Returning T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and adding a top-five recruit in Stanley Johnson, the Arizona Wildcats opened the 2014-15 season ranked No. 2 overall in college basketball.
They wound up finishing 34-4 that season, winning the Pac-12 and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But their postseason run ended with a 85-78 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Elite Eight.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for a loaded squad, and according to NCAA.com, that Arizona team was one of the 10 best teams to not win the title since 2000:
The 2014-15 college basketball season was fun. Arizona, a team that went 34-4 and had Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell and Brandon Ashley in its starting lineup, was a 2-seed in the tournament and made it to the Elite Eight.
Arizona lost to Wisconsin in that regional final game. Coach Sean Miller has never been to a Final Four, and based on the competition that year, one could say he picked the wrong time to have his best roster. The Wildcats finished seventh in offense and third in defense that season. Outside of Kentucky, no other team finished in the Top 10 on both sides of the court.
Arizona will break through one day. In fact, 2017-18 might be the year. But that Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin in '15 will always sting.
The 2014-15 Wildcats finished fourth overall in KenPom’s ratings and were a phenomenal team, but the 2013-14 Wildcats were actually better, finishing second overall in KenPom’s ratings.
The 2013-14 Wildcats, with Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, had the No. 1 defensive efficiency in the country by a wide margin and were 21-0 before Ashley suffered a season-ending injury.
And even after Ashley’s injury, they finished 33-5 and won the Pac-12. However, their season ended in a similar fashion, with a 64-63 loss in the Elite Eight to.......yep, Wisconsin.
Since NCAA.com was picking teams from 2000 and later, you could throw the 2000-01 Wildcats into this discussion, too.
While no KenPom stats are available to evaluate that Arizona team (those started being kept in ‘02), they reached the national championship game and arguably had the most talented Arizona roster ever, featuring the likes of Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, Loren Woods, Jason Gardner and Luke Walton among others.
The 2017-18 Wildcats may find themselves in this argument one day too, but hopefully for Arizona, this is the year it breaks through and wins its first title since 1997.
Being on these “best to never win it all” lists is no fun.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire