Is Purdue The Best Program To Never Win An NCAA Tournament?

What has eluded us for decades. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The poll in today's Boilermakings got me thinking about something today. I made the statement that Purdue is the best program that has never won an NCAA Championship. For the sake of this argument, let us consider the beginning of the NCAA Tournament in 1939 as "A championship". Yes, we all know about the Helms title with John Wooden in 1932, but I want to analyze the tournament only. Most of these schools have a Helms title or two anyway. Really, if the argument is no titles vs. none in 80 years it's not like that one title makes a huge difference. I know. I am a Cubs fan, and the 1908 World Series doesn't exactly comfort me since everyone I knew that was alive then is now dead.

So if we're talking about the NCAA Tournament Purdue is in a rare category indeed. Yes, we have been to a Final Four twice, but one resulted in a 20 point loss to UCLA during their reign of excellence (and with two of our starters injured) the other resulted in one of the final third place game triumphs where the team that defeated us (UCLA) later had to vacate that appearance.

So are we the best programs to never win the NCAA Tournament? Let's look at some numbers of some of the other programs to never win a title and see:

Purdue Boilermakers

NCAA Appearances: 25

NCAA Tournament Record: 34-25

Championship Game Appearances: 1

Final Fours: 2

Elite Eights: 4

Sweet 16's: 9

Conference Championships: 23 (22 regular season, one conference tournament)

All told, we have been to the NCAA Tournament 25 times, with a 26th very possible this year. That puts us in the top 12 in terms of all-time appearances and very near the top 10, as Arkansas, Connecticut, Temple, Texas, Marquette, and Illinois hold the 10 spot with 29 total appearances. Our all-time record is 34-25 in the tournament, showing we haven't exactly done a whole lot once we have gotten there. I think a more notable stat is that we were a number one seed in 1988, 1994, and 1996, yet we failed to reach a Final Four in any of those years and only reached the Elite Eight in one of those seasons: 1994.

The 1988 season was possibly Purdue's best chance, as we started out hot in our Sweet 16 game against Kansas State and we had beaten them badly during the regular season. Somehow (I was too young to remember) we fell apart with "The Three Amigos" and lost 73-70. That team would have faced eventual champion Kansas in the Elite Eight. Does Purdue win that and go on to the title? We'll never know. All we know is that we folded when it mattered most.

The 1994 year was just as painful, as Glenn Robinson was limited with a back injury against Duke in the Elite Eight. In 1996 we were simply an overrated seed that got dropped in round two after barely surviving a 1/16 game. 1994 might have been a championship team, but it was mostly a one man show riding on Robinson's superior talent. 2000's Elite Eight appearance is an interesting case, as we didn't really look like a championship team, but we ended up playing all four Final Four teams that season thanks to the Maui Invitational (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina) and beat three of them. The only one we didn't beat was North Carolina, but the 1-3 record against Wisconsin was our undoing. I still hate that Elite Eight game, as I was a sophomore and the Final Four was in Indy. Of course, you all know my thoughts on the last two years regarding our Final Four/championship drought.

The final thing in our favor is that we own the most Big Ten championships and have an all-time winning record against every single program in the Big Ten. Considering that five other members of the conference (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin) each have at least one title that is a pretty impressive feat.

Illinois Fighting Illini

NCAA Appearances: 29

NCAA Tournament Record: 38-30

Championship Game Appearances: 1

Final Fours: 5

Elite Eights: 9

Sweet 16's: 10

Conference Championships: 19 (17 regular season and two conference tournament)

Illinois has 30 losses thanks to some early tournaments with consolation games, but there is little doubt they have had some great teams come up just short. Their only runner-up finish in 2005 threatened to go undefeated before losing the final regular season game on a last second shot to Ohio State. They then lost to North Carolina in the NCAA title game. Only two of Illinois' Final Fours have come since the 50's, however.

Only Ohio State, Purdue, and Indiana have more conference championships than the Illini. They are also one of only a handful of schools with at least two Big Ten Tournament titles (Ohio State has three). There is little question the Illini are always a force in the regular season, but they had a number of years where they were second banana to Indiana and Purdue in the late 80's. I think Illinois almost has a perception similar to Purdue in that they are a dangerous regular season team, but they can't be trusted when the calendar turns to March. An example is last year's team. They looked loaded, but chemistry issues caused them problems throughout the season and another chance was lost.

Temple Owls

NCAA Appearances: 29

NCAA Tournament Record: 32-29

Championship Game Appearances: 0

Final Fours: 2

Elite Eights: 5

Sweet 16's: 5

Conference Championships: 18 (Nine each regular season each conference tournament.

Temple is in a rare class, as they rank sixth all-time in overall victories with 1,766 coming into 2011-12, and all five teams ahead of them (Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, and Syracuse) all have at least once championship. They have played in a major conference before (Big East) and they have played what amounts to a second, much smaller conference for decades in the Philly Big Five. The Big Five is one of the most historic and competitive basketball rivalries ever between the five Philadelphia city schools, and winning that competition each year is sometimes more important than a conference crown.

Still, they haven't done a whole lot when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. They haven't been to a Final Four in over 50 years and haven't reached an Elite 8 or Sweet 16 in 11 seasons. They have a reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, mid-major school historically since they are no longer members of the Big East. It should also be noted they have twice ended Purdue tournament runs (1991 and 1999).

Missouri Tigers

NCAA Appearances: 24

NCAA Tournament Record: 22-24

Championship Game Appearances: 0

Final Fours: 0

Elite Eights: 5

Sweet 16's: 7

Conference Championships: 22 (15 regular season, Seven Conference Tournament)

When we nearly lost coach Painter last March some argued if it was really a step forward for him to go to Missouri. As you can see, it might have even been a step back. The Tigers will likely get their 25th NCAA Tournament appearance this year. Only BYU, with 26 tournament appearances before this season, has been to more NCAA Tournaments without a Final Four. The Missouri-Kansas rivalry is a lot like the Purdue-Indiana rivalry in that way. Yes, the Tigers have had some good regular seasons and have consistently been a solid program, but they have never been able to get it done in March. In fact, they even have a losing record all-time in the tournament.

Memphis Tigers

NCAA Appearances: 23

NCAA Tournament Record: 32-23

Championship Game Appearances: 2

Final Fours: 3

Elite Eights: 6

Sweet 16's: 11

Conference Championships: 21 (12 regular season, nine conference tournament)

If Memphis did have a title they would probably have to vacate it anyway. No school has a more checkered past with the NCAA than the Tigers. Their 2008 National Runner-Up finish officially never happened because Derrick Rose couldn't be bothered to take the SAT's himself (not that it matters to his current earning power). Six of their NCAA tournament appearances, including two of their Final Fours, never happened due to violations. They hold the NCAA record with 38 victories in 2008, but again, they don't count because of Rose.

Still, this has been an impressive program year in and year out despite flaunting the law of the land. They first came into their own in the 70's and most recently they have been a consistent top 15 team. They've also had a large number of All-Americans and a few No. 1 overall draft picks in rose and Penny Hardaway.

Other Schools Considered: Houston (Five Final Fours, no titles), BYU (26 NCAA appearances, no Final Fours), Oklahoma (Nine Elite Eights, Four Final Fours, Two Runners-Ups, 30 appearances, no titles), and Xavier (22 NCAA appearances, no Final Fours)

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