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Every NCAA Champion and Runner-Up’s Worst Loss

Kentucky is still considered a national title contender in college basketball this season, despite an ugly 34-point loss to the Duke Blue Devils in the season opener. But many question whether or not a team can go on to win a championship after suffering such a lopsided defeat in the same year.

Going back almost four decades to 1980, the 2013-14 UConn team had the worst loss among all college basketball national champions. That team lost at 11th-ranked Louisville, 48-81, in the final game of the regular season. The Huskies went on to lose to Louisville again in the AAC title game before running the table in the NCAA tournament and beating Kentucky, coincidentally, in the championship game.

The 1992-93 North Carolina team had the next largest defeat with its 26-point loss at Wake Forest in January of its national championship season. Those are the only two losses of 25 points or more, although there are six national champions with a loss of 20 points or more.

So if Kentucky were to figure it all out and win the title next April, it would have the widest loss on its resume among all champions. However, it’s worth noting the loss came in the very first game of the season, on November 6 (the earliest of any of the champions’ big losses), and against the new No. 1 team in the country. Given UK’s inexperience, the date of the game and the opponent, it’s not as bad as it seems against these other losses.

2018Villanova (36-4)at Butler, 93-1018Dec 30
2017North Carolina (33-7)at Miami, 62-7715Jan 28
2016Villanova (35-5)vs (7) Oklahoma, 55-7823Dec 7
2015Duke (35-4)vs Miami, 74-9016Jan 13
2014Connecticut (32-8)at (11) Louisville, 48-8131Mar 8
2013Louisville (35-5)*vs Katina PowellTitle VacatedX
2012Kentucky (38-2)vs Vanderbilt, 64-717Mar 11
2011Connecticut (32-9)at St. John’s, 72-8917Feb 10
2010Duke (35-5)at NC State, 74-8814Jan 20
2009North Carolina (34-4)at Boston College, 78-857Jan 4
2008Kansas (37-3)at (24) Kansas State, 75-849Jan 30
2007Florida (35-5)at Vanderbilt, 70-8313Feb 17
2006Florida (33-6)at South Carolina, 62-686Jan 25
2005North Carolina (33-4)at (4) Wake Forest, 82-9513Jan 15
2004Connecticut (33-6)vs Georgia Tech, 61-7716Nov 26
2003Syracuse (30-5)at (18) Connecticut, 61-7514Feb 10
2002Maryland (32-4)at (1) Duke, 78-9921Jan 17
2001Duke (35-4)vs (16) Maryland, 80-9111Feb 27
2000Michigan State (32-7)at (13) Ohio State, 67-7811Jan 20
1999Connecticut (34-2)vs (16) Syracuse, 42-5917Feb 1
1998Kentucky (35-4)vs (1) Arizona, 74-8915Nov 25
1997Arizona (25-9)at USC, 62-7513Jan 16
1996Kentucky (34-2)vs (25) Mississippi State, 73-8411Mar 10
1995UCLA (31-2)at Oregon, 72-8210Jan 5
1994Arkansas (31-3)vs (10) Kentucky, 78-9012Mar 12
1993North Carolina (34-4)at Wake Forest, 62-8826Jan 30
1992Duke (34-2)at Wake Forest, 68-724Feb 23
1991Duke (32-7)vs (7) North Carolina, 74-9622Mar 10
1990UNLV (35-5)vs Kansas, 77-9114Nov 22
1989Michigan (30-7)vs (4) Illinois, 73-8916Mar 11
1988Kansas (27-11)vs (11) Iowa, 81-10019Nov 28
1987Indiana (30-4)at (1) Iowa, 88-10113Jan 22
1986Louisville (32-7)at NC State, 64-7612Feb 8
1985Villanova (25-10)at Pittsburgh, 62-8523Mar 2
1984Georgetown (34-3)vs St. John’s, 71-754Feb 21
1983North Carolina State (26-10)at Wake Forest, 73-9118Jan 22
1982North Carolina (32-2)at (3) Virginia, 58-7416Feb 3
1981Indiana (26-9)at (12) Iowa, 65-7813Feb 19
1980Louisville (33-3)vs Iona, 60-7717Feb 21

Now let’s take it one step further and look at the worst loss of each NCAA runner-up in that span.

Michigan State had the worst with its 35-point loss to No. 1 North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Spartans would go on to lose to North Carolina again in the title game that same year, 72-89.

Seven of the NCAA tournament’s second-place teams had losses of 20+ points before reaching the final game.

