While the focus of the NCAA Tournament is always understandably focused on the hardwood, it has recently become a distinct opportunity for schools to introduce new and innovative uniforms in March.
Last season, the folks at Adidas introduced new uniforms for three tournament teams, and this year is bound to see the same. While these attempts at making a mainstream splash are fun for the players and companies involved, it's very rare for those one-off looks to stand the test of time.
In fact, it's very rare for any NCAA tournament uniform to last past the final net-cutting ceremony in April. But for those digs that really stand out and make an impression during the tourney, they are given the opportunity to challenge that notion.
Which are the best tournament-worn uniforms of all time? Well, you're about to find out.
Please note that each of these uniforms were worn specifically during an NCAA tournament run. We all have our regular-season favorites that would probably make an all-time best list, but if they weren't worn in March, they are insignificant for these purposes.
With that caveat out of the way, here is a complete breakdown of the greatest uniforms in NCAA Tournament history.
The concept of innovation is all about taking chances, and the Florida Gators' burned-orange-and-blue look during last season's NCAA Tournament is what happens when it all culminates to perfection.
Worn during the Gators' Sweet 16 matchup versus Marquette, uniform watchers everywhere had to adore that game. On one side, Marquette's whites are among the best "home" looks in the entire nation, while Florida's continued push uniform-wise has been a fun hit-or-miss experiment.
The reaction to the blur of orange known as Bradley Beal racing down the floor may not have been welcomed for the Golden Eagles, but it certainly was for fans in attendance. The Gators had only broken out those uniforms on special occasions, and their inclusion last March gets them a tail-end spot among the all-time greats.
Florida went on to lose in the Elite Eight to Louisville wearing a less successful blue version of the same uniform. It just goes to show, the teams that look the best often come away with the best result.
Or it's the team that scores the most points. Either or.
Long Beach State played in just one tournament game last season, but its beautiful digs made waves across the nation. Adorned with a bright yellow-on-yellow combination, the 49ers would stick out just about anywhere except the surface of the sun.
In and of itself, the yellow look is pretty cool. It's indicative of the laid-back Long Beach area and exudes Californianism (if you'll allow me to make up a word) at its finest.
But let's not kid ourselves. The real calling card of the 49ers' uniforms in 2012 was "The Beach" being etched across the front. In an era where conservatism has been thrown out the window, the school's name itself is one of the areas that almost always goes unchanged. The reason for that is unknown for the most part, though school branding likely plays a factor.
"The Beach" is a team-wide version of "He Hate Me," only on a much more conservative level. Long Beach State knows what sells its school and isn't making any bones about it. You're not going to Long Beach State, you're going to The Beach.
Unfortunately, New Mexico had to go and ruin our fun in 2012 by, you know, being a better basketball team.
This particular uniform is unarguably the most special in Syracuse history. It spanned the eras of plenty of the Orange's all-time great stars, but never did this particular set of digs carry more meaning than in 2003.
Formerly a school that was forever the bridesmaid and never the bride, Syracuse finally got over the long hump that season. Led by Carmelo Anthony, arguably the best one-and-done player in NCAA history, the Orange captured their first (and only thus far) NCAA tournament championship.
The win culminated a decades-long journey for coach Jim Boeheim, who had been with the school nearly unabated since 1962 as a player and coach.
It doesn't hurt that this Orange team looked mighty good while cutting down the nets. Syracuse's uniforms have always been among college basketball's best, but this era really exemplified everything that the school was about at the time.
Given the trademark orange color throughout, what really makes this particular uniform stick out is the blue trim and mascot logo on the shorts. The secondary blue makes an already poppy color like orange even more eye-catching, and the logo is just a really cool touch—and quite healthy for you, I might add.
These uniforms were understandably changed soon after the NCAA tournament championship, but if Syracuse ever has throwback night, you better believe the 2003 shorts and jerseys are coming out of retirement.
Do yourself a favor if you're ever around UNLV grads: Trick a buddy into saying Michigan's "Fab Five" invented the "baggy shorts" culture. What you will then hear is a very angry diatribe from the UNLV faithful as your friend's face turns Manitoba on a midwinter's morning-level white.
UNLV is prideful about being the true "inventors" of the baggy shorts and swagger that turned college basketball (and professional basketball) on its head in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The culmination of that cultural shift came in 1991 when the Runnin' Rebels seemed on their way to one of the greatest college basketball seasons in history. With a cast of returning stars including Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, UNLV rampaged through the regular season undefeated and looked like an NBA team on the floor.
Four more victories in the NCAA tournament and a trip to the Final Four later, and everything seemed to be going just fine—until Duke came along. The Blue Devils squeaked by to beat UNLV, 79-77, a loss that essentially ended the Rebels' reign atop college basketball.
But the lasting impact is exemplified in those great uniforms. Rebel red with white trim and those dangling shorts, there was never any mistaking which team was taking the floor when you saw those uniforms. They are both understated and innovative at the same time, which makes their inclusion on this list as close to mandatory as you can get.
For a team that prides itself on being traditional and understated, Duke certainly has gone through its fair share of uniforms. And while there are plenty of classics, the one that has always stood out as the most underrated and eye-catching was the digs worn in 1994.
