The Greatest College Basketball Programs Ever: Ranking the top teams of all time, Nos. 50-26 – CBS Sports
CBS Sports is running a three-part series on the greatest college basketball programs since the NCAA Tournament was first held in 1939. Part I published Tuesday and featured teams ranked No. 68 down to No. 51. Part II below reveals schools ranked No. 50 to No. 26. Part III will publish Thursday. To read up on the research methods, statistics and criteria used to build this master list of the best teams in the history of college basketball, head here.
Record since 1938-39: 1,224-891 | Regular-season titles: 16 NCAA Tournaments: 16 | Final Fours: 3 Weeks ranked: 133 | Top-60 NBA picks: 23 POINTS: 440.8
K.C. Jones, you better watch your team. We kick off Part II with the Dons, and I’m prompted to note the sizable gap between No. 51 Washington (421.7 points) and USF here. This is a true top 50 rather than a photo finish at the tape. San Francisco is most well known for its mini dynasty in the 1950s, when Bill Russell was yet to become the winningest player in NBA history. The Dons went 71-8 in Russell’s three seasons from 1953-56 — Jones was on those teams as well — with the ’55-56 campaign being one of only seven undefeated, NCAA championship-winning seasons in men’s D-I history. Russell was obviously a monster — he averaged north of 20 points and 20 rebounds in his junior and senior seasons. Imagine someone that good playing for USF today. Phil Woolpert was coach of the Dons then, and they were the best out West.
USF’s never made it back to the peak, but it has won enough and made enough NCAA Tournaments and been ranked 133 times to work its way into this tier. Interestingly enough, USF made it this high on the list by overcoming not even having a men’s basketball program from 1982-85. The school’s president ended the program after it was found guilty of cheating in the early 1980s. One player on that final team before dissolution, Quintin Dailey in 1981-82, who is the only other consensus All-American in USF history, obviously with Russell being the first. Jones and Bill Cartwright are the other two highly acclaimed Don alumni.
Record since 1938-39: 1,423-894 | Regular-season titles: 6 NCAA Tournaments: 18 | Final Fours: 1 Weeks ranked: 114 | Top-60 NBA picks: 22 POINTS: 456.4
Flyers fans never got to see what their team could have done in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, but they can take this as a small consolation prize. Dayton’s become synonymous with the NCAA Tournament because the campus has been the sole host site for the First Four. UD’s got two NIT titles to its name (1962, 1968) and made the Final Four in 1967. But that win total (1,423) is key. An average of 17.6 wins annually for the Flyers, who came to prominence first under Tom Blackburn (1946-1964), then kept pace until 1989 with Don Donoher. The two men combined for 789 wins in that span.
Dayton had another day in the sun with its 2014 Elite Eight run under Archie Miller, and then of course the 2019-20 season with NPOY Obi Topping guiding the Flyers to a 29-2 finish and what would have likely been the school’s first No. 1 seed. Toppin is the only consensus All-American in the tournament era, but Roosevelt Chapman deserves a mention here. He left UD with 2,233 points and had a 41-point game in the 1984 NCAA tourney that ended with another Elite Eight appearance. The Dayton community is passionately dedicated to its hoops, and this ranking is fitting. It’s also good for a basketball-first league like the current Atlantic 10 — Dayton’s showing here is the highest for the conference.
Record since 1938-39: 1,302-957 | Regular-season titles: 10 NCAA Tournaments: 27 | Final Fours: 0 Weeks ranked: 288 | Top-60 NBA picks: 31 POINTS: 460.8
Somewhat frequently referenced as the best program to never make a Final Four, Missouri fans may be a little deflated to learn their team is this low. Truth is, the Tigers have lived a life of being good but not truly great. In 2017, Mizzou fans were anticipating a return to relevancy, only to be set back by a hip injury to the greatest recruit in school history, Michael Porter Jr., who wound up playing three games in his college career. This is something of a snakebitten school, though clearly there have been good times often enough to be a top-50 program. In 2012 Missouri was a No. 2 seed and under Frank Haith had the No. 1 offense in America. (But it lost in the first round to No. 15 Norfolk State.) In 1982, arguably the best Tigers team ever was upset 79-78 by No. 6 Houston in the NCAAs. In 1995, Missouri was knocked out of the tournament thanks to Tyus Edney’s coast-to-coast buzzer-beating layup. And its greatest rival, Kansas, cut off the water on the rivalry after Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012. (The rivalry is set to renew next year.)
This is the program of Norm Stewart, who coached there from 1967-99 and was one of the true characters in college basketball history. There is no one coaching today similar to Stewart’s style, and that’s a shame. Missouri was a Top 25 regular in his tenure, and though it was never elite, it was consistently relevant — its best players being Anthony Peeler, Derrick Chievous, Steve Stipanovich, Doug Smith and Jon Sundvold, all of whom played for the Tigers in the 1980s.
