The Greatest College Basketball Team of All Time

The Greatest College Basketball Team

 

Rating the greatest college basketball teams ever has been done many times before, but never by treating every individual year independent of one another. They tend to lump the 1955-56 San Francisco Dons together, as well as the three Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) UCLA Bruin teams as one. There are major problems with that. In Alcindor’s senior year (1969) the Bruins had to replace three starters from the 1968 team. Those teams were not the same. The 1973 Bruin team had four of the same starters as the 1972 team. The one change? First Team All-American Guard Henry Bibby was replaced by Larry Hollyfield. They were not the same team. The 1973 team deserves the right to be rated independently of the 1972 team. This problem goes for all the back to back Champions. San Francisco in 1955 and 1956, Cincinnati in 1961 and 1962, Duke in 1991 and 1992, plus the ten different UCLA teams. Here we will judge each team independently. We’re looking at the best individual teams by seasons.

 

The Rules:

All teams listed had to win the NCAA Tournament Championship. This eliminates teams like the 1960-61, and 1961-62 Ohio State Buckeyes, the 1974-75 Indiana Hoosiers, the 1990-91 UNLV Running Rebels, 1996-97 Kansas Jayhawks as well as the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats. All of these teams were undefeated entering the tournament but didn’t win (The NCAA Tournament does not always reward the best team, for our look at that click here). This also eliminates the teams that didn’t play in the tournament for whatever reason: The 1953-54 Kentucky Wildcats or the 1972-73 North Carolina State Wolfpack.

 

The teams must win at least 90% of their games. This eliminates often cited teams such as the 1978-79 Michigan State Spartans who were 26-6, the 1989-90 UNLV “Running Rebels” who posted a 35-5 record. Winning 90% of your games seem to be a reasonable requirement.

 

The last factor is any team before the 1955 San Francisco Dons will not be rated. Subjectively we believe that those teams just couldn’t compete with the Champions that came later. This eliminates:1937-38 Temple Owls 23-2 NIT Champions, 1938-39 Long Island Blackbirds 23-0 NIT Champions,1942-43 Wyoming Cowboys 31-2, 1945-46 Oklahoma A&M Aggies 31-2, 1946-47 Holy Cross Crusaders 27-3, 1947-48 Kentucky Wildcats 36-3, 1948-49 Kentucky Wildcats 32-2, 1950-51 Kentucky Wildcats 32-2, 1951-52 Kansas Jayhawks 28-3. Now let’s get to it.

 

Teams in contention:

San Fran Dons

1954-55 San Francisco Dons

Coach: Phil Woolpert

Record: 28-1  .966

Avg. Score: 67.3-52.1     +15.2

West: West Texas A&M 89-66

West: Utah 78-59

West : Oregon St. 57-56

Semi-Finals: Colorado 62-50

Finals: LaSalle 77-63

Bill Russell was a monster; averaging 21.4 Points and 20.5 Rebounds. Jerry Mullen and K.C. Jones were also double-digit scores. They were only 6’ 9”, 6’5”, and 6’3” up front. Still they out-rebounded opponents by more than 13 a game. Oregon State gave them quite a game in the Regional Finals, but they cruised to two easy wins in the Final Four. This team was the best team up until this time, but San Francisco would be even better in 1956.

Bill Russell

1955-56 San Francisco Dons

Coach: Phil Woolpert

Record: 29-0  1.000

Avg. Score: 72.2-52.2     +20

Far West: UCLA 72-61

Far West: Utah 92-77

Semi-Finals: SMU 86-68

Finals: Iowa 83-71

Russell and Jones were still there. They were joined by Point Guard Hal Perry and forwards Carl Boldt and Mike Farmer. This team was bigger and better than the previous season. This was the first undefeated National Champion and completely dominated the field. Average winning margin in the tournament was 14. Russell could handle any big man either before or after, but the rest of team was small and not very fast. K.C. Jones could match up well with most of the later guards, but unsure they could handle UCLA’s Press. This team’s in the conversation for Best Ever.

