Three NCAA titles in four years. It hasn’t been done since UCLA did it in 1975 — a stretch that saw the Bruins win 10 in 12 years. Only one other team (Kentucky 1948-51) had done it prior. Next season, Villanova will try to gain membership into the exclusive club and become the first team to ever pull of the feat in an expanded field, while Phil Booth will try to become the first non-UCLA player ever to play in and win three championships. Eric Paschall, Donte DiVincenzo, and Tim Delaney, all of which red-shirted the 2015-16 championship season, would also be in line for a third title.
If DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman return, then you can start the hype train. But even if only one of the two breakout players from last season return to campus, Villanova still figures to be among the handful of teams capable of cutting down the nets in March.
Regardless of who comes back, there’s a reason only two schools have ever pulled it off — it’s very difficult. Below is a look at the five teams since UCLA that have had a chance to win three out of four championships, as Villanova will try to mount the most serious bid in 20 years.
Final record: 24-8
How it finished: Loss in Round of 32
The Blue Devils won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992 and were trying for the elusive three-peat with a core that included Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. After a 10-0 start that included the No. 1 ranking for all of December, Duke went just 14-8 over the rest of the season, including a loss in their ACC tournament opener to Georgia Tech. They hit the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed, but after a first round win against Southern Illinois, the Blue Devils were bounced by California, 82-77.
Final record: 28-6
How it finished: Loss in NCAA Final
The second shot at a third title was much closer for Duke. Although not a very deep team, the Bluer Devils were led by ACC Player of the Year Grant Hill. They hit No. 1 in the poll in January and were never ranked below No. 6 all season. As a No. 2 seed, Duke marched through the NCAA tournament, beating Texas Southern, Michigan State, Marquette, Purdue, and Florida en route to their fourth title game in five seasons. However, a nip-and-tuck championship went the way of Arkansas, as the Razorbacks held on for a 76-72 win.
Final record: 28-9
How it finished: Loss in Elite Eight
In a path similar to Villanova’s, Kentucky won its titles with a gap year in between, meaning it only had one shot for No. 3. Scott Padgett was the team’s best returning player in a group that had a clear talent drop off from the season prior. Still, Kentucky got hot in March, won the SEC tournament and hit the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed. The Wildcats had the bracket break right, as they got past Miami (Ohio) to reach the Elite 8, but fell to Michigan State, 73-66, a step shy of the Final Four.
Final record: 24-12
How it finished: Loss in NIT semifinal
After winning back-to-back titles, Florida lost nearly every key contributor in a mass exodus to the NBA draft. The Gators were not even ranked to start the season and finished just 8-8 in the SEC. A trip back to the NCAA tournament was not in the cards, and Florida fell to UMass in an NIT semifinal.
Final record: 25-11
How it finished: Loss in NIT quarterfinal
Things didn’t go much better for Florida in their second attempt for a third title, even with top scorer Nick Calathes coming back for Billy Donovan. Despite starting the season as No. 19 in the AP poll, the Gators stumbled to a 9-7 record in SEC play and again failed to make the NCAA tournament, losing to Penn State a round earlier than the year before.