College Basketball: Ranking the Last 15 National Champions

Andrew SmithContributor IJanuary 13, 2012

College Basketball: Ranking the Last 15 National Champions

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    Perhaps the most distinguishable characteristic about college basketball when compared to other sports is that its athletes have only four years maximum to accomplish what every kid dreams of doing: winning a national championship. 

    In professional sports, athletes seemingly get an endless number of mulligans and do-overs on their quest for a championship, but college basketball is not so forgiving. Even the most elite programs go through national championship droughts which can span for decades. 

    However, this elusiveness immortalizes college basketball's national champions in an incomparable way to any other sport. As a result of the constant upheaval of championship team rosters due to graduation and players leaving early for the NBA, very rarely does a national champion get the chance to defend its title with the same team it had the year prior.

    Thus, we are left to wonder how, for instance, the 2003 Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse team would have fared against the 2004 UConn team that was anchored by Emeka Okafor. Or how the 2001 Duke team that was led by Jason Williams would deal with the overwhelming size of the 2007 Florida team.

    In college basketball, a champion is truly a champion forever, never to be challenged again and leaving fans curious as to how certain championship teams stack up with others. Alas, that is why I am comprising this list. To rank the best of the best, the Champions Poll, if you will.

15. Duke (2010)

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    Team

    The Blue Devils finished their regular season schedule with a 24-5 (13-3) record and were ACC regular season co-championsDuke was led by senior sharpshooter Jon Scheyer (18.2 PPG), and two terrific juniors in Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.  Behind this triumvirate, Duke steamrolled through the ACC Tournament, entering the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament with a 27-5 record, yet questions remained about their viability as a championship contender.

    Most of the questions surrounded Duke's enigmatic front court, anchored by Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas.  Zoubek led the Blue Devils in rebounding throughout the season, yet he was a unathletic big man who had underachieved throughout his career, and many pundits felt  he, and the rest of Duke's front court (including underclassmen Miles and Mason Plumlee), would be exposed in the NCAA Tournament.

     

    Tournament Run

    The Blue Devils entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the South bracket. Duke made easy work of their first three tournament opponents, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, California, and Purdue, winning by an average margin of 20 PPG. As Duke entered its Elite Eight matchup against supremely talented Baylor, many people thought the Blue Devils' tournament run was about to come to an end. 

    Baylor had just the team that analysts speculated would give Duke problems—a team with superior front court size and depth. However the much maligned Duke front court outrebounded Baylor and Nolan Smith went off for 29 points in a 78-71 win for the Blue Devils.

    In the Final Four, Duke routed Bob Huggins' West Virginia team after star forward DeSean Butler tore his ACL in the second half. This set up a National Championship game between Duke and Butler.  Despite Butler's unprecedented run to the title game, no one gave Butler much of a chance against Duke.

    Yet, the game was close throughout and Gordon Hayward rattled a half-court shot in-and-out at the buzzer that would have won the national title for the Bulldogs. Instead, Duke won the game 61-59 and gave Coach K his fourth championship.

     

    How They Stack Up

    While the Zoubek and Thomas front court performed admirably in the tournament given their talent-level, virtually every other championship team of the past 15 years would have had a definitive advantage over Duke on the glass and in the post going up against that front court. Further, this version of the Blue Devils lacked in athleticism, with no real NBA talent to speak of. 

    Simply put, this team had three very good players and then not much else. If one of Duke's big three had an off night, it put Duke in a precarious position that other championship teams would be able to exploit. However, Duke got away with their lack of depth in the tournament due to a couple of fortunate upsets (most notably West Virginia beating a superior Kentucky team in the Elite Eight) and due to the fact that 2010 happened to be somewhat of a down year for college basketball from a talent standpoint.

14. UConn (2011)

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    Team

    At the start of the season, many anticipated that the 2010-2011 season would be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the young Huskies. What was not anticipated, however, was the impact that freshman Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier would have on the team.

    Lamb averaged 11 PPG and 4.5 RPG in his freshman campaign, and while Napier did not put up gaudy numbers, he showed a flair for the dramatic as he routinely made big plays for the Huskies late in big games. Lamb and Napier also had the privilege to play alongside All-American Kemba Walker, who elevated his game to new levels in 2010-2011, averaging 23.5 PPG. 5.4 RPG, and 4.5 APG. 

    The Huskies also had an underrated front court, as Alex Oriakhi (9.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG) began to blossom under Jim Calhoun. Regardless, UConn ran into problems throughout Big East play, and finished the regular season Big East schedule with an unimpressive 9-9 record. 

    Prior to the Big East tournament, UConn was likely looking at an 8-9 NCAA tournament seed, and maybe even bubble talk if they couldn't win at least one game in the Big East tournament. Fortunately for the Huskies, however, Kemba Walker led the Huskies on one of the most memorable Big East tournament runs in history, leading the Huskies to five wins in five days  and the Big East crown.  The run catapulted the Huskies to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and popular Final Four pick in many people's brackets.

     

    Tournament Run

    The Huskies carried over the positive momentum from their Big East tournament run to the NCAA Tournament, as they disposed of Bucknell, Cincinnati and San Diego St. with relative ease in the first three rounds. 

    Then, in the Elite 8, UConn won a nail-biter against a tough Arizona team that was fresh off an upset win over Duke. The Huskies beat the Wildcats 65-63, though, as Kemba and Lamb combined for 39 points. The win over Arizona set UConn up for a battle with another Wildcats team—the Kentucky Wildcats. 

    In a rematch of the Maui Invitational final all the way back in November. UConn narrowly escaped defeat against the talented Wildcats, winning 56-55 behind Kemba's 18 points and Lamb's 12. The win over Kentucky pitted UConn against Butler in the National Championship game. 

    At this point, UConn was riding a 10-game postseason win streak (dating back to the Big East tournament), and Butler was appearing in its second National Championship game in as many years, thus it seemed as though it could go either way. 

    What followed was one of the ugliest NCAA Championship games in NCAA history, as UConn held Butler to 18 percent shooting—although shot only 34 percent themselves—and won its third NCAA title by the score of 53-41.

     

    How They Stack Up

    This was an extremely flawed UConn team, and easily the least talented of their three NCAA Championshp teams (1999 and 2004 being the other two). Kemba was the only true scorer for the Huskies, and if he had an off night then the Huskies could lose to just about anyone. 

    Further, Oriakhi was often prone to foul problems, and without him on the court, UConn was left with a pretty weak front line. Backup big men Charles Okwondu and Tyler Olander were big bodies, but not much else. 

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this UConn team did not shoot the three particularly well, thus it would be hard to imagine them beating many other recent championship teams, almost all of whom were good perimeter shooting teams.

13. Syracuse (2003)

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    Team

    At the start of the 2003 NCAA tournament, almost no one was picking Syracuse to win it all. The Orange entered the tournament with a 24-5 (13-3) record, but were coming off an 80-67 loss to UConn in the Big East Tournament semifinals. 

    Further, many pundits believed the Orange were too freshman and sophomore laden to win the title, but they overlooked the stunning quality of that youth when making that assessment. The Orange were led by two dynamic freshman: sharpshooting point guard Gerry McNamara (13.3 PPG, 4.4 APG) and All-American forward Carmelo Anthony (22.2 PPG).

    The Orange also had a burgeoning sophomore in Hakim Warrick, who seemed to get substantially better over the course of the season. Perhaps the most important player, however, was the lone senior on the team, forward Kueth Duany (11.0 PPG). Duany and his 6'6" frame were a perfect complement to Warrick's 6'9" frame in Jim Boeheim's fabled zone defense.

     

    Tournament Run

    Except for a close call against a game Auburn team in the Sweet 16, Syracuse went largely unchallenged in the NCAA tournament until the Final Four. In the Final Four, which took place in New Orleans, the Orange beat a TJ-Ford led Texas team 95-84, which set up a matchup with a strong Kansas team in the national title game. 

    The Orange came in as slight underdogs, but Carmelo Anthony put up 20 points for the Orange and Hakim Warrick memorably blocked a late Michael Lee three point attempt to give the Orange its long-awaited first national title. 

     

    How They Stack Up

    While Cuse's title run was impressive and their talent undeniable, their lack of a true center (Craig Forth anchored the position for the Orange) would have left them vulnerable against other National Championship teams. 

    Further, the Orange's defense was unimpressive throughout the tournament, notwithstanding Warrick's incredible block in the closing seconds of the championship game. The Orange gave up an average of 81.5 points in the two Final Four games, by far the most a championship team has allowed in the past 15 years.

    Teams were finding holes in Boeheim's zone, and if not for an uncharacteristically poor perimeter shooting performance from Kansas (4-20) in the title game, Jim Boeheim may still be seeking his first championship.

12. Arizona (1997)

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    Team

    The Wildcats had no shortage of talent in Tuscon under Lute Olson, as they boasted a backcourt of Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Mike Bibby and Miles Simon, who would go on to win the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. 

    The Wildcats also had All-American shooting guard Michael Dickerson and three-point specialist Jason Terry. The Wildcats actually struggled a bit throughout the season, as they finished Pac-10 play with an underwhelming 11-7 record, which was good enough for fifth place in the Pac-10. 

    Still, Arizona showed promise throughout the season and entered the NCAA tournament at 25-9 and as a No. 4 seed.

     

    Tournament Run

    Arizona dispatched of South Alabama and an upstart Charleston in the first two rounds, respectively, then went on to beat Kansas, the first of three No. 1 seeds they would conquer, in the Sweet 16.  It was considered a major upset, at the time, as Kansas was one of the tournament's favorites. 

    In the Elite Eight, Arizona outlasted a resilient Providence team in a back and forth battle, 96-92, and earned themselves a spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis. In the Final Four, Arizona was pitted up against North Carolina,  UNC was favored in the game, as they were led by future pros Vince Carter and Antwan Jamison. 

    However, Mike Bibby and Miles Simon combined for 44 points and led the Wildcats to yet another victory over a No. 1 seed, beating the Tar Heels 66-58. In the National Championship, another No. 1 seed awaited Arizona, the vaunted Kentucky Wildcats. 

    The Wildcats were the defending National Champions and favorites to win it all, and indeed would have if not for Miles Simon's heroics. The game went into overtime in Indianapolis but Simon's 30 points was too much for Kentucky to overcome, and Arizona won its first national championship 84-79. 

     

    How They Stack Up

    Although the Wildcats had outstanding guards, their lack of a true front court was what contributed to their underwhelming regular season. Eugene Edgerson was a tough kid but he was undersized for a forward at 6'6" and had to fight for every rebound. Their center, 6'10" Donnell Harris, was a terrible rebounder and essentially just a big body that Olson used to clog up the paint. 

    It's hard to imagine Arizona matching up favorably with many other national championship teams over the past 15 years with its complete lack of a front court and/or post presence. In fact, if Derek Anderson had been healthy for Kentucky, Arizona may have never completed its historic NCAA tournament run.

11. Maryland (2002)

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    Team

    The roster was anchored by one of the country's best back courts: Steve Blake and Juan Dixon.  Blake averaged nearly 8 APG and Dixon averaged 20 PPG during the Terrapins' championship campaign. 

    However, what made this Terrapins team truly special was their inside-out balance, as their front court was also among the best in the nation, especially big man Lonny Baxter who averaged 15.2 PPG and 8.2 RPG. 

    Baxter was an immovable object in the lane, and while opposing teams were focused on him, sophomore Chris Wilcox would often take advantage. Wilcox was an explosive athlete for the Terripans, and the perfect complement to Baxter down low, as Baxter was more of a lumbering, meat-and-potatoes type big, while Wilcox was of the jumping jack variety. 

    Maryland also had some indispensable role players, including senior leader Byron Mouton, Drew Nicholas, and Tahj Holden. This star-studded cast led the Terrapins to a 32-4 record (15-1) and an ACC regular season crown. They entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed and one of the tournament favorites to win it all.

     

    Tournament Run

    Maryland was never truly challenged in the NCAA tournament. Their first test came in the Sweet 16 against the No. 4-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, a team that was led by star forward Tayshaun Prince.  The Terrapins led throughout, however, and beat the Wildcats 78-68. 

    In the Elite Eight, Maryland beat UConn 90-82, in a game that was probably their toughest of the tournament.  Still, Maryland was never really in danger of losing to the Huskies, and was on their way to the Final Four in Atlanta. 

    In a matchup of No. 1 seeds, Maryland beat Kansas 97-88 in the Final Four, as Juan Dixon scored 33 points on 10-18 shooting against the Jayhawks in one of the all time great FF performances. Awaiting the Terrapins in the National Championship game was the Indiana Hoosiers, a team literally no one had expected to make it to Atlanta. 

    The Hoosiers were led by Mike Davis and had underperformed all season long, until they upset Duke in the Sweet 16 in one of the more memorable NCAA tournament upsets of the past decade.  Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they were unable to recapture that magic in the title game, as Maryland comfortably won the game 64-52. 

    Juan Dixon was once again terrific as he scored 18 points on 6-9 shooting, and Lonny Baxter pulled down 14 big rebounds to go along with his 15 points. The title was the first in Maryland's history.

     

    How They Stack Up

    Let me start out by saying that I consider this Maryland team to be significantly better than the aforementioned teams in this poll. This Terps team was truly great, and one could argue that it belongs much higher in this poll. Still, they had their weaknesses. 

    Lonny Baxter was prone to foul trouble and when he went to the bench, the Terps didn't really have any other big men to replace him with. Further, the Terps were an OK defensive team, but when compared to other championship teams of the past 15 years, it is definitely closer to the bottom of the barrel.

    Wilcox was the only real shot-blocking threat, and Dixon and Blake weren't great perimeter defenders.  Still, the ease with which Maryland cruised through the NCAA tournament (their smallest margin of victory was eight points) suggests that it was a worthy champion and a team that could at least compete against any other team in the past 15 years.

10. Michigan State (2000)

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    Team

    The Spartans entered the 1999-2000 seasons with championship aspirations and a chip on their shoulder as they had appeared  in the Final Four the previous year and lost a close game to Duke.  Led by team leader Mateen Cleaves, who averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.9 APG during his senior campaign, the Spartans finished the regular season with a 26-7 (13-3) record, claiming a Big 10 regular season championship in the process.

    However, Cleaves had plenty of help, most notably fellow senior Morris Peterson who averaged 16.8 PPG and shot 42 percent from behind the three-point line for the Spartans. AJ Granger was the post presence for the Spartans, and fulfilled his role admirably as he averaged 9.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG during an extremely efficient senior campaign (he shot 50 percent from the field on the season).

    Also, the Spartans were boosted by the arrival of freshmen Jason Richardson and Aloysious Anagonye, who were both integral to Michigan State's championship run. After winning the Big 10 regular season crown, the Spartans rolled through the Big 10 tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in the process.

     

    Tournament Run

    The Spartans rolled through the first three rounds, beating Valparaiso, Utah and Syracuse. In the Elite Eight, Michigan State was matched up with the No. 2 seed Iowa State Cyclones. The Spartans actually trailed by seven points with five minutes left, but the Spartans would then score the final 17 points and beat the Cyclones 75-64. 

    In the Final Four in Salt Lake City, Michigan State faced an upset minded Wisconsin team. Morris Peterson would not be denied, however, as he scored 20 points in Michigan State's 53-41 win over the Badgers. In the National Championship game, the Spartans faced the Florida Gators, who had reached the title game despite only being a No. 5 seed. 

    The Gators kept it close for a while, but the game was never really in doubt for the Spartans as they cruised to an 89-76 win and won the school's second National Championship. Peterson, Granger and Cleaves combined for 58 points in the win, and Jason Richardson provided some valuable minutes off the bench.

     

    How They Stack Up

    This Spartans team would have been tough for any team over the past 15 years to beat because of their superb point guard play. Mateen Cleaves was as good of a leader on the college level as anyone in the past 15 years, and he had quite the supporting cast to work with, too. The Spartans had great depth, too, which was really a result of their splendid freshmen class and the emergence of Richardson and Anagonye late in the season. 

    However, I think this Spartans team, when stacked up against other championship teams would have had a bit of a problem matching up on the interior. Granger was a great college player but not a very good athlete, and Anagonye was unseasoned and prone to foul problems at the time. 

    I would imagine this MSU team would have a lot of trouble matching up with a big time post player like a Carlos Boozer or Emeka Okafor, for instance. Still, this team's superb three-point shooting ability and solid guard play would have given it a shot against ANY team in the past 15 years. 

9. Florida (2006)

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    Team

    Expectations weren't exactly sky high entering the 2005-2006 season for the Florida Gators, as they had put together a recent streak of 2nd round NCAA Tournament losses and had lost all-SEC standouts Anthony Roberson and David Lee the previous season.  However, the Gators' sophomore class had a whole different set of expectations than the preseason pollsters and analysts had.  Championship expectations.  Sophomores Taurean Green, Corey Brewer,  Joakim Noah, and Al Horford would form the nucleus of a team that would go on to win the mythical back-to-back National Championships.  Noah and Horford would make up the best front court in the nation, and Brewer turned into one of the nation's best slashers.  On the perimeter, the Gators had two lethal shooters in Green and junior Lee Humphrey.  Both Green and Humphrey had a habit for hitting big shots late in games, a habit that helped the Gators finish the regular season with a 24-6 (10-6) record and SEC Tournament championship.  The Gators earned a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament as a result of their late season run, yet few were predicting them as a Final Four team.

     

    Tournament Run

    The Gators destroyed their first and second round opponents, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, by an average of 24 points. In the Sweet 16, the Gators squared off with a dangerous Georgetown Hoyas team that was led by big man Roy Hibbert and emerging forward Jeff Green. The Gators trailed at the half 30-28 and seemed to have no answer for Green, but Joakim Noah propelled the Gators to victory behind 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.

    The Georgetown game would prove to be Florida's toughest of the tournament. In the Elite Eight, the Gators dispatched of the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, the Villanova Wildcats. Once again, Noah dominated the game as he put up 21 points and 15 rebounds against an undersized Villanova team.  The Gators won the game handily 75-62 and moved on to the Final Four. 

    In the Final Four, the Gators faced off with a historic "Cinderella" opponent, George Mason. George Mason, an 11 seed, was coming off one of the most shocking upsets in NCAA tournament history, as it knocked off the No. 1 seed and tournament favorite UConn Huskies in the Elite Eight. 

    However, Mason proved to be no match for the Gators, as the Gators cruised to a 73-58 win behind 19 points from Lee Humphrey. The Gators went 12-25 from behind the three-point line and George Mason simply couldn't keep up. 

    So, the Gators moved on to the National Championship to face off with the UCLA Bruins. The Bruins were slight favorites heading into the game, but Florida created an early cushion and never relinquished it. The Gators led 36-25 at halftime and ended up winning the game 73-57 and winning the school's first National Championship. 

    Noah, Horford and Humphrey combined for 45 points, and the Gators held UCLA to 17 percent shooting from behind the three-point line. 

     

    How They Stack Up

    This Florida team is perhaps the best embodiment of a "team" over the past 15 years. The Gators didn't mesmerize people with their athleticism or individual skill, but each player complemented the other in seemingly perfect fashion.

    Humphrey and Green were always lurking on the perimeter to burn the opponent with a clutch three, Brewer was always slashing to the basket and creating mismatches with his 6'9" frame, and Noah and Horford were just beasts on the glass and played off of each other extremely well, particularly as the season went on. 

    However, this version of the Gators would have run into a bit of trouble against other championship teams over the past 15 years for one big reason: their lack of depth. Freshman Walter Hodge and junior Chris Richard had their moment, but outside of them Billy Donovan had no real bench options to turn to in times of foul trouble and/or injury. 

    While the Gators got away with their lack of depth throughout the 2006 NCAA tournament, one can reasonably assume they wouldn't be so lucky against some of the other great teams of the past 15 years.

8. Kansas (2008)

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    Team

    The Jayhawks entered the 2007-2008 season with the perfection combination of experienced veterans and talented youngsters. Seniors Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson weren't the most talented players on the roster, but they had all improved significantly throughout their careers as Jayhawks, especially Jackson who seemingly came out of nowhere and turned into Kansas' go-to guy in the post. 

    Jackson averaged 11.2 and 6.7 PPG his senior season, and took some of the pressure off the more celebrated Jayhawk forwards, Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur. Rush, the team's leading scorer, presented pretty much any opponent with a matchup problem as he was took quick for opposing team's big men to guard, and too big for opposing team's guards. 

    He was also a tremendous three-point shooter (41 percent), and his stretch ability allowed for Jackson, Arthur and Kaun to get more touches in the paint. Another key member of this Jayhawks team was junior point guard Mario Chalmers. 

    Chalmers averaged 12.8 PPG and 4.3 APG for the Jayhawks and was one of the better point guards in the entire country. Rounding out the roster for the Jayhawks were talented underclassmen Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Collins and Aldrich would go on to play prominent roles later in their careers, but playing time was sparse on this Jayhawks team so they sometimes got lost in the mix due to all of Kansas' talent. Still, Aldrich and Collins were solid contributors off the bench, and Aldrich's improvement throughout the season was extremely impressive.

     

    Tournament Run

    Kansas cruised through the first three rounds of the tournament, beating Portland State, UNLV and Villanova by an average margin of 19.3 PPG. In the Elite Eight, however, Stephen Curry and the Cinderella Davidson Wildcats awaited. 

    Curry and Davidson were the talk of the tournament, and seemingly everyone outside of Lawrence, Kansas was rooting for the Wildcats in this one. However, despite 25 points from Curry, Kansas was able to hold the resilient Wildcats off and win 59-57.

    Jason Richards missed a three-point attempt as time expired that would have sent Davidson to their first Final Four in school history. In the Final Four, Kansas faced a UNC team that was largely considered to be the tournament favorite when the tournament began. 

    However, the Jayhawks jumped all over the Tar Heels, leading 40-12 at one point late in the first half.  Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington sparked a second half rally for the Tar Heels which cut into Kansas' lead, but the game was never really in doubt and the Jayhawks won 84-66 behind 25 points from Brandon Rush. 

    In the National Championship, the Jayhawks were pitted up against the long and athletic Memphis Tigers. Led by Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the Tigers had cruised through the tournament up to this point. In the championship game, both teams appeared relatively evenly matched throughout. Kansas led 33-28 at halftime, but Derrick Rose had a big second half to lead Memphis back to the point where they led 60-51 with 2:12 left. 

    However, Memphis missed free throws down the stretch which allowed Kansas to climb back in it.  With 10.8 seconds left, Kansas trailed by three. Sherron Collins then rushed down the court for the Jayhawks and handed the ball off to Chalmers for a three-point shot, and Chalmers buried it, sending the National Championship to overtime for the first time since 1997. 

    In overtime, the Jayhawks would pull away and win 75-68, thank in large part to Darrell Arthur who delivered 20 points and 10 rebounds on the biggest possible stage. It was Kansas' fourth National Championship and the first for coach Bill Self.

     

    How They Stack Up

    This Jayhawks team has almost unrivaled depth, as they had the luxury of bringing players as talented as Collins, Aldrich and Kaun off the bench. Further, their front court is as deep as any front court in the past 15 years, as it was made up of a plethora of future NBA'ers and great college players. 

    On paper, the Jayhawks really had no weaknesses, apart from maybe a penchant for turnovers. However, the Jayhawks often went into long stretches were they would play uninspired, and sometimes downright dumb, basketball. 

    Collins, the primary backup PG, had issues with decision-making, and Chalmers and Robinson sometimes fell a bit too in love with their outside shots instead of feeding Arthur, Jackson and Aldrich in the post. 

    These pitfalls were what allowed Davidson to nearly knock the Jayhawks out in the Elite Eight, despite being badly overmatched from a talent standpoint and what practically got Kansas beat by Memphis in the title game. 

    Regardless, Kansas was able to overcome their periodic lapses and win the school's fourth national championship. Its sheer talent alone would keep them in any game against any other champion over the past 15 years. 

7. Kentucky (1998)

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    Team

    As the Kentucky Wildcats entered the 1997-1998 season, uncertainty loomed for the program that had appeared in the previous two National Championship games. The uncertainty stemmed primarily from the departure of head coach Rick Pitino, the man who had rescued Kentucky from the depths of probation in the early 1990's and returned the program to glory. 

    Taking over for Pitino was former Pitino assistant and Georgia head coach Tubby Smith. And few coaches have ever inherited a better roster than Tubby did for the 1997-1998 season.  The Wildcats were led by point guard Wayne Turner, a player that practically no one could prevent from getting into the lane and either dishing or scoring. 

    Turner averaged 9.3 PPG and 4.4 APG and was the heartbeat of the Wildcats throughout the 97-98 campaign. Turner also had plenty of help from his other back court mate, shooting guard Jeff Sheppard. Sheppard was a senior and a surprisingly explosive athlete who led the Wildcats in scoring, averaging 13.7 PPG. 

    Sheppard also shot 37 percent from three-point land, which stretched the defense and made it easier for Turner to penetrate.  he Wildcats also heavily relied on their talented front court duo: Nazr Mohammed and Scott Padgett. Mohammed was 6'10" and played the role of post-scorer and shot-blocking presence for the Cats. Padgett was a 6'9" forward who often played on the perimeter, and shot 37 percent from behind the three-point line. 

    Padgett was often a matchup problem for the opponent as his versatility forced other big men to attempt to guard him on the perimeter, and when guarded by a smaller player Padgett was more than capable of using his size to score down low too. The four aforementioned players were the core of this Wildcats team, but the Wildcats also had a great cast of role players who knew their job and did it extremely well. 

    Senior Allen Edwards was the fifth starter for the Cats and averaged 9.2 PPG and was a hustle guy who often guarded the opposing team's best player. Sophomore Jamaal Magloire would often spell Nazr Mohammed and was a physical presence in the paint who was notorious for being involved in frequent scrapes with opponents. 