North Carolina 1957

1956-57 North Carolina Tar Heals

Coach: Frank McGuire

Record: 32-0 1.000

Avg. Score: 79.3-65.6      +13.7

East: Yale 90-74

East: Canisius 87-75

East: Syracuse 67-58

Semi-Finals: Michigan St. 74-70 3 OTs

Finals: Kansas 54-53 3OTs

Well balanced team; Forwards Lennie Rosenbluth and Pete Brennan were both double digit scorers and rebounders. Tar Heals won triple overtime games on consecutive nights in the Finals; beating Michigan St. on Friday, then Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks in the Final on Saturday. Not an overwhelming team, but always found a way to win. Their win over Kansas shows they could handle a big man. Probably not as good as Bill Russell’s San Francisco Dons. It would be hard to pick against them if they could keep it close. Not sure they could keep it close against later squads.

1960 Cinncinati Basketball

1960-61 Cincinnati Bearcats

Coach: Ed Jucker

Record: 27-3 .900

Avg. Score: 75-60.8       +14.2

Midwest: Texas Tech 78-55

Midwest: Kansas St. 69-64

Semi-Finals: Utah 82-67

Finals: Ohio St 70-65 OT

Oscar Robertson was not on this team. He left for the NBA two years earlier. Led up front by Paul Hogue and Bob Wiesenhahn the Bearcats upset the previously undefeated Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek led Ohio State Buckeyes in the Championship Game.

 

1961-62 Cincinnati Bearcats

Coach: Ed Jucker

Record: 29-2 .935

Avg. Score: 71.7-54.8      +16.9

Midwest: Creighton 66-46

Midwest: Colorado 73-46

Semi-Final: UCLA 72-70

Final: Ohio St. 71-59

Ohio State doesn’t make it on the list because Cincinnati kept beating them in the Finals. That says a lot about the Bearcats that they could handle this Buckeye team. Wiesenhahn was gone, but Hogue was joined up front by Ron Bonham and Tom Thatcher. Ed Jucker is a very underrated coach; lost in the adulation given to John Wooden in the coming years. Still hard to believe they beat that Ohio State team twice in a row in the Finals.

Loyala Chicago 1963 basketball

1962-63 Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Coach: George Ireland

Record: 29-2 .935

Avg. Score: 91.8-68.1    +23.7

Mideast: Tennessee Tech 111-42

Mideast: Mississippi St. 61-51

Mideast: Illinois 79-64

Semi-Final: Duke 94-75

Final: Cincinnati 60-58 OT

This is a very underrated team. Jerry Harkness and Les Hunter led a relatively small but potent offense. Their overtime win over two-time defending champion Cincinnati seems to be largely forgotten. They rolled through the tournament beating the #1, #2, #6, and #8 ranked teams along the way. Has any other team had such a brutal trek? Only the win over Cincinnati was close. They played a weak regular season schedule, so going into NCAAs they were a bit of a mystery team. Everything was about to change, this was the last Championship before Wooden started his run. Doubtful they could handle any of the UCLA Teams.

John Wooden.jpg

1963-64 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 30-0 1.000

Avg.Score: 88.9-70.1   +18.8

West: Seattle 95-90

West: San Francisco 76-72

Semi-Finals: Kansas St. 90-84

Finals: Duke 98-83

Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich were the best pair of guards ever. They had no starter over 6’5”, but were incredibly fast. The UCLA Press was probably the most significant strategic move ever implemented, and Wooden had the perfect personnel to spring it. Keith Erickson’s athletic ability was devastating preventing long passes. Hardest team to rate. It all depends on how opponents handled the constant pressure. Nobody in 1964 could do it for 40 minutes. The explosion eventually came. They did struggle in the first three rounds of the tournament before destroying Duke in the Final (read the story of that game here). Goodrich is in the Hall of Fame, Hazzard and Erickson were quality players in the NBA for many years. Hard to keep them out of the Top Ten.

