You can’t beat March Madness. Whether you’re a passionate fan or a casual observer, the annual NCAA basketball extravaganza offers so much to love: dramatic last-minute comebacks, heart-tugging Cinderella stories, shots that barely beat the buzzer, shocking upsets. Passions run high – for many players it’s the final hurrah. Throw in the one-of-a-kind mascots, quirky marching bands, and other hoopla, and you have a recipe for three of the best weeks of the year.
You know who won last year – and you may think you know who will win this year. But what about the storied teams of the past? We took a look back at some of the winningest March Madness teams, programs, and coaches in tournament history. Think you know them all? You might be surprised.
Most Wins per Tournament
When it comes to the winningest teams per tournament appearances in NCAA history, Kentucky is king. Led by coach John Calipari, the Wildcats averaged 4.4 wins per tournament – nearly 40% more than next-winningest team UCLA under John Wooden, which ranks third with 2.94 wins per tournament. In second place is Kentucky again, led by Rick Pitino, with 3.67 wins.
Last year’s Final Four upset may have come as a shock, but it doesn’t take away Kentucky’s long history of winning. 2015 marked not only an undefeated season, but the team’s 17th trip to the Final Four. Over the years, the Wildcats have also amassed 36 Elite Eight appearances, 41 Sweet 16 appearances, and 54 NCAA tournament appearances overall. John Calipari has long been lauded for his keen eye for talent and ability to coax greatness out of college players – and he’s actually produced more NBA players than any other coach.
Winning Teams by Percentage
Cincinnati under Ed Jucker leads the pack when it comes to the highest winning percentage based on at least 10 games played in NCAA tournaments. No team has ever been able to top the win percentage of the Bearcats under Jucker. Beginning in his first season as head coach, Jucker led the team to back-to-back championships in 1961 and 1962. The team narrowly missed a third title in 1963 when they lost in overtime.
Under Ken Loeffler, La Salle achieved a 90% winning percentage. During his six years as coach of the Explorers, Loeffler led the team to the NCAA Championship in 1954 and the NCAA runner-up in 1955. Kentucky under John Calipari managed an impressive almost 84% win percentage, and San Francisco led by Phil Woolpert topped 81%.
The Best Coaches and Programs during March Madness
When it comes to total number of wins in NCAA tournament play, the top 5 programs account for 17% of all tournament games won – even though they comprise only 1.5% of all teams to ever play in the tournament. Kentucky leads the pack with 122 wins and only 49 losses in its 55 tournament appearances. North Carolina racked up a 112-44 record in 46 appearances, and Duke went 105-34 in 39 appearances.
When it comes to NCAA coaches, many believe that Mike Krzyzewski is the best coach in the history of college basketball – and it turns out the numbers back that up. Now in his 36th season, Krzyzewski has led Duke to 88 NCAA Tournament wins – the most of any coach. In fact, Coach K has more tournament wins than over 98% of programs that have made a tournament appearance. Similar to Krzyzewski, Coach Dean Smith, with 65 total wins in tournaments, has amassed more tournament wins than almost 98% of programs that have made appearances.
Looking at programs and coaches as one paints only a slightly different picture. Coach K–led Duke still tops the list by a long shot (with 88 wins), followed by Dean Smith–led North Carolina (with 65 wins). In third place with 54 wins is the UConn Huskies (Connecticut), driven by head coach of 26 years Jim Calhoun.
Programs With the Most Championships
When it comes down to it, taking home the trophy is pretty much the entire point of March Madness. UCLA, led by John Wooden, has amassed twice as many tournament wins as the No. 2 team. Beginning in the 1966-67 season, the Bruins took home 10 championships during a 12-year period. Krzyzewski’s Duke has five total tournament wins, and Calhoun’s Connecticut has four.
NCAA tournaments have a long, rich history of incredible coaches, teams, and programs. But March Madness is nothing if not unpredictable. Unlike so many sporting events, it can be downright impossible to confidently predict a winner. Case in point: Based on tournaments since 1985, the top-ranked team in the final AP poll has a paltry 13% chance of emerging victorious. And every year, the tournament sees around 16 to 20 upsets. What does that mean? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. Grab your pencil and bracket, scan the graphics above in case the past holds clues to the future, and settle in for an amazing three weeks.
We collected the NCAA tournament win loss record and results for every team and coach to ever make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
We grant permission to use the graphics found here freely. When doing so, we ask that you link back here and to Fanatics.com so that readers can explore the data further.