Which School Has The Most Men's NCAA Tournament Appearances?

With its first-round upset of No. 2 seeded Kentucky at the 2022 NCAA Division I Men's College Basketball Tournament, No. 15 seed St. Peter's Peacocks etched their name in March Madness history, and that's not just because a No. 15 seed knocking off a No. 2 seed is exceedingly rare — this was only the tenth time that's happened — according to The New York Times. With that win, the Peacocks defeated one of the most vaunted college basketball programs ever.

Perhaps most notable of all, UK's men's basketball teams set the record for the most NCAA tournament appearances all time. The story of how the Wildcat's accomplished this feat begins in the early days of the tournament itself, and many well-known basketball players and coaches have come through the program. The men's team has also had its fair share of controversy. So, even though the Wildcats men's team suffered a setback in 2022, the long list of tournament success the team's known for seems only likely to grow.

The Wildcats' first two NCAA championships were back to back

The road to the Wildcats' record-setting number of NCAA tournament appearances began in 1942, according to Statista. That's only a few years after the first men's college basketball tournament ever took place, an event that would one day become March Madness. Back then, there were only eight teams allowed in the tournament, and Kentucky was out in the second round, but they would be back, per the NCAA. Kentucky's first NCAA championship came just six years later, in 1948.  

That win is notable because it's the first of many championships for the Kentucky men. The Wildcats, in fact, would go on to win two men's college basketball championships back-to-back, first in '48 and then again in 1949, according to the NCAA. With still far fewer teams in the tourney, Kentucky beat Oklahoma State that year, 46 to 36. That marks two championships in the first four NCAA appearances for the team. That started the streak that would one day become the most tournament appearances in history for any one team.

Wildcats basketball has had scandals

Along the way to setting the most March Madness appearances ever, the men's Kentucky Wildcats basketball team has had its own share of setbacks. There are, in fact, two major scandals in the history of the Kentucky men's basketball program. Each time, the team recovered to continue their campaign for tournament legacy. While notable, Kentucky men's basketball is certainly not the only college basketball program with similar blemishes. 

The first major controversy in Kentucky basketball history came in 1951, and it's known as the point-shaving scandal. Notably, these improprieties took place not in the NCAA tournament but in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), as ESPN reports. At the time, several Kentucky players — some, national champions from the '48 and '49 Kentucky teams — were arrested for accepting bribes to shave points in an NIT game. Kentucky was later found guilty of several additional NCAA rule violations. The next most notorious incident in Wildcats history is known as the Emery Scandal, which took place in the late 1980s. At that time, a coach was accused of paying the father of a star player prospect, according to The Washington Post

Famous players and coaches have come through Kentucky

Missteps and controversies notwithstanding, Kentucky would not be the legendary and well-decorated basketball team it is today if not for an impressive number of athletes and coaches who've come through the program. Some of these names would win NCAA college championships while others wouldn't. Most, however, would contribute in one way or another to Kentucky setting the record for most NCAA tournament appearances. Many also went on to play, coach, or win championships in the NBA.

Among the many notable Kentucky basketball players in history that NBA fans might also recognize include Pat Riley, who'd also go on to make his name coaching the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers, as well as Derek Anderson, and John Wall, via Bleacher Report. NBA star Anthony Davis also played for the team, per UK Athletics. That's while legendary Kentucky coaches include names like John Calipari, Rick Pitino (pictured), and Adolph Rupp, after whom Rupp Arena is named, among many others (via Bleacher Report). Interestingly, Kentucky rebound and point-leader Dan Issel never won an NCAA championship, but he did make it to two "Elite Eights" (per Bleacher Report).

Kentucky holds a number of March Madness records

All that history combined helped the University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball program get where it is today: holding the record for most NCAA tournament appearances. That's not the only notable March Madness accomplishment in Wildcats history, though. The Wildcats, for example, have made the Final Four 17 times for a total of eight championship wins and counting. The team most recently won it all in 2012 (via ESPN).

What's more, Wildcat basketball's overall win-loss record at the time of this writing is an impressive 131–53 on college basketball's biggest stage (per ESPN). In total, the Kentucky Wildcats have made the NCAA tournament 59 times and counting, more than any other team. That aside, the Kentucky men's basketball team has also won 31 SEC championships at the time of this writing, making its stumble in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament nothing more than a temporary setback for a college men's basketball program that by many measures could be considered the best ever to play the game (via Kentucky Kernel).