Gimme five: Coming up short

Sports columnist Mark Bradley gives us his five best teams that didn’t win the NCAA title.

Cincinnati 1963

The Bearcats won the ’61 and ’62 NCAA titles and were an overwhelming favorite — they were 26-1, the loss coming by a point at Wichita State — to become the first threepeater. Against Loyola (Ill.) in the title game, they led by 15 points with 14 minutes left and went into a stall. The Ramblers steadied, and Ron Miller’s basket sent the game to overtime. In OT, Jerry Harkness drove and fed Les (Big Game) Hunter in the lane. Hunter’s shot missed, but Vic Rouse followed it home at the buzzer. The Cincy dynasty had fallen.

Indiana 1975

A year later, the Hoosiers would become unbeaten NCAA champions, but most Indiana fans will concede that the ’75 Hoosiers were better. That team thundered through the regular season undefeated, but All-American forward Scott May broke his wrist in February. Wearing a cast, he didn’t score in the Mideast Regional final against Kentucky. The impassioned Wildcats, who were embarrassed by Indiana 98-74 in December of that season on a day when Bobby Knight slapped Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall in the back of the head, won 92-90.

North Carolina 1984

Dean Smith’s greatest team included Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith and Michael Jordan — all of whom would be taken among the first six picks of their respective NBA drafts. Only a last-second road loss to Arkansas kept the Tar Heels from an undefeated regular season. But Duke stunned Carolina in the ACC tournament semis, and in the Sweet 16 at the old Omni, a moderately talented Indiana team toppled the Heels 72-68. Jordan fouled out of his last collegiate game, having scored 13 points against Dan Dakich.

UNLV 1991

Vegas was the latest contender for Greatest Team of All Time, and for 34 games it looked the part. The Runnin’ Rebels entered the season as defending NCAA champs, and a dominating road victory over No. 2 Arkansas on Super Bowl Sunday seemed only to affirm their eminence. They were two games from becoming the first unbeaten champion since Indiana in 1976, but were undone in the Final Four by Duke, the team the Rebels had beaten by 30 in the 1990 title game. Vegas led 76-71 with 2 1/2 minutes, but scored only more point.

Kansas 1997

Only a two-point loss at Missouri kept the Jayhawks from an unbeaten regular season. How good was that Kansas team? Well, Paul Pierce was only its second-leading scorer. (Behind Raef LaFrentz.) But the Jayhawks were stunned by fourth-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16 on a night when the Wildcats’ three gifted guards — Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson — took turns beating Kansas defenders off the dribble. (The three would combine to score 58 points.) After the 85-82 loss, a red-eyed Roy Williams said, “Life isn’t always fair.”