Record since 1938-39: 1,281-871 | Regular-season titles: 28 NCAA Tournaments: 24 | Final Fours: 1 Weeks ranked: 78 | Top-60 NBA picks: 12 POINTS: 461.3
You didn’t forget about the Ivy League powers, did you? The Penn Quakers easily swoop into the rankings thanks to being lords of the Ivy for so many years, pushing up their credentials on account of league titles and NCAA Tournament showings. Plus — hello — Penn’s home gym is The Palestra for god’s sake. It was always destined to make this list. Penn made the 1979 Final Four, which may stand for another three or four decades as the crowning basketball achievement for Ivy League hoops. That run was made all the more memorable because ninth-seeded Penn upset mighty No. 1 UNC in the Elite Eight that year.
You might not know: the 1970-71 team technically finished with a 26-0 season due to Villanova’s win over Penn in the NCAA Tournament later being vacated on account of Villanova playing an ineligible player. To this day Penn remains one of the few undefeated teams in the NCAA Tournament era to not win a national championship. The Quakers were elevated to an elite level in the modern era thanks to Fran Dunphy, who coached there from 1989-2006 and won 310 games, second most in Ivy League history. The Quakers used to regularly produce consensus All-Americans, but the last one came in 1953 (Ernie Beck), who also is Penn’s only No. 1 NBA pick.
Record since 1938-39: 1,367-937 | Regular-season titles: 18 NCAA Tournaments: 28 | Final Fours: 0 Weeks ranked: 177 | Top-60 NBA picks: 20 POINTS: 467.7
Removing the blue blood-level schools, few other programs in men’s college basketball have proven to be built with such sturdiness. A well-greased machine established for winning, no matter the coach. This is Xavier. It’s all the more impressive when you consider this is a Catholic school that enrolls approximately 5,000 undergraduates and has serious competition in its state and region. From Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack, Xavier has been a springboard job but hasn’t been seen as a stepping-stone gig all that time. The Musketeers are yet to make a Final Four, but given their upgrade to the Big East in the 2010s it’s reasonable to posit that in the next decade-ish, that drought could end. After all, X did get a No. 1 seed in 2018. (Its average seed in 28 tournaments: No. 8.)
The program’s only consensus All-American is one of my 15-or-so favorite college players of the 2000s, David West, but it’s also produced nine top-30/first round NBA picks and been an NCAA Tournament regular since the early 1980s. Certain jobs are built for success, and X marks that spot. Given its geographic advantages (Cincinnati is within a four-hour drive of hundreds of three- and four-star recruits annually), Xavier has been able to sustain relevance in the A-10 and Big East and, should this list get an update in a decade, would probably move closer to No. 40.
Record since 1938-39: 1,360-930 | Regular-season titles: 23 NCAA Tournaments: 21 | Final Fours: 1 Weeks ranked: 66 | Top-60 NBA picks: 21 POINTS: 470.6
Philadelphia is one of the city hotbeds of college basketball, so it’s no surprise to see Saint Joe’s place easily in these rankings. The Hawk Will Never Die is not just a mascot motto, it’s a creed on Hawk Hill. SJU made the 1961 Final Four under the guidance of Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay. The history starts there, but the 2003-04 season is the pinnacle. Phil Martelli’s team ran the regular-season table and entered the 2004 tournament with a 27-1 record and the No. 1 seed in the East. (Its lone loss came to the school above: Xavier.) Jameer Nelson and Delonte West parlayed the magical run to first-round-draft-pick status that same season; Nelson was the national player of the year as well. That team was one of the best stories of college basketball in the 2000s, and it was one win away (losing by two to Oklahoma State in a classic Elite Eight game) from becoming truly indelible nationally.
Hagan Arena has given the Hawks a solid homecourt advantage of the years, as the school rightfully allocates a healthy percentage of its seats to the students. Martelli (444 wins) is the best coach in school history, but the work of Bill Ferguson (309-208) and Ramsay (234-72) was critical to getting SJU to qualify for this list. Every other Philly team is destined to play in the shadow of Villanova these days, but the city’s love of basketball — and college basketball — shines through, as you’ll soon see Saint Joe’s has some intra-city Big 5 competition placed higher on this.
Record since 1938-39: 1,295-739 | Regular-season titles: 27 NCAA Tournaments: 17 | Final Fours: 0 Weeks ranked: 25 | Top-60 NBA picks: 10 POINTS: 473.5
One of the proudest mid-major basketball communities resides in Murray, Kentucky. A population of fewer than 20,000 but a passion quotient equal to five times that number — if not more. The Racers have had a slew of dudes come through Murray over the years. Popeye Jones, Jeff Martin, Ja Morant, Cameron Payne, Isaiah Canaan, Marcus Brown and Dick Cunningham were all college studs who were top-60 picks. Morant is the most talented player in program history, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 Draft and someone who’s achieved the rare feat of earning a triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game. But Jones and Martin are the most accomplished. Murray State has been a mid-major power for much of the past 60 years, starting with Cal Luther’s run (241-154) from 1958-1974.
