College basketball fans go crazy over bracketology. The metrics, algorithms and other minutiae that go into the quest of picking the perfect bracket has almost become a sport in itself. Yet, we hardly ever pick the correct tournament champion, much less correctly predict every single game. However, we can sometimes get close.
Using bracket data from more than four million entries in the past five years from Capital One March Madness Bracket Challenge, the official bracket game of the NCAA tournament, we've found the five teams most often picked to win it all from 2011-2015 that didn't quite make it, and how close they got to that One Shining Moment.
Michigan State Spartans
State of the Program: Coming off of a Final Four appearance in 2010, The Spartans had a bit of a rebuilding year that saw them drop 15 games and finish even in conference play. However, when your coach is a legend, rebuilding doesn't last long. Tom Izzo's 2011-15 record was 131-53 and his Spartans saw at least the Sweet Sixteen the past four years.
Closest Finish: 2015 was Izzo's 20th year in East Lansing, but, at the end of the regular season, it didn't seem like there would be much reason to celebrate. The Spartans dropped six conference games, finished third in the Big Ten, were unranked and seeded a lowly seventh in the NCAA tournament. Once in the tournament, however, MSU showed it had a bit more in the tank for their coach. State upset second-seeded Virginia and third-seeded Oklahoma on the way to an Elite Eight showdown with Louisville. It took overtime to down the Cardinals 76-70. Their postseason success came to a screeching halt in the Final Four where they met eventual national champion No. 4 Duke. Despite Denzel Valentine's 22 points and 11 rebounds, the Blue Devils sprinted past the Spartans 81-61 on their way to the title.
State of the Program: Bill Self did deliver a national championship to Lawrence in 2008 and led the Jayhawks to 12 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships (2005-2016). KU has a 150-35 record over the past five years and enjoyed the company of a first-team All-American (Thomas Robinson, 2012). So, perhaps all they're missing is a NCAA championship and a Naismith Trophy.Closest Finish: In 2012, the Hawks finished the regular season with a 26-5 record and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In the Final Four, Kansas faced fellow two seed Ohio State and had to rally to cut the deficit below 10 before the half. The Jayhawks were able to tie it up with 11 to go in the second half and keep it close the rest of the way. The Buckeyes squandered several second looks off offensive rebounds inside two minutes and lost on a missed free throw. Kansas then met Kentucky in the championship game where Naismith winner Anthony Davis would not let Thomas Robinson have any offensive success. The Jayhawks were able to rally back from a 16-point deficit, but the Wildcats dominance could not be overcome. Kentucky would lift the trophy with the final score 67-59.
State of the Program: Sean Miller's second season (2011) saw a return to glory for Wildcat basketball. Arizona won the Pac-12 regular season championship and reached the Elite Eight behind the Pac-12 Player of the Year Derrick Williams. And, Miller was honored with the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award that season as well. The Wildcats record over the past five years is 147-37-bolstered by three 30-win seasons, and they've reached the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight thrice in that timespan.
Closest Finish: The Wildcats finished the 2014 season ranked third, having only suffered three losses, and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed out of the West. They cruised to the Elite Eight with wins over Weber State, Gonzaga and San Diego State. Things would be different, however, when they met second-seeded Wisconsin. With less than a minute to go in regulation, Wildcat Nick Johnson's miss became an alley oop for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson that tied the game at 54. Then, a Badger miss from behind the arc forced overtime. Down by one point with just over two seconds to go in overtime, the Wildcats' inbound pass gets to Johnson, but his attempted buzzer beater didn't even hit the rim, sending Wisconsin to the Final Four.
North Carolina Tar Heels
State of the Program: Roy Williams has delivered two NCAA Championships (2005, '09) to the title hungry populace of Chapel Hill But, in the past five years, the Heels have only won two regular season ACC championships and zero ACC Tournament titles and their greatest postseason accomplishment was back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in 2011-2012. In the past three seasons, they've had double digits in the loss column every year and only reached a named round of the tournament once thanks to a Sweet Sixteen trip last year.
Closest Finish: The end of the 2012 season saw the Heels earn their 27th win with a 88-70 victory over arch-rival No. 4 Duke. UNC earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but they had trouble putting away lesser competition in the third round and Sweet Sixteen. The Heels met second-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight where it was all Jayhawks. KU advanced to the Final Four with little trouble, defeating the Tar Heels 80-67.
Ohio State Buckeyes
State of the Program: Thad Matta has led the Bucks to two Big Ten regular season titles (2011, 2012) and two Big Ten tournament championships (2011, 2013) in the past five years. OSU's highest loss total over that span was 2015's 11, and The Ohio State has posted two 30 win seasons as well. The Buckeyes' NCAA tournament resume has been impressive as well; they've advanced to at least the second round every year and made appearances in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four.
Closest Finish: OSU capped off the 2012 season with a 72-70 upset of arch-rival No. 5 Michigan State to make their regular season record 25-6. However, they would lose to the Spartans by four in the championship game of the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes were named a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. In the Elite Eight, they defeated first-seeded No. 2 Syracuse 77-70 to advance to the Final Four. Ohio State led fellow two-seed Kansas big in the first half, but a Jayhawk rally cut the deficit to single digits before the half. The Jayhawks were able to tie it up with 11 to go in the second half, and OSU found themselves unable to to pull away. The Buckeyes squandered several second looks off offensive rebounds inside two minutes and lost on a missed free throw.