2018Michigan (33-8)at Nebraska, 52-7220Nov 23
2017Gonzaga (37-2)vs BYU, 71-798Feb 25
2016North Carolina (33-7)at (19) Louisville, 65-716Feb 1
2015Wisconsin (36-4)vs (4) Duke, 70-80 10Dec 3
2014Kentucky (29-11)at (1) Florida, 65-8419Mar 8
2013Michigan (31-8)at (8) Michigan State, 52-7523Feb 12
2012Kansas (32-7)vs (2) Kentucky, 65-7510Nov 15
2011Butler (28-10)at Milwaukee, 52-7623Jan 3
2010Butler (33-5)at UAB, 57-6710Nov 16
2009Michigan State (31-7)vs (1) North Carolina, 63-9835Dec 3
2008Memphis (38-2)vs (2) Tennessee, 62-664Feb 23
2007Ohio State (35-4)at (4) Florida, 60-8626Dec 23
2006UCLA (32-7)vs (11) Memphis, 80-888Nov 23
2005Illinois (37-2)at Ohio State, 64-651Mar 6
2004Georgia Tech (28-10)at (12) North Carolina, 88-10315Jan 11
2003Kansas (30-8)vs (1) Arizona, 74-9117Jan 25
2002Indiana (25-12)at Minnesota, 74-8814Feb 2
2001Arizona (28-8)vs Stanford, 76-859Jan 6
2000Florida (29-8)at (22) Kentucky, 70-8515Mar 4
1999Duke (37-2)vs (15) Connecticut, 75-772Nov 28
1998Utah (30-4)at Wyoming, 56-626Feb 12
1997Kentucky (35-5)vs (20) Clemson, 71-798Nov 15
1996Syracuse (29-9)at (6) Georgetown, 64-8319Jan 24
1995Arkansas (32-7)vs (3) UMass, 80-10424Nov 25
1994Duke (28-6)at (2) North Carolina, 78-8911Feb 3
1993Michigan (31-5)at (4) Duke, 68-79 11Dec 5
1992Michigan (25-9)at Wisconsin, 78-9618Feb 26
1991Kansas (27-8)at (25) Kentucky, 71-8817Dec 8
1990Duke (29-9)at North Carolina, 60-7919Jan 17
1989Seton Hall (31-7)at (2) Syracuse, 66-9024Jan 7
1988Oklahoma (35-4)vs LSU, 77-847Jan 11
1987Syracuse (31-7)vs (16) Pittsburgh, 70-8414Jan 26
1986Duke (37-3)@ (4) Georgia Tech, 80-877Jan 21
1985Georgetown (35-3)@ (11) Syracuse, 63-652Jan 28
1984Houston (32-5)vs NC State, 64-7612Nov 19
1983Houston (31-3)vs (1) Virginia, 63-729Dec 16
1982Georgetown (30-7)vs Connecticut, 52-6311Jan 20
1981North Carolina (29-8)vs (7) Wake Forest, 68-8416Feb 11
1980UCLA (22-10)@ Washington State, 64-8016Jan 26

To quote John Calipari from the day before the loss to Duke: “We don’t want to be playing in November like it’s January or February. We don’t want to be that team. We want to just continue the gradual climb in what we’re doing.”

Go Cats.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

24 Comments for Every NCAA Champion and Runner-Up’s Worst Loss

  1. BigolBlue
    9:21 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

    Nice info and research. People are trying to talk themselves anyway to think this team can win a title. Thats the problem. Cal cant win titles. This team especially not. Its like it was over 1st game. Games are watched just by habit. Attendence and ratings will show most ppl know its over. Rest of season is just consolation. And I get it 1 game doesnt mean the whole season. The way they play you can tell they arent winning it. Oh and were just not as good as Duke

    • BBNDan7
      9:28 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

      Then don’t watch anymore games, it’s been one week for the love of god. “Cal can’t win titles” but has won one.

    • Bigblue7982
      9:43 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

      Cal can’t win titles? Um did 2012 not happen.

    • Well I see Slater has created yet another screen name.

    • mashburnfan1
      10:27 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

      Don’t know who he is but he is right. This team has zeo chance at a title. Cal has had the best talent most years and just 1 title, that was because he got the best FR in AD and had lots of very good experience returning including a SR in Miller. Now he does not even get the bst FR and we are a top 20ish team each year, not bad if you are Tenn but not what we expect as “the gold standard” and “we are college basketball”. Too bad we are just an NBA puppy mill.

    • CombatMedic_98
      7:24 am November 16, 2018 Permalink


    • Booby Petrino
      8:07 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

      LOL Cats don’t need fans like you so take a hike if you’re so miserable watching us. meanwhile, the real fans will encourage the team and have fun with the season.

    • SoCalCat
      9:36 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

      I am surprised there is discussion of a national championship. This team looks slightly better than last year and the returnees look marginally improved from last year. With the new G League, this may be the end of the run for Cal.

    • runningunnin.454
      9:44 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

      Some of these comments are just abject nonsense. The tournament is single elimination; good fortune, and bad fortune, often crown the champion. The Wall team had a bad shooting night, while W Va, a notoriously bad shooting team all season, hit everything they threw at the rim.
      Cal couldn’t help the fact that WCS missed the championship game against UConn. He likewise couldn’t do anything about Poythress missing the Wisconsin game…and WCS failing to show up. Hell, Duke won that year due to circus shots by Tyus Jones, not brilliant coaching by Coach K.
      In fact, Coach K finally had to adapt, and copy Cal in the recruiting strategy…in order to compete.