Gail Goodrich
Gail Goodrich

1964-65 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 28-2 .933

Avg. Score: 86.3-71.3      +15

West: BYU 100-76

West: San Francisco 101-93

Semi-Finals: Wichita St. 108-89

Finals: Michigan 91-80

Only Goodrich and Erickson remained from starting line-up of previous year. They got blown out in the season opener against Illinois, later lost to Iowa in Chicago. By the end of the season they were hitting on all cylinders. Completely dominated the NCAA tournament, culminating in a route of #1 Ranked Michigan in the Final, where Goodrich poured in a record 42 points. The season was not as successful as the 1963-64 campaign, due to the two losses, but at the end of the season they might have been better.

Texas Western 1966

1965-66 Texas Western Miners

Coach: Don Haskins

Record: 28-1 .966

Avg. Score: 77.8-66.2   +12.6

Midwest: Oklahoma City 89-74

Midwest: Cincinnati 78-76 2OTs

Midwest: Kansas 81-80 2OTs

Semi-Final: Utah 85-78

Final: Kentucky 72-65

Probably the most important win in NCAA Tournament History. Don Haskins never claimed to be a crusader, insisted he just started his five best players. His five best players all happened to by black. Making his all black starting line-up the first in NCAA’s. They would face off against the all-white Kentucky team in the Finals. As to how the Miners would fare against the other teams listed is probably not very well. Their average margin of victory was only 12.6, considering their schedule that is not very impressive. The Miner’s tournament journey was exciting, but not overwhelming. Two double overtime wins in the Midwest Regional, and then two seven-point triumphs in the Final Four. Great teams do not have a string of thrilling wins through the tournament. Loyola in 1963 was better, so were the 61-62 Cincinnati Bearcats. No player on Texas Western went on to have a significant impact in the NBA. A team to be celebrated, a legitimate National Champion, but one of the weaker basketball teams listed.

Lew Alcindar UCLA
Lew Alcindor

1966-67 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 30-0 1.000

Avg. Score: 89.6-63.7     +25.9

West: Wyoming 109-60

West: Pacific 80-64

Semi-Final: Houston 73-58

Finals: Dayton 79-64

This is Lew Alcindor’s (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) Sophomore Year. 30-0 with an average winning margin of almost 26 PPG. Only one close game (an overtime win over USC), Mike Warren and Lucius Allen were as good as any pair of guards ever on one team. If they had a weakness it was at forward. Lynn Shackleford and Kenny Heitz were only 6’5” and 6’3” respectively, but Shackleford had a devasting outside shot, and Heitz was a demon on defense. Tell me they were the best College Basketball Team ever, you would get no argument.

UCLA 1968.jpeg

1967-68 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 29-1 .967

Avg. Score: 93.4-67.2      +26.2

West: New Mexico St. 58-49

West: Santa Clara 87-66

Semi-Final: Houston 101-69

Final: North Carolina 78-55

Year Two of Alcindor. UCLA’s entire starting line-up returned. They added forward Mike Lynn, thus driving Kenny Heitz to the bench. They opened the season with a last second win at Purdue. Nobody else came within 28 points of them until Big Lew was injured on January 12th. Alcindor missed the next two games with a scratched retina, UCLA won both games without him. He returned for the much-anticipated showdown with the undefeated and #2 ranked Houston Cougars. In the Astrodome before 52,000 fans and a national television audience the Cougars prevailed 71-69. Houston replaced them as #1. Elvin Hayes was Player of the Year. They would meet again in the National Semi-Finals. In a game described by Houston Coach Guy Lewis as “That’s the greatest exhibition of basketball I’ve ever seen.” UCLA annihilated Houston, leading by as many as 44 in the second half. They then cruised past North Carolina by a then record 23 points in the Final. Despite the loss to Houston this team had a higher average win margin than the 1966-67 Team. Their walk through the tournament was unprecedented, winning by an average of 21.3 PPG and 27.5 in the Final Four! The two teams they beat were ranked #1 and #4 in the country. This UCLA Team is the standard bearer for all the others to be judged against.