In recent decades familiar names like Mark Gottfried, Mick Cronin, Billy Kennedy and Steve Prohm have taken Murray State to the NCAAs, with Prohm providing the best team in school history. This gig is like a little brother’s version of Xavier, really. The Racers’ 31-2 team in 2011-12 was one of the feel-good stories of that season. Interestingly enough, Murray State has never made a Sweet 16, though old-school fans will recall how the 16th-seeded Racers almost knocked off No. 1 Michigan State in 1990 — and that near-win came two years removed from when Murray State was No. 14 and did upset No. 3 NC State. The school’s 27 league championships rank as the 10th most in college basketball since 1939. The Racers are expected to be at the top of the OVC again this season under Matt McMahon, who could have the next future NBAer to come out of the program in Tevin Brown.
Record since 1938-39: 1,316-992 | Regular-season titles: 9 NCAA Tournaments: 23 | Final Fours: 3 Weeks ranked: 308 | Top-60 NBA picks: 23 POINTS: 475.3
If you were expecting Virginia to be higher, then you’re inadvertently acknowledging just how much Tony Bennett has done to alter the perception of Virginia basketball. The Wahoos have become a team with an expectation to be in the top 10 annually, but the truth is this was a middling ACC program about 65% of the time from the 1940s through the early 2000s. Of course Ralph Sampson changed the dynamic in the 1980s for UVA … but Sampson was also on the top-ranked Virginia team that lost to Chaminade in 1982. Bennett, now in his 12th season, should be considered the best coach in program history, but homage must be paid to Terry Holland, who won 326 games between 1974-90 and took Virginia to the Final Four in 1981 with Sampson, Jeff Lamp and Jeff Jones guiding the way. Then he took Virginia to the Final Four again in 1984 — after Sampson had left the program. That’s a great trivia question for college hoops fans, as plenty mistakenly believe Sampson played on both those Final Four teams. I’ll be bringing up NC State later in the list, but another nugget of Virginia trivia is that the ’83 Wolfpack team also ended Sampson’s college career in the Elite Eight.
Sampson and Malcolm Brogdon are UVA’s only consensus All-Americans in the tournament era, but Bennett has sent eight players to the NBA who stuck for longer than a cup of coffee. A mention of Bryant Stith is in order, too, as his 2,516 points are the most in school history. Bennett is 277-96 and been six straight NCAA Tournaments with an average seed of 1.8. The program may ranked 43rd all time, but in 2020 it’s operating at a top-five level. UVA plays with patience on the floor, but the program’s resurgence is here and there is no slowing that down.
Record since 1938-39: 1,247-823 | Regular-season titles: 9 NCAA Tournaments: 21 | Final Fours: 5 Weeks ranked: 154 | Top-60 NBA picks: 26 POINTS: 476.9
It goes like this: Greatness in the late ’60s, the early ’80s, a 30-year dormancy, and now, in the past five years, a return to relevancy. That’s the ebb and flow of Houston hoops the past 55 years. UH has a claim to the best nucleus to never win a national title. The Cougars made the Final Four in 1982, 1983 and 1984 and had Akeem (as he spelled it then) Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler as supernovas. Amazing to think how the trajectory of two programs change if Dereck Whittenberg’s shot had merely clanged off the rim and Houston won that title instead of NC State.
Fifteen years before that, Houston won 71-69 in the Game of the Century against UCLA, with Elvin Hayes dropping 39 points and snapping top-ranked UCLA’s 47-game winning streak. Houston made the Final Four that year (where UCLA got its revenge) and the year prior, in ’67. Guy Lewis was the coach; he was the coach beginning in 1956 and going up through 1986. He won 592 games and made Houston a top-20 program over the course of his tenure. Hayes, Otis Birdsong and Olajuwon became consensus All-Americans. Those three, Drexler and Michael Young have their numbers in the rafters of the Fertitta Center. The Coogs have not made it back to the Elite Eight since 1984, but Kelvin Sampson has turned UH into a top-three program in the American Athletic Conference in the past five seasons and figures to keep Houston nationally relevant and in the NCAA Tournament conversation so long as he’s running the show.