    Heshimu Evans was another scorer off the bench that Tubby Smith would often turn to when one of the starters was in foul trouble or needed a breather. Thus, the Cats seemingly had all the ingredients to dominate the SEC, and that's exactly what they did. The Cats were 26-4 (14-2) as they entered the SEC Tournament and likely already a lock for at least a No. 2 seed no matter what happened in the SEC Tournament. 

    Still, the Cats won the SEC Tournament in dominating fashion, as they beat down their three opponents by an average margin of victory of 22 PPG. The Cats dominating performance in the SEC Tournament made them one of the favorites to win the National Championship, but with a first-year coach many analysts doubted that the Cats could make it back to the National Championship for a third straight time.

     

    Tournament Run

    The Cats entered the tournament as a #2 seed in the South region, and as a result got to play their first two games in Lexington.  The Cats rolled through the first three rounds of the tournament, beating South Carolina State, St. Louis, and UCLA all by lofty margins.  Matching the Cats stride for stride was #1 seeded Duke, a team many considered to be the tournament favorite.  The Cats and Blue Devils would meet in the South regional final.  The Blue Devils would jump out to an early lead on the Cats, led by Roshown McLeod and Trajan Langdon. And by halftime, the Blue Devils' lead had swelled to 49-39 and it seemed as though Kentucky was over matched.  In the second half, the game continued to follow a similar pattern and the Blue Devils led 71-60 with 8:41 left.  It looked all-but-certain that the Blue Devils would be headed to another Final Four under Coach K.  However, the Wildcats had different plans, as they mounted a tremendous second half rally behind Turner, Sheppard and Padgett.  And with 2:15 left in the game, little used Senior Cameron Mills hit a clutch 3-pointer that gave the Cats their first lead of the game at 80-79.  And with under 40 seconds to go, and the game tied at 81, Scott Padgett hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key that would give Kentucky the lead for good, and go down as one of the biggest shots in Kentucky history. The final score was 86-84, and Kentucky finally had its revenge for the famous Christian Laettner shot six years prior.  in the Final Four, the Cats were pitted up against a game Stanford Cardinals team.  Arthur Lee scored 27 points for the Cardinals and helped them gain a 37-32 halftime advantage over the Cats.  Jeff Sheppard and Nazr Mohammed exploded for the Cats in the second half, however, as they finished with 27 points and 18 points, respectively.  With the Cats leading 73-70 with 25 seconds remaining, Arthur Lee hit a clutch 3 for Stanford to tie the game and send the game to Overtime.  Sheppard and Mohammed continued to dominate the game in OT, and helped the Cats pulled away late in OT, and win the game 86-85.  It was the Wildcats' second straight comeback and a win that put Kentucky back in the National Championship game for the third year in a row.  Awaiting the Cats in the title game were the Utah Utes who were led by star PG Andre Miller and head coach Rick Majerus.  Once again, the Cats found themselves in a hole at halftime as they trailed 41-31, and were in need of another comeback if they wanted to win the school's 7th National Championship.  In the second half, reserve Heshimu Evans hit some clutch 3s for the Cats and Sheppard and Padgett were seemingly scoring at will against the Utes.  The Wildcats outscored Utah by 19 in the second half, winning the National Championship for the 7th time, and for the second time in three years.  The third straight tournament comeback led Kentucky fans to aptly name this Cats team the Comeback Cats. 

     

    How They Stack Up

    While this Kentucky team didn't impose its will on opponents as much as other past championship teams, their balance and will to win is second to none.  The Comeback Cats could hurt you in so many ways - from the perimeter, in the paint, driving to the basket - that other teams really had to pick their poison when attempting to defend the Cats.  Perhaps the most distinct advance this Kentucky team has over other recent championship teams is the quality of their bench.  Reserves Jamaal Magloire and Heshimu Evans were extremely talented players who came up big when the Cats needed them to, and would likely have started on a majority of other championship teams over the past 15 years.  Still, this Kentucky team is only ranked #7 because they didn't physically dominate and dismantle their opponents to the degree that other teams over the past 15 years have.  Irregardless, this Cats team would have a chance against any college team, especially if a team was foolish enough to jump out to a halftime lead against them.

6. UConn (2004)

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    Team: Entering the season, UConn was projected by many to win the National Championship, but after an early season blowout loss to Georgia Tech, many backed off that prediction. Still, led by their lethal inside-out duo of Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor, UConn trudged through the regular season schedule, seemingly biding their time until it mattered most.  The Huskies went 24-6 (12-4) during the regular season led by Okafor who was the anchor in the paint for the Huskies and considered by many to be the best big man in the country, as he averaged 17.6 PPG and 4.1 BPG.  Ben Gordon was the Huskies' go-to scorer on the perimeter, and preseason All-American, and he lived up to his preseason accolades by averaging 18.5 PPG and 4.5 APG for the Huskies. Senior point guard Taliek Brown struggled a bit throughout the year with his shot, but still was the calming presence the Huskies needed at the PG position and got Gordon and Okafor the ball when they needed to have it.  Rashaad Anderson played the role of spot-up outside shooter, and had a penchant for knocking down big shots.  And Freshman bigs Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone grew throughout the year and helped make UConn's front court the best in the nation alongside Okafor. Given all of this talent and the preseason expectations the regular season campaign seemed to be a bit of a disappointment for UConn, but that would all change with the start of the Big East Tournament.  UConn won three games in three days at Madison Square Garden to capture the Big East crown, including a memorable final against Pittsburgh.  All of a sudden the Huskies were carrying momentum headed into the NCAA Tournament, and it looked as though their preseason expectations had some merit after all.

    Tournament Run: The Huskies entered the tournament as the #2 seed in the West region, the same region the Huskies won in 1999 to win their first national championship.  The Huskies rolled through the first 4 rounds, beating a pair of SEC teams in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite 8 - Vanderbilt and Alabama.  Neither team could keep up with the Huskies who, headed into the Final Four, had an average margin of victory of 17 PPG for the tournament.  In the Final Four, however, the Huskies were matched up against one of the tournament favorites, the Duke Blue Devils.  Duke was one of the few teams in the country who could match up with UConn from a talent perspective, and were in fact slightly favored heading into the game.  in the first half, Duke held Emeka Okafor scoreless as he got into early foul trouble, and Luol Deng and reserve Shavlik Randolph were able to get inside as a result.  UConn stayed in the game, however, and trailed only 41-34 at halftime despite Okafor's foul trouble and some poor shooting from Gordon.  in the second half, with Okafor now on the floor, UConn took control of the game behind 18 second half Okafor points and key contributions from Denham Brown and Villanueva off the Huskies' bench.  UConn was also able to frustrate star 3-point special JJ Redick, and as a result pulled away late and won the game 79-78. In the championship game, UConn was pitted up against another ACC team, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Despite a spirited effort by Georgia Tech to remain close, they never really threatened the Huskies, as Okafor and Gordon combined for 45 points and UConn won its second national title.