Alcindor and Wooden

1968-69 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 29-1 .967

Avg. Score: 84.7-63.8   +20.9

West: New Mexico St. 53-38

West: Santa Clara 90-52

Semi-Final: Drake 85-82

Final: Purdue 92-72

Alcindor returned for his Senior Year, but Warren, Allen, and Lynn were gone. With Shackleford and Sophomore Curtis Rowe, the forward position was about the same, however the guard play really suffered. They lost in the last game of the regular season to USC. But were still big favorites in the tournament, but their inability to handle defensive pressure almost cost them in the National Semi-Final when they barely survived against unheralded Drake. Alcindor finished his career with a 37-point effort in a 20-point drubbing of Purdue. Due to sub-par guards, this was the weakest of the Alcindor team.

 

 

1969-70 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 28-2  .933

Avg. Score: 92-73.4 .    +18.6

West: Long Beach St. 88-65

West: Utah St. 101-79

Semi-Final: New Mexico St. 93-77

Final: Jacksonville 80-69

The years between Alcindor and Walton. The Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe Years. Wooden never had a better pair of forwards on the same team. Along with Center Steve Patterson they were ruthless on the boards. The backcourt was adequate with John Vallely and Sophomore Henry Bibby. Their run through the tournament was very impressive. Not sure they had the guards to deal with full court press of the Goodrich, Erickson Teams, nor would they be any match for any of the Alcindor Teams. Still, a worthy National Champion.

 

1970-71 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 29-1 .967

Avg. Score: 83.5-68.5   +15

West: BYU 91-73

West: Long Beach St. 57-55

Semi-Final: Kansas 68-60

Final: Villanova 68-62

Four starters returned, only Vallely missing. Despite their record this squad struggled. They had many close games during the regular season, barely survived in the Regional Final against Long Beach State. Two unimpressive wins in the Final Four. Another worthy Champion, but not in the same league as the UCLA teams that preceded it or the one that would follow.

Bill Walton UCA

1971-72 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 30-0 1.000

Avg. Score: 94.6-64.3     +30.3

West: Weber St. 90-58

West: Long Beach St. 73-57

Semi-Final: Louisville 96-77

Final: Florida St. 81-76

The Walton Gang, winner of 60 games in a row.  Henry Bibby, Greg Lee at guard, Keith (Jamaal) Wilkes and Larry Farmer up front, with Bill Walton in the middle. Swen Nater , who had an eleven year ABA/NBA career rarely played. This team scored over a hundred points in their first seven games and twelve times during the season. 30-point game differential is the largest ever. There were only two games won by less than 13 points (Oregon State 78-72, Florida State 81-76). Walton and Wilkes are in the Hall of Fame, Bibby was a first team All-American followed by ten years in the NBA. UCLA beat 3 top ten teams in their route to the title.

Is this the Greatest College Basketball Team ever? Russell’s San Francisco Dons? Russell could play Walton to a draw, K.C. Jones against Henry Bibby would be a nice match-up, but the rest of the Dons couldn’t compete. UCLA 1963-64? Hazzard and Goodrich would outplay Bibby and Lee, but Walton, Wilkes and Farmer would have dominated the glass. Which one of the 6’5” guys could stop Walton? 1967-68 Bruins? This is the test. Warren and Allen were better than this teams Bibby and Lee. At forward, Lynn against Farmer would probably be a draw, Wilkes was better than Shackleford so it comes down to Walton and Alcindor. Bill Walton was the second-best College Player in history…Lew Alcindor was the best!

Walton and Wooden

1972-73 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 30-0 1.000

Avg. Score: 81.3-60.1   +21.2

West: Arizona St. 98-81

West: San Francisco 54-39

Semi-Final: Indiana 70-59

Final: Memphis St 87-66

Average win margin dropped to just over 21 PPG. Their run through the tournament was impressive, with only Indiana giving them an interesting match. The destruction of Memphis State in the Finals was led by Walton’s record 44 points (21 for 22 from the field). Great Teams are not judged by close games, because they have very few of them. This team’s narrowest victory was six points. Without Bibby their guard play suffered. For that reason alone, they are not as good as the year before. Still a dominant team.

