How can you not constantly be enamored with the Kentucky story?
The Wildcats enter this tournament, the 77th iteration of the best postseason event in American sports, without a scar. UK's 34-0 record makes it the 19th team in NCAA Tournament history to enter the bracket sans a loss, and that is something that will captivate the country as John Calipari tries to guide his team to a second title in four seasons.
Wondering what the other 18 undefeated teams have done upon getting to the NCAAs? Well, seven of those squads finished the season without losing. Not an awful percentage. But since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985, it's never been done. The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers were the last to do it. Just two teams -- Ohio State in 1960 and Larry Bird's 1978-79 Indiana State boys -- made the championship game but couldn't close the deal.
Kentucky is the first SEC team ever to reach NCAA tourney play without a loss; the 1953-54 team went 25-0 but did not play in the NCAAs because Adolph Rupp spurned the invitation after three of his best players were deemed ineligible upon graduation. This year is UK's 55th NCAA Tournament and its 12th time as a No. 1 seed.
The seven teams who finished with undefeated seasons
1. 1955-56 San Francisco Dons. Went 25-0 and won the NCAA title. The Dons (man, do I love that nickname) play in the 25-team NCAA Tournament and beat UCLA, Utah, SMU and finally Iowa. All wins are by double digits. Bill Russell grabs 27 boards and scores 26 points in the title game over the Hawkeyes, and the win pushes USF's winning streak to 55 straight. The Final Four was held in Evanston, Ill., that year.
2. 1956-57 North Carolina Tar Heels. Went 32-0 and won the NCAA title. Maybe the most overlooked dominant team in the history of the sport. The Tar Heels, coached by Frank McGuire, are led by Lennie Rosenbluth's 28.0 points per game and Pete Brennan's 10.4 boards average (Rosenbluth's 895 points that season is still a school record). UNC took down Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in the title game, a triple-overtime 54-53 burner. And people think today's game is too slow. Prior to the title game, UNC beats Yale, Canisius, Syracuse and Michigan State -- a Final Four game that also needed three overtimes to be settled.
3. 1963-64 UCLA Bruins. Went 30-0 and won the NCAA title. The group that became the first national champion of the 10 John Wooden would coach. The Bruins were led by tourney MOP Walt Hazzard and backcourt mate Gail Goodrich. UCLA knocked off Seattle -- its first win of what would become an outrageous, never-to-be-done-again record of 38 straight tournament victories -- and then San Francisco and Kansas State before beating Duke 98-83 in the final game of the season.
4. 1966-67 UCLA Bruins. Went 30-0 and won the NCAA title. These Bruins would go undefeated with first-year-eligible player/sophomore Lew Alcindor. (John Wooden would later say his '67-68 team was his best ever.) Hard to put a team like this any lower. UCLA's '67 run came in a 23-team NCAA Tournament that saw Alcindor and Co. beat Wyoming, Pacific, Houston and Dayton. Alcindor scores 20 points and grabs 18 rebounds in the title game.
5. 1971-72 UCLA Bruins. Went 30-0 won the NCAA title. Arguably the best team of all-time. EVAR. They averaged 32 points in win margin. Sophomore Bill Walton led the troupe. The Bruins played in an unseeded 25-team NCAA Tournament that year, beating Weber State, Long Beach State, Louisville and then Florida State in the championship game. We'll never see another team like it.
6. 1972-73 UCLA Bruins. Went 30-0 and won the NCAA title. Another 25-team tournament, this ending is famous for featuring what many consider to be the best performance in a college basketball game -- ever. It helps that it came in the title game. Bill Walton went 21 for 22, had 44 points, and UCLA won over Memphis State 87-66. The Bruins also beach Arizona State, San Francisco and Indiana along the way.
7. 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers. Went 32-0 and won the NCAA title. As everyone knows so well by now: The last team to go wire to wire without drawing a scar. The Hoosiers were led by a dynamic triple threat of Scott May, the national player of the year, in addition to Quinn Buckner and Kent Benson. IU played in a 32-team tournament and beat St. John's, Alabama, Marquette, UCLA and, finally, Michigan.
The teams who lost in the NCAAs after a perfect regular season
1. 1950-51 Columbia Lions. Finished 21-1 and lost in the first round/Sweet 16 to Illinois. Columbia never even made it out of the first bracket. Imagine if that ever happened in modern times?