    How They Stack Up: If not for a somewhat underwhelming regular season, this Huskies team may have been a lot higher on this list.  Okafor was as dominant a defensive force as college basketball has season over the past 15 years, and Gordon was a fearless scorer who never seemed to be out of control.  Combine these two with their talented supporting cast, and you get a worthy national champion.  But how would they fare against other recent championship teams? Well, it's hard to imagine a more physical front court than Okafor, Boone and Villanueva.  Not many teams would be able to keep up with UConn on the glass, that's for sure.  Further, UConn's experience in the back court would prove to be an advantage over some of the younger championship teams, as Taliek Brown and Gordon seemed to have a good feel for each other and a sense of when the ball needed to be dumped inside to Okafor.  However, one glaring weakness this team has is that its scoring was a bit unbalanced and thus susceptible to foul trouble,  When Okafor went out in the FF game against Duke, UConn fell into a pretty big hole because their only other true scorer was Gordon.  Brown wasn't really a scorer from the PG position, and Anderson was only a spot-up shooter at this point in his career, so if Okafor or Gordon went out of the game, scoring could prove to be a difficult task for the Huskies.  In terms of talent, this UConn team can match up with any other championship team over the past 15 years, but their lack of a balanced scoring attack would get them into trouble against a team with a  multifaceted scoring attack like the 2009 UNC team or 2001 Duke team.

5. UNC (2005)

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    Team: The Tar Heels came into the 2004-2005 season as odds-on favorites to win the national title.  The return of their talented Junior class was the primary reason for the lofty expectations, as it looked as though UNC was finally ready to turn the page on the Matt Doherty era of UNC basketball.  Led by Juniors Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May, the Tar Heels boasted the most talented roster in the country and a team composition that every coach wishes he had: a great point guard, a great wing scorer, and a great big man.  The Tar Heels also had experienced role players Jawad Williams and Jackie Manuel, both of whom had lived through the horror of an 8-21 season and were ready to return UNC to its familiar spot among the NCAA's elite basketball programs. And the talented Tar Heels got a big boost with the production freshman standout Marvin Williams was able to provide, as he averaged 11.3 PPG and 6.6 RPG in his rookie season.  Melvin Scott and David Noel also saw occasional clock for the Heels, giving them an 8 man rotation that was as talented and experienced as any in college basketball.  This lethal combination of talent and experience would lead the Tar Heels to a 26-4 (14-2) regular season record before the ACC Tournament.  In the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels were upset in the semifinals by Georgia Tech behind 35 points from Will Bynum. After such a dominant regular season, the loss alarmed many talking heads and many began to doubt whether UNC was tough enough to win a national title.

    Tournament Run: The Heels entered the tournament as the #1 seed in the East region,  and they made quick work of their first two opponents, Oakland and Iowa State.  In the Sweet Sixteen the Heels would be matched up against a guard laden Villanova team that was not intimidated by the Heels.  UNC's guards had trouble staying in front of Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry, as the two combined for 46 points and their strong play had Villanova up by 4 at halftime.  In the second half, however, Sean May proved to be the difference as he exploited 'Nova's lack of size and carried the Heels.  Up 3 with seconds remaining, UNC benefited from an awful traveling call (which really should have been called a foul) on Allan Ray, and thus escaped to move on to the Elite 8.  Nova would prove to be the Heels' toughest test in the tournament.  In the Elite 8, Wisconsin and Alando Tucker put up a spirited effort, as the game was tied at the half, but in the 2nd half the Tar Heels pulled away behind Sean May's 29 points and 12 rebounds, as well as Felton's 17 points and 11 assists.  The Heels won the game 88-82 to earn a trip to their first Final Four since 2000. At the Final Four in St. Louis, the Heels faced Michigan State who was fresh off a double overtime win against Kentucky in the regional final.  The Heels looked a bit flat in the first half, and found themselves trailing 38-33 going into the locker room.  It was a tale of two halves, however, as the Heels blew the doors off the Spartans in the 2nd half, outscoring them 54-33. Senior Jawad Williams picked a good time to have his best game of the year, as he scored 20 points and pulled down 8 rebounds.  Felton, McCants, and May also combined for 55 points, and UNC beat MSU 87-71 to advance to the National Championship game.  In the title game, UNC squared off against an Illinois team that had gone through a large chunk of the regular season undefeated, and entered the game with a 36-1 record.  Led by Dee Brown and Deron Williams, the Illinois seemed to be able to match up with the Heels at almost every position.  However, the Illini weren't able to handle Sean May inside, as the big man put up 26 and 10 rebounds and seemed to score in an effortless matter throughout the game.  May's excellence led the Heels to a 40-27 halftime lead, and it looked as though the Tar Heels would cruise to the school's 4th national title.  However, the Illini had different plans, as they made a spirited run behind 21 points from Luther Head, and even tied the game twice in the final five minutes.  UNC pulled away late, however, and won the game 75-70, clinching the school's fourth National Championship and the first since 1993.

    How They Stack Up: Over the past 15 years, there has been no better trio of players than Felton, McCants, and May.  There may have been some trios that were just as good, but certainly none that were better.  The only discernible weakness on this Tar Heels team was the lack of firepower from their role players.  Outside of Marvin Williams, the rest of the Heels' bench wasn't very effective scorers, although they had their moments. The Heels didn't really have a true back up PG or a true back up C (which hurt them at times when May got into foul trouble), but then again how many college teams over the past decade and a half have actually had great back ups at every position?  Also, the Heels sometimes were a bit soft on defense, which was probably best evidenced in their Elite 8 game against Wisconsin, as they allowed 82 points to a team that wasn't known for its offensive firepower.  The Heels seemed to turn it on when it mattered but if the Heels were pitted against another great championship team they may have dug themselves too big a hole to climb out of before hitting that "on" switch.  Still, this is undoubtedly one of the best five teams of the past fifteen years, and certainly more than capable of beating any past championship team in that time span.

