WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — It’s been a decade since a team entered its conference tournament unbeaten, and since 1976 when Indiana won the last national championship without a loss. But with the NCAA tournament right around the corner, Syracuse and Wichita State are still chasing history.
Here’s a look at the five best starts since the Hoosiers ran the table:
SAINT JOSEPH’S, 27-0 in 2003-04: Led by star guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, the Hawks were the last team to enter their conference tournament without a loss. But the pressure seemed to take its toll, and they were routed by Xavier in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. Saint Joseph’s would eventually lose to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
“We talked about it toward the end,” Nelson said of the winning streak, “but that was just with all the media around us coming to publicize everything in terms of every practice and every game. So we never really talked about it. Only toward the end.”
SAN FRANCISCO, 29-0 in 1976-77: The Dons, featuring future NBA center Bill Cartwright, rolled through the West Coast Conference, only to lose to Notre Dame in their final game before the NCAA tournament. There, they were soundly beaten by UNLV to give a team that ripped off 29 consecutive wins to start the season two straight defeats to finish it.
ILLINOIS, 29-0 in 2004-05: Bruce Weber inherited a loaded team when Bill Self departed for Kansas, and he coaxed the most out of it. The Illini rolled through their schedule, finally losing 65-64 to Ohio State on a basket with 5.1 seconds left. Illinois bounced back to reach the national championship game, where it fell 75-70 to North Carolina in a back-and-forth thriller.
“The biggest thing is maturity and focus,” Weber said. “We didn’t have anyone average over 15 points, and instead of getting tied up with individual stuff, they really stayed focused on the team and on winning, and that maturity was so important.”
INDIANA STATE, 33-0 in 1978-79: Larry Bird averaged nearly 29 points and 15 rebounds in helping the Sycamores reach the NCAA tournament with a perfect mark. They were finally tested by Arkansas in a regional final, but didn’t fall until running into another future NBA great — Magic Johnson — and Michigan State in an iconic national title game.
UNLV, 34-0 in 1990-91: With a roster featuring five NBA draft picks, the Runnin’ Rebels ran over just about everybody they faced. That is, until they faced Duke. In one of the biggest upsets in Final Four history, the Blue Devils emerged with a 79-77 victory. Duke went on to beat Kansas for the national championship.