UCla vs NC State

1973-74 North Carolina State

Coach: Norm Sloan

Record: 30-1 .968

Avg. Score: 91.4-74.7   +16.7

East: Providence 92-78

East: Pittsburgh 100-72

Semi-Final: UCLA 80-77 2 OTs

Final: Marquette 76-64

The team that ended UCLA’s run. Their only loss was to #2 Bruins. They beat 4th ranked Maryland three times. They had the toughest schedule in the country, this explains the low 16.7 average win margin. David Thompson should have won College Player of the Year Award. This team is hard to place. Doubt that they were the best team that year, splitting with UCLA; losing by 18 on a neutral court and then winning in double overtime in Greensboro, North Carolina (Read about this rivalry here). UCLA had the 2nd best strength of schedule with a better average winning margin, just under 20 a game. If they weren’t better than the 1974 Bruins, who were the weakest Wooden Team since 1965-66, then they would have trouble with the other UCLA Championship Teams.

 

1974-75 UCLA Bruins

Coach: John Wooden

Record: 28-3 .903

Avg. Score: 84.7-72.2  +12.5

West: Michigan 103-91 OT

West: Montana 67-64

West: Arizona St. 89-75

Semi-Final: Louisville 75-74

Final: Kentucky 92-85

The weakest of John Wooden’s Championship Teams. Led by an imposing front line of Richard Washington, Marques Johnson, and Dave Meyers they could go to the boards with anybody, but their guard play was only average, and they weren’t very deep. Their run through the tournament was exciting, starting with an overtime win over Michigan, followed by a narrow victory over Montana (Montana?). The Semi-Final win over Louisville was a classic, however great teams are not known for their thrilling wins, they’re known for blowing people out. They were NOT the best team in College Basketball in 1975, Indiana was. This was John Wooden’s final season and one of his best coaching achievements.

Bobby Knight 1975.jpeg

1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers

Coach: Bobby Knight

Record: 32-0 1.000

Avg. Score: 82.1-64.8   +17.3

Mideast: St. John’s 90-70

Mideast: Alabama 74-69

Mideast: Marquette 65-56

Semi-Final: UCLA 65-51

Final: Michigan 86-68

Last undefeated National Champion. The starting five was solid, Kent Benson at center was a physical presence in the middle, forward Scott May was the leading scorer and team leader, Tom Abernathy had the ability to clamp down on the other teams big scorer. Point guard Quinn Buckner set the offense, with 6’7” off guard Bob Wilkerson a handful on both sides of the ball for smaller guards. Bobby Knight was a great coach. This team dominated the Final Four, shutting down the defending Champion UCLA Bruins on Saturday, then coming back from a 5-point halftime deficit to crush Michigan in the Final on Monday. This team is in the conversation as the best ever.

 

Compared to other undefeated NCAA Champions; they were clearly better than North Carolina, bigger, faster, better coached. San Francisco vs Indiana would be an interesting match-up. Bill Russell would be by far the best player on the court and would probably shut down the Hoosiers inside game. The size advantage for Indiana at all positions would probably wear down the Dons. It wouldn’t be a blow-out, but Indiana probably wins.

 

1964 UCLA would have a similar problem dealing with Indiana’s size up front, but that Bruin Team presents problems for Indiana that they never faced. Goodrich and Hazzard were clearly superior to Indiana’s Buckner and Wilkerson. UCLA would be faster and more athletic at every position. Ultimately it comes down to whether Indiana could handle the UCLA Press. Bobby Knight was a great coach, second only to John Wooden, could he devise a way to consistently break the full court pressure? This would be a very interesting game that comes down to tempo.

 

As far as Indiana against the 1967, 1968, 1972, and 1973 Bruin Teams, they would have major problems. The Hoosiers were not better than those teams at either the guard or forward positions (maybe better at guard over the 1973 team, but weaker at forward). Then it comes down to Benson against Alcindor or Walton…sorry Hoosier fans, but that’s not a contest.