4. UConn (1999)

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    Team: No national champion over the past 15 years compiled a better record than UConn did during the 1998-1999 season.  The Huskies bulldozed through the regular season schedule and entered the Big East tournament with a 28-2 record.  The Huskies were led by All-American guard Richard Hamilton who averaged 21.5 PPG for the Huskies during their banner year.  At the point guard position, UConn was anchored by sophomore Khalid El-Amin who averaged 13.9 PPG and 3.9 APG for the Huskies.  Hamilton and El-Amin made up the most talented back court in the country, and they had plenty of help inside, too.  7-footer Jake Voskuhl provided the Huskies with size and shot blocking ability down low, although he was somewhat limited offensively.  Kevin Freeman, a 6'7" forward was a terrific rebounder and a glue-guy for the Huskies, as he was willing to do all the little things that great teams need to do to win. Last but not least, Senior guard Ricky Moore proved to be a capable back up off the bench for El-Amin or Hamilton, and he also had a knack for coming up big in big games.  The Huskies readied for the NCAA Tournament by rolling through the Big East Tournament, as they blew out St. Johns in the finals and put the rest of the country on notice. 

    Tournament Run: UConn entered the tournament as a #1 seed in the West region.  In the first two rounds, UConn easily dispatched of Texas San-Antonio and New Mexico.  In the Sweet Sixteen, iowa fought UConn tooth and nail for much of the game - and only trailed by 5 at halftime - but UConn pulled away in the second half as Hamilton and El-Amin combined for 45 points.  in the Elite 8, UConn met up with tournament "cinderella" Gonzaga, a team that few had heard of prior to the tournament.  The Zags actually led at halftime 32-31, and looked poised to make it to the school's first FF, but UConn had other ideas.  The Huskies got 13 big points from Kevin Freeman off the bench to propel them by the Zags in a 67-62 victory and earn them a trip to the Final Four for the first time in school history.  In the Final Four, UConn beat a tough Ohio State team 64-58, as Hamilton and El-Amin once again starred for the Huskies and scored 42 points between the two of them.  Michael Redd did everything he could to keep the Buckeyes in the game, but Ohio St. simply didn't have enough firepower to beat the Huskies.  In the National Championship, UConn found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being underdogs. The Duke Blue Devils came into the title game with a 37-1 record and had gone undefeated in the ACC.  Few expected UConn to win the game, but UConn stuck with Duke throughout, trailing by only 2 at halftime thanks in large part to a heroic performance by Richard Hamilton.  Hamilton matched Duke star Trajan Langdon basket for basket in the second half, and finished with 27 points to lead UConn to a 77-74 win over Duke.  It was UConn's first National Championship and the start of something truly special for Jim Calhoun.

    How They Stack Up: Although this UConn team lacked depth, Richard Hamilton is easily one of the top 5 college players over the last 15 years.  Hamilton, alone, would prove tough for any other team to cover, as NBA teams have found out over the past decade. To be honest, though, I'm not sure this UConn team stacks up talent-wise to a few other National Champions, but they had a great group of college players who knew how to win and prevail against more talented teams.  They earn this #4 spot on their incredible record alone - 34-2 and a National Championship is mind-blowingly good, but they never took your breath away like the next three teams in this poll.

3. UNC (2009)

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    Team: When Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough both announced they would be returning to Chapel Hill for their Senior seasons, North Carolina immediately became the preseason favorite to win the title.  Hansbrough was the returning All-American, and probably the best low-post player in the country outside of Blake Griffin.  Green was a gifted scorer who could provide the spark the Tar Heels needed from the perimeter if Hansbrough was struggling inside.  The Junior class, seemingly trying to keep pace, was just as important for the Heels as point guard Ty Lawson was as fast end-to-end as any player in the country, and shooting guard Wayne Ellington was the best pure shooter in the country. Junior forward Deon Thompson wasn't bad either, although he was sometimes overshadowed by the Tar Heels' other weapons.  The Tar Heels also were helped (as if they needed it) by a talented incoming freshman class, including bigs Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis.  Unfortunately, Zeller broke his wrist and missed the majority of the season, but Davis was splendid in his rookie year and wowed NBA scouts with his raw athleticism. The Heels also had a pair of Seniors who embraced being role players, Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor.  Ginyard relished the role of defensive stopper, and his willingness to defend allowed guys like Ellington, Green, and Lawson to focus more on scoring rather than worrying about stopping the other team's best player.  All of this talent led to a remarkable regular season campaign for the Heels, as they finished up 27-3 (13-3) in the regular season and won the ACC regular season title in the process. In the ACC Tournament, the Heels were knocked off in the semifinals by a Florida State team marshaled by Toney Douglas.  Ironically, UNC's last championship team (2005) also lost in the semifinals in the ACC Tournament.

    Tournament Run: UNC entered the tournament as the overall #1 seed and the #1 seed in the South region.  The Tar Heels blitzed Radford in the first round, and withstood a run from a tough LSU team in the second round to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  There, the Tar Heels dismantled the #4 seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in a game that was never close.  In the Elite 8, UNC took on the Blake Griffin led Oklahoma Sooners.  While Blake Griffin put on a show, and Taylor Griffin battled as well, Oklahoma just couldn't score enough to keep up with the Heels, as UNC won 72-60.  Ty Lawson poured in 19 points and dropped 5 dimes in the winning effort.  Awaiting the Tar Heels in the Final Four was a gritty Villanova team.  The Heels had barely survived a Sweet Sixteen game against "Nova during their last championship run in 2005, so Heels fan went into the game with a bit of apprehension. The Heels overwhelmed the Wildcats, however, as Lawson and Hansbrough combined for 40 and the Heels held 'Nova to 32% shooting. The win gave the Tar Heels a chance to play for the National Championship, but in the title game they would have to face the hometown favorites - the Michigan State Spartans, in Detroit, Michigan. Much of the pre-game chatter surrounding the game focused on the matchup between super-quick guards Kalin Lucas and Ty Lawson. The match up proved to be a no-contest, however, as Lawson blew by Lucas and the Spartans for 21 points, 6 assists and 8 steals.  The game was never in doubt, as the Heels were up 55-34 by halftime and had completely taken the large Michigan State contingent out of the game.  The Heels cruised in the second half and the finals core was 89-72.  The win gave North Carolina its 5th National Championship, and Roy Williams' second.

    How They Stack Up: Few, if any teams over the past 15 years can match up with this North Carolina  team from a talent perspective. The inside-outside balance on this Tar Heels team was almost unfair. This was a truly great college team that really had no weaknesses on paper.  These Heels would have a good chance at beating any other championship team. In fact, the two teams I plan on ranking ahead of this team would have more problems matching up with the Heels than vice versa. 

