KU's NCAA tourney success, failure tied to title game in 14 of past 30 seasons


While watching Villanova celebrate and cut down the nets after Monday night’s thrilling victory over North Carolina in the national title game, a topic popped up on Twitter that I felt was worth looking into a little deeper.

Seeing how Kansas was knocked out of this year’s tourney by the Wildcats, I and dozens of other people in the Twitterverse began wondering how many times that had happened to KU in the past.

The answer? Quite a lot. In fact, since 1991, KU’s tournament fate has been tied to teams playing for the national title on the last Monday of the college basketball season nearly half the time.

Breaking it down further, KU has lost to the eventual national champion 7 times since 1991. What’s more, KU has lost to the eventual runner-up 5 more times in that same stretch. And, of course, the Jayhawks themselves have been the national runner-up 3 times in that span (1991, 2003 and 2012) and, of course, won one national title themselves (2008).

Take it back a few years farther and you can add another national title (1988) and another loss to the eventual runner-up (Duke in 1986).

I know a lot has been made about KU’s early exits, both under Roy Williams and Bill Self, and these facts certainly don’t eliminate those losses. But it sure seems like the following list proves, in yet another way, just how consistently strong Kansas basketball has been in the past 30 years.

Here’s a more detailed look:

1986 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Duke in national semifinals.

1988 – KU beats Oklahoma for the national championship.

1991 - KU loses to Duke in national title game.

1993 – KU loses to eventual national champion North Carolina in national semifinals.

1996 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Syracuse in Elite Eight.

1997 – KU loses to eventual champ Arizona in Sweet 16.

2002 – KU loses to eventual champ Maryland in national semifinals.

2003 – KU loses to Syracuse in national title game.

2004 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Georgia Tech in Elite Eight.

2008 – KU beats Memphis for the national championship.

2009 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Michigan State in Sweet 16.

2012 – KU loses to Kentucky in national title game.

2013 – KU loses to eventual runner-up Michigan in Sweet 16.

2016 – KU loses to eventual champ Villanova in Elite Eight.


Bryce Landon 6 years, 2 months ago

Should be 2016, not 2015 on the Villanova loss

Matt Tait 6 years, 2 months ago

Yep. Just fixed it. I was only 4 months behind!!! Thanks.

Joe Joseph 6 years, 2 months ago

I wonder how this compares to other perennial tournament teams. My assumption is that this is higher than most...

Kent Gaylor 6 years, 2 months ago

Matt -

It would be interesting to expand this list to add a couple of things. KU seed and the seed of the team KU lost too. Also, who was favored when KU played them. The ones that stand out on the list the most to me, are the Syracuse games (at both), Michigan game and the VCU game.

Jay Scott 6 years, 2 months ago

I understand that Kevin Bacon attended every one of those games..........

Robert Brown 6 years, 2 months ago

From my perspective, I would take out the Final Four appearances and see if any team that prevented KU from getting to the Final Four ended up winning the national championship. That happened twice with Arizona in 1997 and Villanova this year.

Colby Hebert 6 years, 2 months ago

I have wondered this at times myself. Thanks for putting this article together!

It is really really hard to win the NCAA tournament. Sometimes I think we overlook just how lucky we are as Kansas fans. Our program has a chance just about every year to make a run. When we go down, as this article points out, it is usually to very very good teams.

Villanova had a run through this tournament for the ages. Their shooting percentages..The distance they shoot too.Kansas may have been the only team who had a chance against them. Villanova misses one 35 footer and Selden makes just one of his attempts, it could have been a different story. That is how close it is sometimes. Luck plays a factor.

I appreciate Bill Self. He preaches defense and appears to do it the right way.

I am excited about next year too. We have a nice group of guys whose eligibility is staggered where we can have a nice shot the next few years to cut down some nets!

Dirk Medema 6 years, 2 months ago

If we could have executed a hand off 3 times, it could have been a different story.

Joe Ross 6 years, 2 months ago

I was hoping for a Carolina win (for Roy) OR a Villanova victory by >5 points (so it could be said that Kansas played the Champions closer than anyone). Neither happened. Among all the possible outcomes of the game, only 5 individual points by one team could have ruined the night. In that sense, it was disappointing. But what a game.

Michael Lorraine 6 years, 2 months ago

I was hoping for a double digit win by Carolina so it would ease the pain of losing what could have been a national title. There is no consolation for me to be able to say we were the 2nd best team. I think that puts me in the third stage of grief.

Steve Gantz 6 years, 2 months ago

I wrote the same thing over at

Didn't see Matt's article at all when I wrote what I wrote.

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