This year’s Final Four is either unprecedented or pretty close.
In one corner, North Carolina is making a record 21st appearance in the Final Four. Its semifinal opponent, Duke, is waiting with the sport’s winningest coach. Mike Krzyzewski surpassed 1,200 victories during this postseason run.
Kansas arrives having recently taken over the Division I lead in all-time wins. Villanova doesn’t have quite the storied history of the other three schools, but the Wildcats are trying for their third national title in seven years. Only UCLA under John Wooden and Kentucky under Adolph Rupp have won three in that short a span.
So the quartet of programs in this year’s Final Four is truly special. Only a few others can really compare:
1968 (HOUSTON, NORTH CAROLINA, OHIO STATE, UCLA)
Two of these programs aren’t considered blue bloods now. In fact, Houston was a stretch even then — but the Elvin Hayes-led Cougars were making their second straight Final Four appearance, and their semifinal matchup with UCLA was a rematch of Houston’s famous win over the Bruins earlier that year at the Astrodome. The teams also had met in the previous year’s Final Four, with UCLA winning.
The Bruins beat the Cougars in this Final Four as well, then defeated Dean Smith and North Carolina in the title game. Ohio State, meanwhile, was making its eighth Final Four appearance in the first 30 years of the tournament.
1991 (DUKE, KANSAS, NORTH CAROLINA, UNLV)
Duke, Kansas and North Carolina need no introduction as traditional powers — and UNLV was the sport’s dominant team at this point, with a national championship in 1990 and an undefeated record coming into the ‘91 Final Four.
It was actually Duke — making its fifth Final Four appearance in six years — that was still chasing its first title and trying to shed a label of a team that hadn’t won the big one. The Blue Devils did it, knocking off UNLV and then Kansas.
1993 (KANSAS, KENTUCKY, NORTH CAROLINA, MICHIGAN)
Talk about blue bloods — these schools all wear varying shades of the color. This was the 11th Final Four appearance for North Carolina and the 10th each for Kansas and Kentucky.
But it was Michigan — appearing in its sixth Final Four — that had the most recent title of this bunch, having won it all in 1989. A win over Kentucky in ’93 gave the Fab Five its second straight appearance in the title game. The Wolverines then lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina.
2008 (KANSAS, MEMPHIS, NORTH CAROLINA, UCLA)
This was the only men’s Final Four to date featuring four No. 1 seeds, and Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are unquestioned basketball royalty. Memphis isn’t at that level, but this John Calipari-coached group — which included future No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose — had lost only one game all season before falling in the title game to Kansas in overtime.
2012 (KANSAS, KENTUCKY, LOUISVILLE, OHIO STATE)
This Final Four had some similarities to this year’s, with in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville meeting in a titanic semifinal matchup. Louisville was making its ninth Final Four appearance — and that was the fewest of the bunch. Kentucky ultimately won the championship with a victory over Kansas.
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