Record since 1938-39: 1,382-895 | Regular-season titles: 6 NCAA Tournaments: 21 | Final Fours: 0 Weeks ranked: 295 | Top-60 NBA picks: 32 POINTS: 478
If this was a football list, of course Alabama has as good a case as any to be No. 1. In basketball? Crimson Tide fans are perhaps even a little surprised to see their school knocking on the door of the top 40. They shouldn’t be, however. Alabama’s second in all-time SEC Tournament titles (15 combined regular season and tournament) and third in all-time SEC wins. There even was a time, in 2003, when Mark Gottfried put Alabama atop college basketball and had the Crimson Tide ranked No. 1. Never made a Final Four and its only Elite Eight came in 2004 with a loss to eventual champ UConn, but Bama has accumulated enough victories, made enough NCAA Tournaments, had enough NBA talent and been ranked too frequently not to be edged against on the top 40. If Kira Lewis Jr. goes in the top 10 on Wednesday evening, he’ll be the fifth top 10 NBA pick in school history. Outstanding alumni include Reggie King, Robert Horry, Latrell Sprewell, Collin Sexton, JaMychal Green, Antonio McDyess, Gerald Wallace and Mo Williams. Wimp Sanderson and Gottfried each have a solid case for strongest coach in school history.
Record since 1938-39: 1,284-939 | Regular-season titles: 7 NCAA Tournaments: 22 | Final Fours: 5 Weeks ranked: 291 | Top-60 NBA picks: 25 POINTS: 488.1
If this list’s criteria stopped at the year 1992, Florida might not even make the top 100. This is straight from UF’s Wikipedia page: “The program did not have an adequate gymnasium until the Florida Gymnasium in 1950, did not hire a full-time basketball coach until Norm Sloan in 1960, and did not play in a modern arena until the O’Connell Center opened in 1980.” And yet the Gators have one of the 40 best programs in the sport’s history. The ascent began with the program’s first (yes, first) NCAA Tournament appearance in 1987, then went to another level when Lon Kruger took the Gators to the 1994 Final Four. Then Billy Donovan took over and altered the dynamic. Florida’s back-to-back championships in 2006/07 represent a rarity, as UCLA and Duke are the only schools to do that since 1964.
Donovan lifted Florida to such great heights to the point where a genuine rivalry with Kentucky developed by the mid-2000s. That has faded a bit in recent seasons but could reignite in 2021. Mike White continues to do a good job of keeping Florida relevant (the Gators could be a top-10 team this season). The Gators claim 125 wins over ranked opponents, with more than 90% of those wins coming in the past 25 years. Donovan’s run at UF may actually be undervalued at this point. He brought in some really fun players over the years: Jason Williams, Mike Miller, David Lee, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Bradley Beal and Chandler Parsons. But they’re all statistically behind Ronnie Williams, who from 1980-84 scored 2,090 points and remains the all-time leading scorer.
Record since 1938-39: 1,394-874 | Regular-season titles: 9 NCAA Tournaments: 22 | Final Fours: 0 Weeks ranked: 281 | Top-60 NBA picks: 30 POINTS: 514.1
That makes for three straight SEC schools. Rick Barnes is proving to be a very nice hire for Tennessee — his run of success the past few seasons helped create a little separation in these rankings, in terms of total points, vs. Florida and Bama. Bruce Pearl brought Tennessee to a level of national prominence it had not experienced prior to the end of the 2000s, but this is a program with some decent history beyond that. Guys like Dale Ellis, Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld (the Ernie and Bernie Show!) and Allan Houston registered as first-round NBA material. King and Ellis were consensus All-Americans.
The best team in school history is a pick ’em: The ’07-08 squad earned a No. 1 ranking during the season and was a No. 2 seed that made the Sweet 16 with Chris Lofton, J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism. The 2018-19 team had its season end in the Sweet at the hands of Purdue and featured Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Jordan Bone. Each team set a school record for most wins in a season (31). The best player in school history is King, who won SEC Player of the Year all three seasons in Knoxville. He averaged 25.8 points and 13.2 rebounds, which are career numbers that are almost impossible to duplicate in the modern era for any three- or four-year player in a power conference. Best coach in school history is still Ray Mears, who went 278-112 (.713) from 1962-77. Pearl would have had a chance to eclipse if not for NCAA violations. Barnes, 66, has a chance if he wants to coach Tennessee for eight-or-so more seasons.
Record since 1938-39: 1,307-882 | Regular-season titles: 6 NCAA Tournaments: 26 | Final Fours: 3 Weeks ranked: 365 | Top-60 NBA picks: 37 POINTS: 522
The longest-running basketball program in history. Iowa’s first game was in 1893, two years before Drexel and Temple, three years before Yale, Bucknell and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes are in position to bump up a spot on this list by the end of the upcoming season. Iowa enters 2020-21 ranked fourth in the AP Top 25, the highest mark in program history in the preseason. Since 1939, Iowa’s been pretty much the definition of an average Big Ten team — which amounts to top-40 status in the universe of college basketball. Luka Garza is the consensus preseason NPOY pick — things have seldom been better in Iowa City. But the program found another gear in the late 1970s when Lute Olson revitalized Hawkeye hoops and took the school to the NCAAs five straight seasons (1979-83), punctuated with the school’s third, and most recent, Final Four appearance in 1980.
