went on to lose a heartbreaker in the Final Four to UK, by one in OT.

I would have been pulling for Villanova to win, since they're the only team in the Final Four that wouldn't catch KU or pull further ahead in NCAA titles, but since it looks like there's no chance for them to beat UNC at this point, I'm pulling for MSU. I'd rather have another team tie us than have UNC pull two ahead.

actorman 13 years, 4 months ago

BTW, not to quibble, but shouldn't it be "Usually the bridesmaid, rarely the bride" in KU's case, since KU has won three titles?

Jesse Newell 13 years, 4 months ago

actorman — True enough. Three weddings is still quite a few.

Steve Gantz 13 years, 4 months ago

Boy, woulda coulda shoulda, but two of those losses in our memory, Arizona in 97 and Syracuse in 03 were within a 3 pointer of us tying and going to OT. You can even look at this years loss to MState and it's a game we could have won and look at them now in the championship game. We have been really close many times and we all should just feel so fortunate that 'our' team is one that is consistently in the mix. Think Missouri's having this discussion right now?!

szwink 13 years, 4 months ago

During UCLA's dynastic run they weren't losing to anyone. They've gotten real busy the past 25 years piling up LTENCs. I remember Larry Brown telling a story about one of the reasons why he left UCLA. He told of walking off of the floor after losing the 1980 NCAA title game to Louisville and having a bereft alumn chew him out for losing UCLA's first title game ever.

I assume every team has their share of bad games from the tournament that prevented them from even having a chance to lose to the eventual champion. Those probably hurt the most because it means leaving the tourney a round or two before you expected (UTEP, Rhode Island, Bucknell, Bradley)

BelieveInSelf 13 years, 4 months ago

was that picture with the bride and bridesmaid taken in Lawrence?

yates33333 13 years, 4 months ago

I know UNC won, but I was for Michigan State.

It would be nice to know how KU was seeded and how they finished every year they made it to the NCAA playoffs. When the Big 6, 7, or 8 champs played the SWC champs to determine the seeding KU almost had a lock, almost.

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