Every college basketball team sets out to be a part of March Madness, and if the goal is fulfilled, a funny thing usually happens no matter if it’s for the first time or with a run of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances:

While they’re supposed to be celebrating a conference championship, the players and fans – not so much the coaches – instead raise an index finger and exalt, “We’re going to The Dance!”

Blue blood, mid-major or Cinderella, March Madness tends to mean everything to a season. But only one team in the field of 68 wins the championship, so consistency is a big deal for programs, and some do it better than others – even building the longest streaks of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. (Here are other NCAA Tournament all-time records to know.)

Following are the men’s basketball programs with the most appearances in a row (the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and does not count against consecutive year streaks):

(Head coaches listed in parentheses/*Streak does not include a vacated appearance ordered under NCAA sanctions)

28 – *Kansas, 1990-2017 (Roy Willams and Bill Self)  

Kansas has played in the last 33 NCAA tournaments since 1990, but its 2018 appearance, which ended in the Final Four, was vacated five years later due to use of a player, Silvio De Sousa, who was ruled ineligible retroactively. Williams coached the first 14 seasons of the run, including national runner-up finishes in 1991 and 2003. Self led the Jayhawks to the first of his two national championships at the end of the 2007-08 season (the other title season was 2021-22).

Kansas is one of the Division I men’s basketball programs to lose to 12-or-higher seeds in back-to-back NCAA tournaments: The Jayhawks fell as a No. 5 seed to No. 12 Bucknell in the 2005 first round, then as a No. 4 seed to No. 13 Bradley in the 2006 first round.

27 – North Carolina, 1975-2001 (Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty) 

Smith was responsible for the first 23 seasons of this NCAA Tournament streak, winning a national championship in 1982 on freshman Michael Jordan’s game-winning jump shot against Georgetown, and later adding the 1992-93 season title. Doherty’s first Tar Heels’ team was bounced in the 2001 second round, and they didn’t qualify for the next two tournaments, which led to him being replaced by Wiliams. After falling short as Kansas’ head coach, Williams went on to win three NCAA titles with North Carolina.

26 – Michigan State, 1998-2024 (Tom Izzo)

Magic Johnson is often the first person who comes to mind with Michigan State men’s basketball, but maybe it should be Izzo. He’s led the Spartans on the longest active run of March Madness appearances, highlighted by the 1999-2000 national championship team, which was led by guard Mateen Cleaves. They’ve made seven other Final Four appearances under Izzo.

25 – Gonzaga, 1999-2024 (Dan Monson and Mark Few)  

Monson got Gonzaga’s streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances started in 1999 with an Elite Eight run, but he left afterward to become Minnesota’s coach, and his former assistant, Few, took over. Under Few, the Bulldogs have soared to elite status, including eight teams of 30 or more wins during an 11-season span through 2022-23. But Few is among the winningest coaches not to capture a national title, with Gonzaga falling in the 2017 (North Carolina) and ’21 (Baylor) championship games.

Under coach Mark Few, Gonzaga has broken through as a mid-major program that’s consistently in the NCAA championship hunt. (AP)

24 – Duke, 1996-2019 (Mike Krzyzewski) 

Duke’s streak doesn’t even include a key portion of Krzyzewski’s iconic career, although three of his five national championship seasons (2000-01, 2009-10 and 2014-15) and two more of his record 13 Final Four appearances are in there. The streak would have been much longer – 37, in fact – but Coach K took a medical leave of absence after 12 games in the 1994-95 season and the team slumped from a 9-3 start under him to missing the NCAA Tournament without him.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 13 Final Four appearances are the most in NCAA Tournament history. (Associated Press)

19 – Wisconsin, 1999-2017 (Four Coaches)

Shout out to the consistency of Wisconsin’s program as its streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances included four different coaches: Dick Bennett (first two seasons), Brad Soderberg (one), Bo Ryan (14) and Greg Gard (two). In his final two full seasons with the Badgers, Ryan led squads that advanced to the Final Four, including a 2015 national runner-up finish to Duke and Krzyzewski. 

18 – Indiana, 1986-2003 (Bob Knight and Mike Davis) 

The Hoosiers were ousted by little-known Cleveland State in the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament, but their streak of appearances got a boost in March Madness the next year as guard Steve Alford helped deliver Knight’s third and final national title. The final three seasons of the streak occurred under Davis, who took Indiana to the 2002 championship game.

17 – Kentucky, 1992-2008 (Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie) 

During the streak, Kentucky won a pair of national championships in a three-season span, first under Pitino in 1996 and two years later in Smith’s first season. Gillispie’s first season was the final one of the streak, and the Wildcats were upset by Marquette in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, before they settled for the NIT a year later in his second and final campaign with the program.  

14 – *Arizona, 1985-98 (Lute Olson) 

Arizona actually had a streak of 25 from 1985 to 2009, but its 1999 (under Olson) and 2008 (Kevin O’Neill’s only season) appearances were later deemed vacated.

  • 14 – Cincinnati, 1992-2005 (Bob Huggins)
  • 14 – Georgetown, 1979-92 (John Thompson)
  • 14 – Texas, 1999-2012 (Rick Barnes)

26 Michigan State, 1998-2024

During Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament streak, the Spartans have earned at least one tournament win in 20 of their 26 consecutive appearances, and 56 overall.

25 Gonzaga, 1999-2024 

The Zags’ 37-2 national runner-up finish in the 2016-17 season is tied for the third-most wins among Division I men’s basketball teams not to win the NCAA championship (Kentucky’s 2015 Final Four team and Memphis’ 2008 national runner-up squad had 38 wins each).

9 Purdue, 2015-24 

Coach Matt Painter’s program has been in the top 10 of regular season wins during its run and has boasted a two-time national player of the year in 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey. Fortunately for the Boilermakers, a national runner-up finish in 2024 helped lessen the NCAA Tournament appearances being known more for losses to underdogs than wins, such as defeats to North Texas (2021) and FDU (2023) in the first round, and Saint Peter’s (2022) in the Sweet 16.  

  • 6 Houston, 2018-24
  • 6 Kansas, 2019-24
  • 6 Tennessee, 2018-24
  • 5 Baylor, 2019-24
  • 5 Colgate, 2019-24

Stats Perform’s Jesse Abrahams and Greg Harvey contributed research to this story. 

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