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The best college coaches without an NCAA Tournament title

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

March 5th, 2021

It’s tough to find a bigger backhanded compliment than "the best to never win the big one," and it’s never easy to be in that situation.

As we zero in on the 2021 NCAA Tournament, let's take a look at the five best college basketball coaches never to cut down the nets at the end of March Madness. There are plenty of wins on this list, but none in national championship games.

5. Lou Carnesecca

Team: St. John's
Record: 526-200 (.725)
Years Active: 1966-1992

One of the pillars of the original Big East, Carnesecca was the longtime bench boss at St. John’s University. He went 526-200 during a career that ended in 1992, and guided three teams to the Elite Eight. This included the 1984-85 team, which was one of three Big East teams to make that year’s Final Four.

4. Bob Huggins

Teams: Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State, West Virginia
Record: 827-354 (.700)
Years Active: 1995-present

The first present-day coach on this list, Huggins has taken teams from Akron, Cincinnati, and West Virginia to the NCAA Tournament. He’s coached the Mountaineers since 2007, and his deepest run with the squad came in 2010, when West Virginia advanced to the Final Four for just the second time in school history.

3. Guy Lewis

Teams: Houston
Record: 592-279 (.680)
Years Active: 1957-1986

Lewis spent his entire career in the Lone Star State, where he coached the Houston Cougars for 30 years. His run included some of the best players in college basketball history, including Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler. Lewis’s teams in 1983 and 1984 combined to win 63 games, but both squads fell in the NCAA title game to North Carolina State and Georgetown.

2. Mark Few

Teams: Gonzaga
Record: 623-124 (.834)
Years Active: 2000-present

Few has turned Gonzaga from a little-known West Coast Conference program into a national powerhouse that has won fewer than 25 games just twice since he came on board in 1999. The Bulldogs fell to North Carolina in the 2017 title game, and were one of the favorites to win the 2020 title before that tournament was cancelled. Gonzaga is undefeated as of this writing, and will likely be a top seed in the 2021 bracket. Is this Few’s year to get the monkey off his back?

1. Eddie Sutton

Teams: Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, San Francisco
Record: 806-329 (.710)
Years Active: 1970-2008

Eddie Sutton missed the NCAA Tournament just once from 1977 to 2005, a stretch that saw him guide Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma State to the tournament (he also led Creighton there in 1974). His teams made three Final Fours, including with the Cowboys in 2004, when Sutton was 78 years old, and he finished with 804 career victories.