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Archive for Monday, March 25, 1996

T MEAN TITLE FOR KU

March 25, 1996

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Glittering winning percentages don't guarantee NCAA Final Four appearances ... as contemporary Kansas basketball fans know only too well.

This year's KU team stubbed its toe in the Sweet 16 despite compiling the best winning percentage of any Kansas basketball team of the modern era.

This season's 34-2 record translates to a winning percentage of .944. You have to go back to 1909-10 to find a better one. Coached by W.O. Hamilton, those Jayhawks finished 18-1 (.947).

Fact: Of the 10 Kansas basketball teams with the highest winning percentages, only four have made it to the Final Four in the 58-year history of the NCAA Tournament.

Notably, however, those four squads rank 2-3-4-5 behind this year's ill-fated squad that was staggered by Arizona last Friday in Birmingham, Ala. In other words, of the five best teams percentage-wise in KU modern history, the 1996-97 edition is the only one that failed to reach the Final Four.

No. 2 on the chart is the 1952 national championship team. That Phog Allen-coached club, led by Clyde Lovellette -- the last man to lead his team to the NCAA title and lead the nation in scoring as well, wound up 28-3 for a .903 winning percentage.

No. 3 is the Ted Owens-coached 1971 team that went to the Final Four in the Houston Astrodome, but lost to UCLA and Western Kentucky and concluded with a 27-3 record (.900).

No. 4 is Larry Brown's 1986 powerhouse. Those Jayhawks went to the Final Four in Dallas with a 35-3 record, but bowed to Duke in a controversial foul-filled semifinal to end at 35-4 (.897). The 35 wins remain a school record.

No. 5 is the 1957 Wilt Chamberlain-led team that fell to North Carolina in a heart-stopping three-overtime championship game. Dick Harp pulled the strings during that 24-3 (.888) season.

Notably of the five teams that rank sixth through 10th in the category, three were coached by Roy Williams.

Curiously, Williams' 1996 team, which featured the same starting lineup as this year's record-setting team, ranks No. 7 on the chart with a winning percentage of .853 (29-5).

Williams also claims the No. 6 and No. 10 slots.

No. 6 is the 1990 outfit that didn't make it out of the second-round, falling to UCLA at the Omni in Atlanta. Nevertheless, that balanced squad, led by senior guard Kevin Pritchard's 14.5 scoring average, finished 30-5 (.857) and remains one of only three Kansas teams to win as many as 30 games.

Likewise, the No. 10 team on the win percentage list, Williams' 1992 squad, was shocked in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Texas-El Paso. That club wound up 27-5 (.844).

Tied for eighth on the list are two Owens-coached teams that put together back-to-back records of 23-4 (.852) in 1966 and 1967. Forward Ron Franz and guard Jo Jo White were common denominators on both clubs.

That '66 team dropped a controversial 81-80 double overtime decision -- was White's foot really on the out-of-bounds line when he made what would have been the winning basket? -- to Texas Western (now UTEP) in the regional final.

That was the year Texas Western went on to stun Kentucky in the national championship game.

In '67, the Jayhawks were staggered by Houston in a first-round game played in Allen Fieldhouse. Houston, led by superstar Elvin Hayes, finished third in the NCAAs that year.

As noted, four of Kansas' best teams in terms of winning percentage advanced to the Final Four. However, so did six teams that failed to make the Top 10.

Of those half-dozen, the most remarkable was, of course, the 1988 team.

Somehow those Danny Manning-led Jayhawks, a No. 6 seed that year, won all six NCAA Tournament games. That Larry Brown-coached Cinderella contingent finished 27-11. No team in the history of the tournament has ever lost as many as 11 games and still captured the national title.

Three Kansas NCAA runners-up failed to make the Top 10. The 1940 and 1953 teams both ended 19-6 and Williams' 1991 team that fell to Duke in the title contest closed shop at 27-8.

Completing that six-team list are the 1974 squad that fell twice in the Final Four in Greensboro, N.C., and put away its uniforms with a 23-7 record, and Williams' 1993 edition that finished 29-7 after falling to North Carolina in a semifinal at the Louisiana Superdome.

Breaking the Top 10 list down by coaches, Williams can claim four -- 1997, 1996, 1992 and 1990, Owens coached three -- 1971, 1967 and 1966; and Allen (1952), Harp (1957) and Brown (1986) coached one apiece.

By decades, four have occurred in the 90s, one in the 80s, one in the 70s and two each in the 60s and 50s.

Thus the 90s, with two seasons still remaining, already seems certain to go down in history as the winningest decade in school annals.

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