1978 Kentucky Wildcats

1977-78 Kentucky Wildcats 

Coach: Joe B. Hall

Record: 30-2 .938

Avg. Score: 84.2-69.8    +14.4

Mideast: Florida St. 85-76

Mideast: Miami(OH) 91-69

1979,1980Mideast: Michigan St. 52-49

Semi-Final: Arkansas 64-59

Final: Duke 94-88

First Kentucky triumph since Adoph Rupp’s surprise win in 1958. They seemed to always enter the tournament as on of the favorites and then fall short. Jack Givens and Rick Robey were still there from the team that lost to UCLA in the 1975 Final. They were joined by Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips. This was a big, physical team, with a capable scorer in Jack Givens (he scored 41 points in the Championship Game). This was a solid team, clearly the best team in the country. Wouldn’t fare well against the better teams listed. Too slow, also not able to match up with star players. Don’t think anybody on the team could start for the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers (was Jack Givens better than Scott May?).

 

1979-80 Louisville Cardinals

Coach: Denny Crum

Record: 33-3 .917

Avg. Score: 76.9-60.6   +10.2

Midwest: Kansas St. 71-69

Midwest: Texas A&M  66-55

Midwest: LSU 86-66

Semi-Final: Iowa 80-72

Final: UCLA 59-54

Darrell Griffith won the Wooden Award as College Basketball’s best player. Glad to see one of Denny Crum’s Teams make the list. He’s on the short list for 3rd best coach on teams listed (behind his mentor Wooden and Bobby Knight). This team was small, but fast. They put a lot of pressure on the ball. Teams listed who didn’t have good guards would struggle with this squad. Cardinals would have lots of trouble with a big team with good guards, or a team who could match their team speed. Unfortunately, all the better teams didn’t make it to Final Four that year, so they only had to beat so-so Iowa and unqualified UCLA in the Finals. They struggled with both. This team would lose to most teams listed.

Dean SMith
Dean Smith

1981-82 North Carolina Tar Heals

Coach: Dean Smith

Record: 32-2 .941

Avg. Score: 66.7-55.4   +11.3

East: James Madison 52-50

East: Alabama 74-69

East: Villanova 70-60

Semi-Final: Houston 68-63

Final: Georgetown 63-62

This team has been listed as one of the greatest of all time for many years. Great players, great coach. Two NBA Hall of Famers (Michael Jordan, James Worthy), other top players (Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty). The numbers just don’t support the accolades. Look at their average margin of victory (11.3). This is one of the weakest in this group, no where near the numbers of Wooden’s Alcindor or Walton Teams. It doesn’t match Wooden’s other Championship Teams either (his weakest was 12.5 in 1975). Then look at North Carolina’s run through the Tournament. They barely beat James Madison. Biggest margin was ten points. Their won-loss record is just so-so for this group. Okay, they were better than the 1979-80 Louisville Cardinals, but probably not better than the 1983-84 Georgetown Hoyas. They had problems with Patrick Ewing in the Title Game in 1982. Ewing was only a Freshman. If they couldn’t handle Ewing, what would Russell, Alcindor or Walton have done to them. The most over-rated team on this list.

Patrick Ewing Georgetown.jpg

1983-84 Georgetown Hoyas

Coach: John Thompson

Record: 34-3 .919

Avg. Score: 72.9-59.9   +13

West: SMU 37-36

West: UNLV 62-48

West: Dayton 61-49

Semi-Final: Kentucky 53-40

Final: Houston 84-75

Very impressive win over Hakeem Olajuwan’s Houston Cougars in Finals. Patrick Ewing is one of the best big men listed. This was probably the best defensive team ever. They struggled against SMU in the opening round, won 37-36 in Pullman, Washington (that must have been a thrilling game). The rest of the way was a breeze, beating two quality opponents at the end convincingly. The three losses are a concern, but this team was probably the best team between 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers and 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats. Not sure how they would do with Wooden’s squads. The 1963-64 Bruin Team was just as fast and their guards and could handle the Hoya’s pressure. Georgetown would have problems with the UCLA Press. If they could get the ball to Ewing those Bruins had nobody to stop him. However, the Alcindor and Walton Teams could beat them convincingly. Both had guards that could beat the trap, and both were significantly better up front.