2. 1960-61 Ohio State Buckeyes. Finished 27-1 and lost in overtime in the national championship game. A team that featured stars John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas also had a player on it by the name of Bobby Knight. The Buckeyes barely got out of their first game; Havlicek hit the winning shot with six seconds remaining against Louisville, which missed the front end of a 1-and-1 foul shot with one second left on the clock. From there, OSU beat Kentucky, then Saint Joseph's in the Final Four before getting taken out 70-65 by a Cincinnati team that saw Oscar Robertson graduate one year prior.
3. 1967-68 Houston Cougars. Finished 31-2 and lost in the Final Four. This Cougars team had to play maybe the best team ever twice, the '67-68 UCLA Bruins, and managed to get to the Final Four without a loss all season. But then it fell 101-69, bested by the Bruins who dropped their only game that year in January -- to this very Houston team. "The Game of the Century" was played at the Astrodome. Houston, led by Elvin Hayes, who averaged an outrageous 36.8 points and 18.9 rebounds that season, beat Loyola-Chicago, Louisville and TCU before losing its final two games of the season; the deflated Cougars lost in the consolation game to Ohio State.
4. 1967-68 St. Bonaventure Bonnies. Finished 23-2 and lost in the Sweet 16. If you're wondering how Bona qualifies, know that the regionals used to have consolation games. So behind Bob Lanier and his 26.2 points and 15.6 rebounds average (he was just a sophomore, in his first season of eligibility), St. Bonaventure got to the tourney 23-0 but promptly fell in its first game to UNC after getting a bye in the first round.
5. 1970-71 Marquette Warriors. Finished 28-1 and lost in the Sweet 16. Al McGuire would win his first and only national championship six years later, but in this year he'd get by Miami of Ohio in the first round before being taken out 60-59 by Ohio State in a heartbreaker. A gaffe by McGuire's son happened when he accepted a pass but failed to establish himself inbounds. OSU hit two foul shots in the closing seconds to earn the win.
6. 1970-71 Pennsylvania Quakers. Finished 28-1 and lost in the Elite Eight. Crazy thing is, this isn't even considered the best Penn/Ivy team ever. (That would be the 1978 Final Four team.) But here, the Quakers entered the tourney at 26-0, got by Duquesne and South Carolina, then were absolutely steamrolled by intra-city foe Villanova, 90-47. The worst loss for any team listed in this article.
7. 1974-75 Indiana Hoosiers. Went 31-1 and lost in the Elite Eight. It's the team Bobby Knight has famously said was better than the undefeated group that would come the next year. But when you don't win the title, you get placed a notch below. The '75 NCAAs was the first tournament to go to 32 teams. Teams were unseeded. The Hoosiers beat UTEP and Oregon State before dropping 92-90 against Kentucky.
8. 1975-76 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Went 31-2 and lost in the Final Four. Forgotten to an extent because they were that other undefeated team in the year Indiana did not lose. But like the '67-68 Houston team, Rutgers reached the Final Four without a loss, only to go on and drop its national semifinal game and then the consolation game. The Scarlet Knights beat Princeton, UConn and VMI before falling to Michigan and UCLA. It's likely 1976 will go down as the only time the Final Four ever hosts two undefeated teams.
9. 1978-79 Indiana State Sycamores. Went 33-1 and lost in the championship game. The Larry Bird team. A No. 1 seed in a 40-team bracket, ISU's loss to Michigan State is considered by many to be the most important game in college basketball history. Indiana State beat Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Arkansas -- which failed to sink a shot at the buzzer -- and DePaul before falling to the Spartans. Bird had an incredible tournament despite playing with a broken thumb.
10. 1990-91 UNLV Runnin' Rebels. Went 34-1 and lost in the Final Four. It's hard to call this the greatest team to not win a title, because the Rebels from a year before cut down the nets. This group helped extend UNLV's win streak to 45 games, the fourth-longest in the history of college hoops. Led by Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and Anderson Hunt, UNLV got to the Final Four before being upset 79-77 by Duke, which fell by 30 points in the title game a year earlier to the Rebs.
11. 2013-14 Wichita State Shockers. Went 35-1 and lost in the Round of 32. The Shockers' 35-0 start is the best, for now, in the history of the sport. Playing in the Missouri Valley, Gregg Marshall's team was led by 2014 NBA pick Cleanthony Early, in addition to league player of the year Fred VanVleet. Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton also comprised a group that was only truly threatened with losing once all regular season. The end came when WSU got the worst draw possible -- a second-game matchup in the NCAAs against eighth-seeded Kentucky, which underperformed all season but wound up making a run to the title game. These Shockers were damn good, and history will view them kindly.