Which Team Has The Most Consecutive NCAA Tournament Appearances?

Winning an NCAA college basketball championship is one of the most prestigious accomplishments in all of sports. What's commonly called March Madness is watched by millions of in-person spectators at venues all over the country, as well as many more viewers on TV and other media (via Statista). Each year, 68 NCAA college basketball teams are seeded in the event, and being selected to play is a huge honor for a school. One team in particular holds the record for most consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. It's also one of the most storied programs in college basketball history, as the NCAA website reports. 

The school with the most consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the Kansas Jayhawks, with a consecutive streak that began in the '90s, and a string of tournament appearances starting long before that, according to the NCAA. The story of the KU Jayhawks' record number of consecutive NCAA tourney bids features many familiar coaches, as well as a number of players who would go on to be famous in both college basketball and the NBA, via the NCAA. The Jayhawks program itself was even founded by none other than the inventor of basketball himself, Dr. James Naismith, according to the KU website.

The early days of KU basketball

Although Kansas would not make the NCAA tournament until the 1952 season (the first NCAA tournament took place in 1939), the story of KU's record-setting number of tournament appearances, including the most consecutive bids of any college basketball program, begins much earlier than that, in the late 1890s, according to Bleacher Report. It was then that Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball, came to work at the school — not to coach, but instead to teach physical education and act as the director of the chapel. Soon enough, Naismith put together a basketball team that played in the Big 12 conference (then called the Big 7). The team still competes in that conference today, according to the Big 12 website. 

Although Dr. Naismith is a legend in the game of basketball, he would finish his career at Kansas with a losing record. And he was just the first famous coach in the history of Kansas' basketball program. Many subsequent coaches would take the Jayhawks to the tournament. Naismith's successor, in fact, who also played for Naismith as a student, was Forrest "Phog" Allen, after whom KU's Allen Fieldhouse is named. Allen also founded the ​​National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), according to Terry Frei's book, "Before the Madness—The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions." The NABC was the first sponsor of what would one day become the NCAA Division I Men's College Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness.

A number of famous coaches have coached at KU

Phog Allen, in fact, still coached at KU when the team won their first-ever national college basketball championship. It was 1940, and just the second year of the tournament that would one day become March Madness, according to the NCAA website. Nevertheless, the 1952 win is generally considered to be the first official NCAA Division I Men's college basketball championship that Kansas won. What's more, Allen was just the first of many well-known coaches to take the Jayhawks to the ultimate victory.

The next most storied basketball coach at Kansas is probably Roy Williams, who coached the team for 16 seasons with four Final Four appearances. With 77 victories and three national championships, Williams is also the second most winningest coach in NCAA tournament history, behind Mike Krzyzewski from Duke, per Sporting News. Following Williams, KU coach Larry Brown would go on to coach in the NBA for the Nuggets, Nets, Spurs, and 76ers, among other professional accomplishments, according to Britannica.

Many famous athletes have played for the team

KU's numerous March Madness appearances have also featured a number of well-known players who not only won a national championship while in school, but went on to play in the NBA, some winning championship rings there as well. Probably the most famous Jayhawk to make his name in the NBA is Wilt Chamberlain. He was a tall, lanky center called the "Big Dipper" who would go on to help dominate his position while playing professionally for the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, among other franchises, via Britannica

In his career, Chamberlain won two NBA titles, and although he only played at Kansas for two seasons, the 1957 title game in which Chamberlain played (and helped KU win) is considered among the best March Madness championship games in history, according to Bleacher Report. Other players famous both at Kansas and in the NBA include Nick Collison, Danny Manning, Jacque Vaughn, Drew Gooden, and Paul Pierce (via Bleacher Report).

KU currently has the most consecutive NCAA appearances

At the time of this writing, KU has 32 NCAA Division I college basketball appearances, stretching back to 1990. That's both the longest active streak and longest consecutive number of appearances all time, per KU Athletics. Second to KU is North Carolina, whose streak of 27 straight appearances ended in 2001, per the NCAA. Overall, Kansas has made the tournament 50 times as of the 2022 season, advancing to the round of 16, also called the Sweet 16, 31 times, with 15 Final Four appearances, via KU.

In total, Kansas has five total national championships, three of which came in the NCAA Division I college basketball format, in 1952, 1988, and 2008. At the time of this writing, and even though there was no March Madness in the 2020 season on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kansas Jayhawks boast 32 consecutive NCAA Men's Division I College Basketball Tournament appearances. They've entered the tournament with a No. 1 seed 15 times, including the 2022 tournament. For these reasons, KU's impressive number of March Madness appearances seems unlikely to end anytime soon.