The first two Final Fours came in 1955 and ’56 under coach Bucky O’Connor, who was killed two years later in a car accident. That tragedy struck Iowa again in 1993, when beloved forward Chris Street was killed in an automobile accident the January of his junior season. Tom Davis was the school’s most consistent coach — he was there from 1986-99 — but Fran McCaffrey will take the title of best coach in school history if he can get Iowa to a top-three seed this season and make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Iowa’s consensus All-Americans: Garza, Murray Wier in 1948 and Chuck Darling in 1952. Other big-time players to earn their keep with the Hawkeyes: Herb Wilkinson, Dick Ives, Fred Brown, Ronnie Lester, B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble.
Record since 1938-39: 1,347-795 | Regular-season titles: 30 NCAA Tournaments: 25 | Final Fours: 1 Weeks ranked: 41 | Top-60 NBA picks: 10 POINTS: 531.6
Princeton or Penn won all but four Ivy League titles every year from 1963-2008. It’s no surprise to see Princeton comfortably cozied up inside the top 40 — and a few paces ahead of the Quakers. This team was a national power in the 1960s with Bill Bradley — a two-time consensus All-American — starring on the 1965 Final Four team. There almost certainly will never be enough player of Bradley’s kind, both as a scholar and athlete, who opts to play in the Ivy. Though Pete Carril is the godfather of Ivy League hoops, it was Butch van Breda Kolff, who coached all of five seasons, who was responsible for this school’s lone Final Four run. Carril began in 1967 and coached up until 1996, capping his time and earning his 514th win with a 13-over-4 upset of reigning national champs UCLA in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.
Ironically, Princeton’s first team without Carril in 1996-97 set the NCAA record for best 2-point shooting in the sport’s history (63.3%). That team was coached by Bill Carmody, who got the Tigers to a No. 5 seed in 1998 thanks to a 26-1 record. Wow: Princeton’s 30 regular-season championships are sixth most in college basketball in the past 80 seasons. (The school is also top 25 in all time victories, thanks to playing as far back as 1901.) Here’s that deft backdoor cut that sealed an unforgettable win in Princeton lore. It practically made up for Princeton coming up just short on mighty Georgetown in 1989, when the No. 16-seeded Tigers almost made history.
Record since 1938-39: 1,425-885 | Regular-season titles: 22 NCAA Tournaments: 29 | Final Fours: 0 Weeks ranked: 134 | Top-60 NBA picks: 22 POINTS: 552.9
This is the team with the mascot who’s pulling off dunks from beyond the 3-point line without the help of a trampoline. Highest-ranked team without a Final Four — and the program with the most NCAA Tournament appearances (29) without a Final Four. BYU’s been good for a long time. A lesser-known fact: the school was really the first to dabble in international recruiting … all the way back in the 1950s. Danny Ainge (2,467 points) is the best player in school history but as you can see above, Brigham Young’s put 22 guys into the league in the top 60 picks of the past 70 years. They can recruit and develop pretty well out there in Utah. Here’s how different things used to be: Brigham Young won the 1951 NIT title before playing in the NCAA Tournament that same year. Under Stan Watts, BYU made the Elite Eight in 1950 and ’51, its only other run coming with Ainge in ’81. That run became famous and defined by Ainge’s coast-to-coast buzzer-beater over Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
The Cougars are placed so highly on this list thanks to two great coaches who combined for 37 seasons and 530 wins: Watts and Dave Rose. The Cougars made the NCAAs 15 times in those 37 seasons. Rose really kept BYU interesting for most of his time in Provo. Notable alumni include Greg Kite, Michael Smith, Shawn Bradley and Jimmer Fredette, the only other consensus All-American out of BYU (with Ainge) since 1931.
Record since 1938-39: 1,409-861 | Regular-season titles: 3 NCAA Tournaments: 33 | Final Fours: 3 Weeks ranked: 377 | Top-60 NBA picks: 32 POINTS: 577.2
Al McGuire coached MU for 13 seasons, from 1964-77. He won 295 games and pulled off the rare feat of winning a national championship — then opting to immediately retire. It’s an achievement duplicated only by John Wooden, who did it two years before McGuire. I’m not sure there’s another coach who was at a program fewer than 15 seasons but had more of an influence than McGuire’s touch on Marquette. A true American original. The man’s believed to be the first person to use the term “blue chip” in reference to an elite recruit and “zebra” when discussing an official. This is a school that was without a conference, by choice, until 1989 when it joined the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Marquette thrived that way.