Coach K and Christian Laettner

1991-92 Duke Blue Devils 34-2

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Record: 34-2 .944

Avg. Score: 88-73.5   +14.5

East: Campbell 82-56

East: Iowa 75-62

East: Seton Hall 81-69

East: Kentucky 104-103 OT

Semi-Final: Indiana 81-78

Final: Michigan 71-51

Second of back to back titles for Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils. Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley were a formidable twosome. Grant Hill was a Sophomore coming into his own. This team in 1991 prevented UNLV from joining this list. That UNLV team was probably the best team since the expansion of the tournament and Duke knocked them out.  How good were they? They were deep and good, had many upper classmen, which was very unusual at the time. A little troubled by their unbelievable win over Kentucky in the Regional Finals. The best teams in College Basketball do not have thrilling wins. Average win margin is not very impressive either. Their lack of a true big man would hurt them against Russell, Alcindor, Walton, and Ewing. Probably not as good as the middle 1980s Georgetown Hoyas.

 

1993-94 Arkansas Razorbacks 

Coach: Nolan Richardson

Record: 31-3 .912

Avg. Score: 92.3-75.9   +16.4

Midwest: North Carolina A&T 94-79

Midwest: Georgetown 85-73

Midwest: Tulsa 103-84

Midwest: Michigan 76-68

Semi-Final: Arizona 91-82

Final: Duke 76-72

“40 minutes of hell” as Nolan Richardson described it. Constant defensive pressure encompassing the entire court creating havoc for any offense. The Razorback’s big three of Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck and Scotty Thurman led the attack. This was a team that played an unorthodox frantic style. If a team was unprepared they could be out of it quickly. How would this style fair against the best teams ever? Depends…Any team with good veteran guards would break them down. The following year they played a very disciplined UCLA team in the Finals and were beaten decisively. This would be a problem for Arkansas in this higher league. The Razorbacks were a better team in 1994 than 1995, but the point is important. The well coached teams would adjust quickly, and Arkansas would have to change their style. Not sure they could successfully.

 

1994-95 UCLA Bruins

Coach: Jim Harrick

Record: 31-2 .939

Avg. Score: 87.5-73.9   +13.6

West: Florida International 92-56

West: Missouri 75-74

West: Mississippi St. 86-67

West: Connecticut 102-96

Semi-Final: Oklahoma St. 74-61

Final: Arkansas 89-78

The Bruins only Championship outside the Wooden era. It is interesting that all 11 UCLA Titles were with quality teams. The worst record was the 1974-75 28-3 squad. They all meet the criteria to be rated. This one was no different. They entered the tournament ranked #1, and were also the #1 overall seed as determined by “The Committee”. Ed O’bannon was College Basketball Player of the Year, Tyus Edney may have been the best point guard. Except for Edney’s mad dash to save them against Missouri in the second round they really weren’t challenged. Official records show them with a 32-1 record, but they were really 31-2 (a loss to Cal was later forfeited to them due to NCAA Sanctions). How good were they? The win against Arkansas without Edney proved that they could handle pressure, they were also very deep. Just don’t think their front line talent was good enough. Zidek at center was just a big body. The top-flight centers would have had their way with him. Somewhere in the middle of the teams listed.

Rick Pitino

1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats

Coach: Rick Pitino

Record: 34-2 .944

Avg. Score: 91.4-69.4   +22

Midwest: San Jose St. 110-72

Midwest: Virginia Tech 84-60

Midwest: Utah 101-70

Midwest: Wake Forrest 83-63

Semi-Final: Massachusetts 81-74

Final: Syracuse 76-67

A very deep, well coached team. Rick Pitino just kept throwing bodies at opponents, wearing them down. The bodies were all Five Star Recruits, Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Ron Mercer, Anthony Epps, Nazr Mohammed, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Mark Pope, Jeff Sheppard were all quality players. Never has a team had so many good players and Pitino substituted constantly, always having fresh legs on the court. This would be a tough team for anybody to face. Their average score margin was 22 points, the largest since UCLA in 1971-72, the 4th highest of teams listed. Their run through the NCAA’s was impressive, with only UMass staying close. This was one of the modern teams that could play with any team on the list. Still think they would have trouble with teams with quality guards and talented big men. Do the Alcindor and Walton Teams come to mind? The games wouldn’t be a mismatch, but the UCLA teams would prevail.