Though semi-controversial due to the abundance of white—especially in a time where the classic, darker shade was awfully successful—these particular uniforms always stuck out as particularly strong.
Worn during Grant Hill's senior season in Durham, Duke had just about as much success as you would expect. The Blue Devils reached the NCAA championship game before losing to Arkansas, 76-72.
These digs disappeared almost as quickly as the came. Duke went through some lean years following the 1994 season, and the old uniforms were eventually ditched for a newer, modern look. Just know that, as an aesthetically pleasing uniform, there wasn't a better Duke combo than the digs worn during Hill's final year at the school.
There are plenty of uniforms that stick out because of their historical significance or undeniable place in history, but the Bearcats' digs were more just about being a really well-done look.
Then sponsored by the Jordan brand, Cincinnati was a rising-star program, and the jerseys matched that in-the-now type attitude. The stripes on the sides, starting below the arm and running down to the leg, are a nice touch, and the red color on the letters and numbers provide an appealing contrast.
Overall, it's just a winning colorway done right. The colors all work in perfect accordance and there is no clutter or wasted space, much like most of the Jordan brand's shoe line.
As for the Bearcats' 2000 season in this look? It went quite well...until the NCAA tournament. Bob Huggins' squad went perfect through conference play and was given a No. 2 seed but ultimately lost in the second round to Tulsa.
Speaking of the 2000 NCAA tournament, Tom Izzo's Michigan State team had a little more success than the aforementioned Bearcats. Galvanized by the trio of Mateen Cleaves, Jason Richardson and Morris Peterson, the Spartans battled their way to the school's first national championship since the Magic Johnson era.
As one of the greatest teams in Michigan State history, it's only correct that the school's greatest style accomplishment came along for the ride.
From top to bottom, this is just an impeccably done uniform. The trim at the top of the jersey is detailed and true to form, while the stripe down the side really becomes a focal point at the mid-hip logo. It's a fantastic color scheme, and whenever Michigan State has incorporated black recently it's been well-received.
That being said, what makes this uniform stick out above the rest is its use of lettering and numbering. There will be no mistaking which school this uniform represents, thanks to the over-large "State" and the well-designed "Michigan." The numbering is also worthy of note, as the unique design is a really neat change of pace from the normal blase way of doing things.
If alien life forms descended upon planet earth and wanted to be taught about college basketball in as little time as possible, there aren't many sentences wasted until reaching the Fab Five.
UNLV may have started the "baggy shorts" trend and brash outward displays on the floor, but the Fab Five made it an international phenomenon. Michigan basketball was the epitome of cool in the early 1990s, and the school's uniforms flew off shelves as a result.
Outside of the infamous baggy shorts, the Wolverines kept a noticeably traditional look to their digs. The blue and maize have been a winning combination for generations, and this look exemplified that perfectly. It simply uses those colors to contrast off one another, and the prominent Michigan logo does the work on the shorts.
Choosing 1993 as the representative year for this particular uniform is pretty obvious. The 1993 national-championship game versus North Carolina was when Chris Webber infamously called a timeout when Michigan did not have one remaining, inadvertently costing the Wolverines a chance to tie the game.
That play marked the end of an era in Ann Arbor and, eventually, a move to a uniform. Though the Wolverines program is back to prospering among the nation's best, the uniforms are a little bit behind in that respect.
There aren't many schools infamous enough to have a color named after them, so keeping North Carolina off this list was never an option. The only problem was making the decision about which Tar Heels uniform to pick from a never-ending cascade of beautiful looks.
With the infamous color as a must for the focal point, it became clearer and clearer that the 1996 uniforms stood out as the finest. The Carolina blue is enough on its own to set the stage, but what really makes these special is the beautiful accentuation.
The stripe down the sides is adorned with an interesting pattern of rotating blues that's eye-catching by itself, and when coupled with the color rotation on the waistline, these uniforms are a really great look. North Carolina only got to play two games in these digs in 1996, but much of the core group came back in 1997 to have success in the tournament.
It's just a shame that the Tar Heels stuck mostly to white during their run to the Final Four that season.
Allen Iverson may not have an NBA or NCAA championship on his mantle, but he can rest assured he was the inspiration for the greatest college basketball uniform in history.
Whenever the brash shooting guard took his talents to Georgetown, the school underwent a massive confidence overhaul. It was almost as if Iverson was the Hoyas' one-man version of the Fab Five. Though still a pretty John Thompson-esque team when on the hardwood, the team's digs looked like innovation at their finest.
The gray-on-gray look with the blue lettering and accentuation is enough to get these uniforms on the list by themselves. It's a winning look made famous by plenty of other teams in the past, and Georgetown puts a unique spin on a great colorway here.
When coupled with the intricate and eye-popping design down the side stripe, there is quite literally nothing wrong with this look. There are no holes to poke, no nits to pick. The fact that Georgetown moved away from these uniforms in its lean years following Iverson's departure is still a little disappointing a decade-and-a-half later.
The 1996 Hoyas reached the Elite Eight, which is as far as an Iverson-led Georgetown team ever went in March. Based on their uniforms, though, the Hoyas stand on top of college basketball history.