It’s largely been an NCAA Tournament regular in the past 30 years, though an interesting factoid about Marquette is Rick Majerus coaching there for four seasons but failing to get the program to the NCAAs. Majerus was a basketball savant in his own right, but it’s Eddie Hickey, McGuire, Tom Crean and Buzz Wiliams who are most responsible for getting the Golden Eagles up to No. 35. Butch Lee is something of an overlooked college hoops great; he won NPOY in 1977-78 and is one of five consensus All-Americans: Dean Meminger, Jim Chones, Dwyane Wade and Markus Howard, who was recruited and developed by current coach Steve Wojciechowski. Wade was coached by Crean, who lifted the talented shooting guard out of obscurity and coached him into one of the best players in college basketball by March of 2003. The program has four more Elite Eights to its name on top of the three that included a run to the Final Four.
Record since 1938-39: 1,166-630 | Regular-season titles: 14 NCAA Tournaments: 26 | Final Fours: 3 Weeks ranked: 307 | Top-60 NBA picks: 33 POINTS: 584.7
Few American cities that have an NBA franchise and a university in its city limits put a clear-cut emphasis on the college team over the pro team. Memphis is a different place. The Tigers are still the biggest show in town, and probably always will be. That’s helped all the more currently given the fact that the most talented player in program history, Penny Hardaway, is now the coach. While Hardaway parlayed college stardom to being the No. 3 pick in the 1993 draft, Keith Lee (1981-85) owns the title of best player in school history. His 2,408 points and 1,336 rebounds are school records — he was objectively one of the 10 best college players of the 1980s, and keep in mind the 1980s was college basketball’s best decade.
The two players in Lee’s company as consensus All-Americans are Hardaway and Chris Douglas-Roberts. The program went mainstream again in the 2000s under the tutelage of John Calipari, who went 214-69 in nine seasons and was the most dominant coach in program history. Memphis was king of Conference USA when that conference was at its peak. The Tigers should have won the 2008 national championship, if only free throws had fallen. But the Dana Kirk-into-Larry Finch era from 1979-1997 are still for many reasons considered the glory days. Finch, who is still the program’s leader in points per game in a season (24.0), is as beloved as any Tiger figure in history. Finch, Hardaway, Lee, Derrick Rose, Douglas-Roberts, Rodney Carney and Lorenzen Wright are the best players in school history. Great history down in Memphis, and it goes beyond the music.
Record since 1938-39: 1,372-906 | Regular-season titles: 12 NCAA Tournaments: 32 | Final Fours: 5 Weeks ranked: 368 | Top-60 NBA picks: 28 POINTS: 589.8
Five Final Fours, two times a runner-up, 10 Sweet 16 showings, 144 wins over ranked teams and 10 top-10 NBA picks. I know Oklahoma football will forever be the rage in Norman, but the Sooners have built up a proud hoops history in their own right. And they’ve done this despite having only two 20-wins season prior to 1980. I only wish Billy Tubbs was still around to see this — the legendary Sooners headman died Nov. 1 at age 85. Tubbs coached Oklahoma form 1980-94 and adopted a wonderfully fun style of offense that led to nine NCAA showings in a 10-year run. He coached one of the best freshmen in college hoops history, Wayman Tisdale, and that ’87-88 team also had Stacey King, Harvey Grant and Mookie Blaylock on the way to an appearance in the NCAA title game.
Blaylock, King, Tisdale, Alvan Adams and Blake Griffin are the five players with honored jerseys at the Lloyd Noble Center. Griffin was the national player of the year in 2008-09 and guided OU to a No. 2 seed. I must mention Eduardo Nájera, who was one of the standout big men and undeniable rebounding greats of the Big 12 in the late 1990s. Tubbs, Kelvin Sampson, Jeff Capel and Lon Kruger have kept the Sooners in the NCAA Tournament conversation more than 80% of the time in the past 40 years. Boomer.
Record since 1938-39: 1,336-702 | Regular-season titles: 25 NCAA Tournaments: 22 | Final Fours: 1 Weeks ranked: 275 | Top-60 NBA picks: 15 POINTS: 598.5
How many schools can point to a singular moment as a jumping off point to national dominance? Gonzaga’s 1999 Sweet 16 win over Florida, pushing the 10th-seeded Bulldogs to the doorstep of the Final Four, is etched in college hoops lore. If this list was made 20 years back, Gonzaga doesn’t sniff the top 100. Now it’s 32nd. What a scaling for Mark Few, who is not alone responsible for this — but mostly responsible. He’s guided the Zags to national prominence (GU is the No. 1 team in college hoops preseason AP Top 25 for the first time ever) and has national title expectations on an almost-every-year basis now.