2. Duke (2001)

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    Team: The Blue Devils were led by one of the great college point guards of all time, Jason (Jay, now) Williams.  Williams averaged an astonishing 21.6 PPG and 6.1 APG during the 2000-2001 season, and shot the ball better than 42% from behind the arc. He left no doubt as to who the best player in college basketball was.  However, if anyone had an argument against Williams it may very well have been one of his talented teammates.  Battier came into the 2000-2001 season as a senior and committed to winning his first national title. The 6'8" forward averaged 19.9 PPG and 7.3 RPG and was easily one of the most versatile players in the country as he shot 42% from behind the 3-pt line.  Duke also had a great post player in Carlos Boozer, who made great strides in his sophomore campaign and because the consistent low post threat that Duke needed to maintain offensive balance.  Rounding out the starting five was Mike Dunleavy, another talented converted wing player who averaged better than 12 points and 5 rebounds for the Blue Devils, and Nate James.  James was another versatile forward, as Duke was seemingly breeding them at the time, and a guy who Duke could turn to in late game situations as he was a senior who had plenty of experience in big moments.  Off the bench, Duke had the luxury of being able to turn to Chris Duhon, a talented freshman who had tremendous passing ability. There weren't many more minutes to be had off the bench, as Duke's top six players were so talented it was difficult for Coach K to ever rest them for long stretches.  This talented cast of stars led Duke to a 29-5 regular season record, including an ACC regular season title and ACC tournament championship, too.

    Tournament Run: Duke kicked off the 2001 NCAA Tournament as the #1 seed in the East region, and they steamrolled through Monmouth and Missouri in the first two rounds.  In the Sweet Sixteen, Duke faced its first true test in UCLA, but the game was never in doubt thanks to Jason Williams who dropped 34 points on the Bruins on 11-21 shooting. In the Elite 8, Duke faced off with a gutsy USC team that was fresh off and upset over #2 seeded Kentucky.  While the Trojans kept the game close for about 30 minutes, Duke eventually pulled away behind Battier and Williams who combined for 48 points.  The win earned Duke a berth in the Final Four where they would square off against conference rival Maryland, one of the few teams to actually beat Duke during the regular season.  Maryland came out of the gate fired up and jumped all over Duke, leading them 49-38 at the half and it looked as though Duke's season would end in disappointment.  However, showing their heart, the Devils stormed back in the 2nd half as Carlos Boozer went 7-8 from the field for 19 points and Duke outscored Maryland 57-35. Duke's second half performance was one of the best in Final Four history, and it earned them a spot in the title game against Lute Olson's talented Arizona team.  Arizona was looking to win its second title in 4 years. Duke was looking for its first since 1992.  The game was close throughout the first half, as the the Blue Devils had trouble stopping Richard Jefferson and Loren Woods.  With Jason Williams having an off game, Mike Dunleavy stepped up for Duke, though, and scored 21 points to keep Duke in the game.  The second half was close throughout as well, but Duke managed to pull away late and beat the Wildcats 82-72. The win gave Duke its third title in school history and solidified the team's legacy as one of the best championship teams in recent memory.

    How They Stack Up: I don't think any championship team over the past two decades can match up with Duke's top six players.  Jay Williams is the best college point guard of the past 15 years, Shane Battier was just a tremendous scorer and tenacious defender who knew what it took to win, Carlos Boozer was a force inside who only got better as the season progressed, Mike Dunleavy was a blossoming shooter who came up big when Duke needed it most, and Nate James and Chris Duhon were the under-appreciated guys who quietly produced for Duke and took some of the pressure off of the big four.  This Duke team sometimes made games more exciting and close than they should have been given their talent, but they had so many guys who knew how to take and make big shots that they almost always prevailed. I'm not sure any recent championship team could win a 7 game series against this Duke team, even though I did rank them #2.

1. Florida (2007)

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    Team: The Gators entered the regular season as heavy favorites to repeat as National Champions. They returned all five starters from their 2005-2006 team, and got a boost from a strong freshman class as well. Al Horford and Joakim Noah, who had teamed up to form the best frontcourt in the country the year prior, were even better in 2006-2007. Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green continued to hit big shots,Corey Brewer became an unstoppable wing player, and Walter Hodge showed great strides as a sophomore guard. Freshman Marreese Speights and Johnathan Mitchell gave the Gators front court depth in case Noah or Horford got into foul trouble, and Billy Donovan featured the pick-and-roll offense even more so than he had the previous season. The result of all this returning talent was another dominant regular season, as the Gators went 26-5 (13-3) and then went on to win the SEC Tournament with relative ease. Entering the tournament at 29-5 and as defending champions, the Gators looked poised to become the first repeat champions since Duke in 1991 and 1992.

    Tournament Run: Florida entered the tournament as the #1 seed in the Midwest region and promptly crushed Jackson St. in the first round. Florida then held off Purdue in their second round match up, but the Boilermakers tested the defending national champions, and even led 31-29 at halftime. The Gators took over in the second half, however, and showed their championship grit by outscoring the Boilermakers 45-36 in the second half and winning the game 65-57. In the Sweet Sixteen, Florida was once again tested by a tough Butler team who battled the Gators all night long. Florida wore Butler down with their size, however, and pulled away late to win 65-57. In the Elite 8, Florida played an Oregon team that was led by Aaron Brooks.  Brooks went off for 27 points, but Noah put in a 14 point, 14 rebound performance for the Gators and the Gators won 85-77. The difference in the game was Florida's +14 advantage on the glass, as Oregon, like every other team in America, just couldn't match up with Florida's size. In the Final Four in Atlanta, Florida faced off with a UCLA team that was making its 2nd straight Final Four appearance. In fact, the teams had met in the National Championship game the year prior.  Florida led the game throughout, as they held UCLA's leading scorers Darren Collison and Aaron Afflalo to a combined 8-28 shooting. Noah and Horford combined for 28 rebounds, and Chris Richard gave the Gators a lot of production off the bench and led Florida to a 76-66 victory over UCLA. The win advanced Florida to the National Championship where they would have to beat the talented Ohio State Buckeyes if they wanted to repeat as National Champions. The question entering the game was whether Greg Oden could nullify the Gators' size inside with his shot blocking and rebounding ability. And Oden did negate the Gators big men to a degree, and even poured in 25 points himself, but Humphrey and Green stepped up for the Gators and hit the big shots. The Gators shot 10-18 from behind the 3-pt line, and survived a second half Buckeyes rally to win 84-75.  The win gave Florida its second national championship in a row.

    How They Stack Up: In terms of raw talent, this Florida team is probably behind 3 or 4 other champions over the past 15 years. However, to win back to back national titles is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and the fact that this team did it suggests to me that they knew how to win games better than any other team in recent memory. Noah and Horford were as good of a front court tandem as college basketball has season in the past 15 years, and Green, Humphrey and Brewer were just winners at their core. I would never bet against this team, no matter how over matched they may look on paper.