 

1998-99 Connecticut Huskies

Coach: Jim Calhoun

Record: 34-2 .944

Avg. Score: 77.2-61.3   +15.9

West: Texas San Antonio 91-66

West: New Mexico 78-56

West: Iowa 78-68

West: Gonzaga 67-62

Semi-Final: Ohio St. 64-58

Final: Duke 77-74

Upset 37-1 Duke in the Championship Game. Richard Hamilton was the star, averaging over 20 PPG. Another indication of the slippage in quality of NCAA Basketball. This team would have trouble staying in the game with any of the pre-1990 Champions. The 1994-95 Bruins and the 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats would have also handled them easily. One of the weakest teams on this list.

Kansas Bill Self

2007-08 Kansas Jayhawks

Coach: Bill Self

Record: 37-3 .925

Avg. Score: 80.5-61.5   +19

Midwest: Portland St. 85-61

Midwest: UNLV 75-56

Midwest: Villanova 72-57

Midwest: Davidson 59-57

Semi-Final: North Carolina 84-66

Final: Memphis 75-68 OT

Won the Final Four the only time all #1 seeds made it. Clobbered North Carolina in the semis, then beat an excellent Memphis team in the Final in one of the great games in tournament history. Average win margin is an impressive 19 per game, exceptional when you consider their schedule and the fact they suffered three losses. Going into the Final weekend they were considered the weakest of the four. Don’t think that was deserved that only Memphis had a better resume. Guard combo of Mario Chambers and Brandon Rush could match up with any team listed, on top of that they were both juniors. Not particularly big, would struggle against a quality big man. A deserving National Champion. A team not out of place on this list.

2011 Kentucky

2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats

Coach: John Calipari

Record: 38-2 .950

Avg. Score: 77.4-60.6   +16.8

South: Western Kentucky 81-66

South: Iowa St. 87-71

South: Indiana 102-90

South: Baylor 82-70

Semi-Final: Louisville 69-61

Final: Kansas 67-59

Anthony Davis was the best big man listed since Patrick Ewing. John Calipari is a master at managing one and done teams. This team was very good, rolled through the NCAA Tournament. Look at the roster, all Freshman and Sophomores. If he could have kept them together they would have challenged the greatest college basketball teams ever. Obviously he couldn’t. Davis is a dominant Center, but even now not as good as Russell, Alcindor, or Ewing were. An experienced squad with a good big man would carve them up; however, it would be fun to watch them challenge the top teams of the past.

 

Notes

 

Why are there so many teams in the 1960-1980 era?  These were teams, in the sense they were together for more than one year. Before 1960 College Basketball was not fully developed. Too many schools wouldn’t recruit black players. It wasn’t until 1970 that the ACC was fully integrated, the SEC joined them a few years later. North Carolina in 1957 is the only team on the list not integrated. It’s not a coincidence that the San Francisco, Cincinnati, and UCLA Teams were so dominate. They would recruit black players on a routine basis. Of course, the lessons of Loyola of Chicago and Texas Western were undeniable.

 

Due to the rules at the time, the best 20 to 22-year old players were still competing in college until the rise of the ABA in 1967. You could make a pretty good case that Lew Alcindor was the best basketball player in the world while he was playing for UCLA. Bill Walton was in the top ten. You can’t say that any more. The best 20 to 22-year old players now turn pro. This might work for the NBA, but it is a disaster for College Basketball.

 

Last reason is the growth of the post season tournaments. The conference tournaments only mean losses for the best teams in the bigger conferences. Take this year…Will anybody remember that Virginia won the ACC Regular Season and Conference Tournament Championships? No; only that they went out in the first round of the NCAAs. If Duke wins the title Virginia will be quickly forgotten. Duke obviously is not one of the great teams of all time, even if they win. This didn’t happen before 1980; only the best teams made the NCAA Tournament, we examine that more fully here.

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