Surprising fact: Adam Morrison, who was co-winner of the 2005-06 NPOY honors, does not hold the school record for single-season scoring. Morrison’s 28.1 ppg that season did lead the nation, but in 1960-61 Frank Burgess was dropping 32.4 a night on fools’ heads. Amazingly, Burgess was not a consensus All-American. Neither was John Stockton. Dan Dickau, Morrison, Kelly Olynyk and Rui Hachimura were, though. The regular-season championships, the yearly dispatch of NBA players, the weekly guarantee of being in the polls — if anything it’s.a surprise Gonzaga hasn’t managed to make up enough ground to be inside the top 30. The Zags reside in a mid-major league but quite clearly are a top-20 program in college basketball in this era. Their standing will not change so long as Few is running the show. When we talk about the appeal, charm and objective of what college basketball can be, Gonzaga embodies that as well as any school.
Record since 1938-39: 1,390-923 | Regular-season titles: 6 NCAA Tournaments: 28 | Final Fours: 2 Weeks ranked: 431 | Top-60 NBA picks: 46 POINTS: 599.6
Maryland fans might argue their team should be higher, but the math is the math. The Terps are No. 13 in weekly AP Top appearances but 31st overall here due to a long residence in the ACC that led to many a battle lost with North Carolina, Duke and even NC State. No school has more AP Top 25 appearances (13th most in history) without earning a No. 1 ranking (high is No. 2). Twenty-eight NCAA appearances but just six league titles help tell that story. Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams turned Maryland into a nationally relevant outfit, with the best player in school history being Len Bias. Juan Dixon might as well be a 1B there; the two are joined by John Lucas and Joe Smith as consensus All-Americans.
Maryland’s made the Sweet 16 14 times but only been beyond that four times. It’s so often been good but plenty often but not quite good enough. In 2001-02, it was great. And it was a culmination. Back then Maryland had built itself up to be on even level with the best program in America: Duke. The Terps were knocked out of the 2001 Final Four and then came back better the next year and played to the script by winning the whole damn thing in ’02. Dixon, Chris Wilcox, Lonnie Baxter and Steve Blake became as legendary as other greats like Len Elmore, Buck Williams and the aforementioned consensus A-As. Maryland also has a great bit of hoops history in that Driesell was the coach who came up with the idea of midnight madness: a 12 a.m. practice that was officially allowed on the first day of the preseason. The practice has fallen out of favor in the past decade but in the 1980s and really into the 1990s it became a phenomenon that initiated the start of college hoops season. By the way, this is publishing on the day that would have been Bias’ 57th birthday.
Record since 1938-39: 1,117-492 | Regular-season titles: 12 NCAA Tournaments: 20 | Final Fours: 4 Weeks ranked: 257 | Top-60 NBA picks: 25 POINTS: 606.2
Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke: the only schools with a better all-time win percentage than UNLV, which only began playing D-I college basketball in 1969 and has won 69.4% of its games in the five decades since. These guys were the party crashers for their first two decades. What a thing that must have been to see come to fruition. The first Final Four came in ’77, then again in ’87, ’90 and ’91. The Runnin’ Rebels have been to the Sweet 16 10 times, won the 1990 national title and were two wins away from immortality in 1991, before Duke upset Jerry Tarkanian’s undefeated team in the national semis. The ’90 title-winning team remains the only school to ever score 100 in a Final Four game.
Tarkanian built a counterculture monster in the desert, recruiting the likes of Eddie Owens, Reggie Theus, Glen Gondrezick, Sidney Green, Armon Gilliam, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. That’s big-boy basketball. Some could argue college basketball was never greater than the late 1980s into the early 1990s, and UNLV was the greatest in that era. A Big West team that played an amoeba-defense style, ran you ragged and took joy in pasting teams by 40. Despite playing in the Big West until 1995-96, UNLV has amassed 72 wins over ranked opponents, thanks in part to top 25 schools being willing to schedule Tarkanian’s teams on the regular in the 1970s and 80s. These kinds of teams don’t exist in college basketball anymore. Tark won 509 games in 19 seasons at UNLV. He’ll probably never be supplanted as the greatest coach in school history.
Record since 1938-39: 1,379-845 | Regular-season titles: 12 NCAA Tournaments: 31 | Final Fours: 2 Weeks ranked: 370 | Top-60 NBA picks: 31 POINTS: 607
Purdue is one of the oldest programs in college basketball; it’s been playing since 1897 and has amassed 2,021 wins. It had 11 consensus All-Americans prior to 1938, one of which was a young lad named John Wooden. Purdue is also the school with the most Big Ten championships (24). It lacks that coveted NCAA Tournament championship, though. The Boilermakers’ two Final Four runs came in in 1969 and 1980, the first under George King and the second under Lee Rose, the irony of course being that the great Gene Keady, who coached Purdue from 1980 until 2005, never made it to college basketball’s biggest stage. The Boilermakers made only one NCAA Tournament from 1939-1976, but they’ve mostly been a March regular since.