    • playmorezeppelin
      10:03 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

      This is accurate. It does the program no good to act like we’re better than what we are. Most years, our fans spend the entire year justifiying bad games with excuses. And when we have an early exit from the tournament, it was because we had a bad night. On the contrary, and especially with teams like this one we have now, the best games we play are usually outliers. The truth is that we’ve had less than 5 actually good teams in Cal’s era. 4 would be generous. So many people think criticizing the team makes someone a bad fan. I’ve never understood that. I think it takes a lazy fan to act like everything is fine all the time and it tells me you’re not paying attention.

  2. KYCat4EVER
    9:45 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

    If Coach Cal were to pull off a National Championship title after this humiliation and degradation at the hands of DUKE… give him the coach of the year!
    In fact, I would think our CATS, most likely, would have to knock of Duke to do it… If our CATS did that, it would surpass the greatest Kentucky revenge game of all time: March 22, 1975 UK 92 vs IU 90!

    Unfortunately, Coach Cal isn’t half the bench coach Joe Hall was, and our current CATS will never develop during the season into the mature physical force that our 75 CATS did!

    So.. we get articles like this and DREAM ON!

  3. Logic_Prevails
    9:45 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

    “UofL worst loss vs Katina Powell Title vacated” hahahahahaha ????????

    • ukcamel
      9:55 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

      Just a hilarious jab at UL! Made this post great.

  4. Grazilla
    10:16 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

    Dude. We’re not winning the title this year. We’ll have a decent season – better than plenty others we’ve seen – but our youth is REALLY showing this year. Cal has too many players that think they are one and done material. He’s going to have to cut down playing time to put his most competitive five on the floor and it’s going to cause some locker room controversy down the line. Plus, I just don’t see that many truly elite freshmen players. I see five-star players that could develop into household names if they stayed around, but we all know that won’t happen. Plus the hunger they seemed to have in the Bahamas is MIA.

  5. blueblue
    10:36 pm November 15, 2018 Permalink

    Here’s my thoughts on this. Once you gets up towards 20-25+ points, all of these margins are pretty much all the same. Not much difference in losing by 23 points verses losing by 34 points. And here’s my logic. Most coaches show good sportsmanship and when they know they’ve got the game won, they will call the dogs off and not try to embarrass the other team. For instance, clearing your bench and putting in all walk-ons or calling off the full court press. So who’s to say that some of these 20 point margins couldn’t have been 30 or more points?

  6. kfwa
    5:03 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

    “We don’t want to be playing in November like it’s January or February”

    That is complete horse[bleep]

    That was setting expectations by Cal, If he has his 2015 team he’d be saying something like “Thes kids are so talented and mature, we can be playing Championship level ball in November” – and people would drinking that kool aid too.

    Somewhere along the way with Cal UK fans have convinced themselves they have to watch bad execution of basketball in November/December to have a shot at the title in March. What fan of any sport wants to watch poorly played execution of their favorite sport for sizeable lengths of the season every year?

    We saw the same thing with Tubby – at some point fans moved away from praising run-n-gun basketball and started believing that grind it out, low scoring, defense oriented basketball was the Kentucky “style” and should be praised – until about 7 years into it when there was no payoff at the end.

    I know I know – go cheer for another team. The refrain of the self appointed UK super fan.

    • davis2319
      8:04 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

      I agree completely. Then people get mad because we are too critical of this team. That’s because Calipari and KSR label these kids as one and done’s and can’t miss prospects. So of course it doesn’t matter to me if it’s November or March I’m going to expect 5 star basketball because that’s what we are lead to believe we are getting.

    • Booby Petrino
      8:10 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

      So KSR leads you to believe something and it’s their fault when it doesn’t pan out as they said? You believe everything you read on the internet, including personal opinions of the KSR crew? LOL that’s sad man, have a brain of your own and use it.

  7. BPatte
    5:20 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

    Who cares which team came in second????

  8. henderblue
    7:05 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

    Wow the negativity is astounding. Sure Duke played as well as they could and we couldn’t have played much worse. But I got a long winter ahead of me and I have to have a little bit of optimism. Our team will get better now that they’ve decided the focus should be on defense. I’m for one am not ready to hand the title to Duke. It’s the NCAA and it’s a one shot deal for a title. If it were best of 7 then yes Duke would be hard to beat, just like we would have been the year we went 38-1. One bad shooting game or a team that’s hot can knock a great team out of it. To say that we’re not winning a title this year is just a little bit idiotic. In my opinion.

  9. ukdave62
    7:37 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

    2013 has to be the worst loss!

  10. Justin525
    9:17 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

    I must say Louisville’s worst loss caught me by surprise while reading the list. I laughed way to much and people looked at me like I was a idiot

  11. kjd
    10:45 am November 16, 2018 Permalink

    Wow. Lot of effort just to convince yourself that we are a contender for the national title.
    IMO, an incredible waste of time. Sure, we have chance, just like a lot of other teams. Hopefully, we’ll come to enjoy this year’s process. For me, right now, this team is not fun to watch.

  12. michaelb
    12:59 pm November 16, 2018 Permalink

    NCAA tourney is a crap shoot … the luck lands differently each year . Anxious to see what cal can put together – I like our chances at the end of the day