Only four D1 college basketball programs have reached the 2,000-win mark. And no one else is even close.
Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Duke all sit more than 200 wins above the next closest program (Temple, depending on how you feel about Syracuse’s 101 vacated wins). These four programs have combined for more national championships (13) than non-NCAA tournament seasons (10) over the last 30 years. Their All-American lists are deep, record books packed, and recent history full of more accomplishments than the last century for most other programs.
Most fans don’t remember — or weren’t alive — the last time any of these teams sucked. The last time they played poor, inept basketball. The last time they were truly irrelevant in the national picture, at least performance-wise.
When Did Duke Suck? 1982-83
Mike Krzyzewski’s back-injury-related leave of absence has Duke fans fighting off terrifying flashbacks. Midway through the 1994-95 season, Coach K was forced off the sidelines with a serious back issue. The Blue Devils were 9-3 at the time but took a nosedive, going 4-15 to finish 13-18. They certainly sucked that season, but the circumstances allow for a friendly pass.
To find the last time Duke truly sucked, no excuses, we have to travel back to the beginning of Krzyzewski’s tenure. He went 17-13 in his first season, 1980-81, but things got bad quickly. Duke went just 10-17 and 11-17 in the next two seasons, respectively — their lowest two-year win total since 1927-29.
Miserable defense led to seven total ACC wins over those years. They finished sixth (1981-82) and seventh (1982-83) in the conference.
When did Kansas suck? 1982-83
There was a time Kansas wasn’t sleepwalking to Big 12 titles. Three decades ago, the Jayhawks actually went seven straight seasons without a Big 8 regular-season championship.
We’ll skip past their 19-win, non-tourney 1988-89 season because they didn’t truly suck that year — at least by non-Kansas standards. Though KU did miss the tournament that year under first-year coach Roy Williams, they had won 135 games and reached two Final Fours (one national championship, 1988), in the five years prior and immediately returned to elite status in 1989-90.
The last time Kansas truly sucked was the early 1980s when back-to-back sub-.500 seasons led to the dismissal of 19-year head coach Ted Owens and hiring of Larry Brown. Owens won 13 games apiece in 1981-82 (13-14) and 1982-83 (13-16), giving him four non-tourney and non-20-win seasons in five years. Since then, the program has failed to reach 20 wins and make the tournament just once (1988-89).
When did Kentucky suck? 1989-90
Kentucky has whiffed on the NCAA tournament twice since 2009, the only blue blood to do so. However, their 22-win 2008-09 season and 21-win 2012-13 seasons weren’t vomit-inducing and weren’t periods of true sucking. They won a national title in 2011-12 and returned to the title game in 2013-14. We must go back nearly 30 years to find that.
In 1987-88, third-year coach Eddie Sutton led the Wildcats to a 27-6 mark and Sweet Sixteen berth. Then things got bad — historically bad. They won a total of 27 games the next two seasons, including a 13-win dud (13-19) in 1988-89, their first sub-.500 mark since 1926-27. Sutton resigned at the end of the season amidst an ugly NCAA investigation and was replaced with Rick Pitino, who dealt with thee years probation (1989-92), two-year NCAA tournament ban (1990-91) and one-year live TV ban (1989-90).
After a 14-win first season, Pitino quickly turned things around, winning 22 in 1990-91 before winning at least 27 games and making six straight tourneys (one national championship, 1996).
When did North Carolina suck? 2001-02
Sorry, North Carolina fans, we just can’t skip over the infamous 2001-02 season. Although it was a clear outlier and didn’t represent any period of sustained sucking, it’s too miserable to overlook.
The Tar Heels made the tourney every year from 1975-2001, winning two national championships (1982, 1993) and reaching nine Final Fours. Then it happened. One season after winning national coach of the year, Matt Doherty was the most despised man in North Carolina.
His roster was ravaged by departures and a reliance on underclassmen didn’t work, leading to an 8-20 season — first losing record since 1961-62, Dean Smith’s first as head coach. They finished 4-12 in the ACC, ending their 35-year run of third-place finishes or better. While they improved in 2002-03, they still only won 19 games and missed the tourney again — first back-to-back non-tourney seasons since 1973-75.
Doherty “resigned” immediately and was replaced with Roy Williams.