Keady finished with 493 wins, but he’s going to be easily surpassed by Matt Painter so long as Painter wants to stay on at his alma mater for another decade. Purdue has made the NCAAs all but three seasons since Painter took the job in 2005. He’s 337-174 with four Sweet 16 finishes and a memorable Elite Eight run/loss to eventual 2019 champ Virginia. Great program with arguably a top-10 home-game environment in college hoops. Consensus All-Americans in the NCAA Tournament era: Terry Dischinger, Dave Schellhase, Rick Mount, Joe Barry Carroll, Glenn Robinson, JaJuan Johnson and Caleb Swanigan. (The must-see Carsen Edwards was Second Team in 2018-19.) Mount is indisputably the best player in school history, scoring 2,323 points and averaging 32.3 per game in three seasons. Purdue joins Maryland as the only schools to rank in the top 40 of all time AP Top 25 poll appearances but never get the No. 1 ranking.
Record since 1938-39: 1,363-910 | Regular-season titles: 17 NCAA Tournaments: 31 | Final Fours: 4 Weeks ranked: 220 | Top-60 NBA picks: 32 POINTS: 608.5
Maybe the strongest coaching genealogy that isn’t referenced enough. K-State’s been led by Jack Gardner, Tex Winter, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Jack Hartman, Lon Kruger, Dana Altman, Bob Huggins, Frank Martin and Bruce Weber. That’s good. From 1948-1996 the program never went more than five seasons without making the NCAA Tournament. Keep in mind that for the majority of that run the NCAA Tournament consisted of fewer than 48 teams and at-large bids were not a thing until the mid-1970s.
The Wildcats came closest to a title in 1951, under Gardner, before falling in the national championship game to Kentucky. K-State has seen its season end in the Elite Eight nine times, which matches rival Kansas for third most ever; Kentucky’s ended a regional final 21 times, UCLA 11. Only two consensus All-Americans among K-State’s 32 NBA picks: Bob Boozer (1958 and 1959) and Michael Beasley (2008) got it done. Other legends include Rolando Blackman, Mitch Richmond, Jacob Pullen, Chuckie Williams and Mike Evans. If you want a clear indication of how underrated/good a job Kansas State is, know this: the school’s had 11 coaches since 1946 and all but two of them won at least 55% of their games.
Record since 1938-39: 1,519-854 | Regular-season titles: 14 NCAA Tournaments: 29 | Final Fours: 2 Weeks ranked: 246 | Top-60 NBA picks: 23 POINTS: 619.6
No national championships, a mere two Final Four appearances and just three Elite Eight showings — but damn if WVU isn’t a distinguished outfit with some really interesting college hoops history. A basketball outpost and one of two D-I programs in its state, WVU is the school that produced the NBA logo, after all. Jerry West graduated from WVU in 1960 with 2,309 points and 1,240 rebounds to his name. They still stand as school records. West and “Hot Rod” Hundley are the two consensus All-Americans in ‘Eers history, with guys like Joe Alexander, Jevon Carter, Devin Ebanks, De’Sean Butler and Kevin Pittsnogle creating lasting legacies of their own in Morgantown.
John Beilein brought West Virginia to prominence in the 2000s, but long before him it was Fred Schaus, hwo coached for six seasons, and Gale Catlett for 24. Each of them are highly regarded are critical to the school’s history — but Bob Huggins, now in year 14, is as beloved as any person to come out of that program. Figures, as he’s an alum. WVU does own a 1942 NIT title, taking that crown at a time when the NIT was viewed as a superior tournament to the NCAAs. As local legend has it, that ’42 team almost missed its train for its first game. It was a different universe then. Country roads, take me home …
Record since 1938-39: 1,416-929 | Regular-season titles: 19 NCAA Tournaments: 34 | Final Fours: 3 Weeks ranked: 253 | Top-60 NBA picks: 32 POINTS: 622.8
Texas fans can thank Rick Barnes for pushing UT comfortably inside the top 30. Barnes is easily the best coach in school history, guiding the Horns from 1998-2015 and winning 402 games in 17 seasons with 16 NCAA Tournament bids in that span. He recruited Kevin Durant, Chris Mihm, T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin and Jordan Hamilton to the program. Texas made the 2003 Final Four and was in the Sweet 16 in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Before Barnes Texas was only occasionally good. Harold Bradley had a couple of tournament runs around the turn of the 1960s, Abe Lemons won an NIT title in ’78, Tom Penders got UT as a fledgling contender in the Big 8-to-Big 12.
The program has produced more top-10 picks (10) than players taken between No. 11 and No. 30 in the draft, which speaks to its penchant for drawing in elite talent to Austin. This is a job that is still considered top 10 in the industry, and this season Shaka Smart could have a breakthrough, as UT might have the most talented squad in the Big 12. I can only close with this: Shouts to Royal Ivey. One of the best guards and best defenders in school history. His 126 starts are a school record.