Ranking the Most Stacked Final Four Fields of All Time

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Ranking the Most Stacked Final Four Fields of All Time
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, we're running back through some of March's best moments.

Today's installment asks the question: Which Final Fours featured the best quartet of contenders?

There are two ways to think about our task:

1.) Which Final Four had the best overall college teams?

2.) Which Final Four featured the best future pros?

After weighing both criteria, here are the 15 that made our final cut.

 

15.) 1968

Teams: Houston, UCLA, North Carolina, Ohio State

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.879

Players of Note: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (UCLA), Elvin Hayes (Houston), Lucius Allen (UCLA), Charlie Scott (UNC)

The 1968 Final Four wasn't much for drama—all three games were decided by 14 points or more—but it did feature two all-time greats in UCLA's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Houston's Elvin Hayes.

The two met earlier that season at the Astrodome, with Houston prevailing, 71-69, in a nationally televised contest dubbed "The Game of the Century."

Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) exacted his revenge in the national semifinal, scoring 19 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in a 101-69 rout.

 

14.) 1972

Teams: UCLA, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.880

Players of Note: Bill Walton (UCLA), Bob McAdoo (UNC), Jamaal Wilkes (UCLA), Bobby Jones (UNC), Henry Bibby (UCLA), Swen Nater (UCLA), George Karl (UNC)

UCLA went undefeated in 1972, which is about what you'd expect from a team that had future ABA Rookie of the Year Swen Nater as its reserve center and three-time NBA All-Star Jamaal Wilkes as its third-leading scorer.

Perhaps the bigger mystery is how a North Carolina team with Bob McAdoo, Bobby Jones and George Karl managed to lose five games and miss out on the title game entirely.

 

13.) 1970

Teams: Jacksonville, UCLA, St. Bonaventure, New Mexico State

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.915

Players of Note: Bob Lanier (St. Bonaventure), Artis Gilmore (Jacksonville), Sidney Wicks (UCLA), Sam Lacey (New Mexico State), Henry Bibby (UCLA), Curtis Rowe (UCLA)

Future Hall of Famers Bob Lanier and Artis Gilmore would go on to make a combined 19 NBA and ABA All-Star Game appearances, but even they were no match for the mighty UCLA machine.

Though the Bruins were without a consensus All-American, they made quick work of New Mexico State in the semis and then waltzed to a comfortable 80-69 title-game win over the 7'2" Gilmore and his Jacksonville Dolphins.

So stacked was the 1970 field that Lanier's Bonnies actually lost twice: first to Jacksonville in the national semifinal and later to Lacey's Aggies in the third-place game.

 

12.) 1960

Teams: NYU, Cincinnati, Ohio State, California

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.896

Players of Note: Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati), Jerry Lucas (Ohio State), John Havlicek (Ohio State), Satch Sanders (NYU), Darrall Imhoff (California)

The 1959 Final Four featured both Oscar Robertson and West Virginia legend Jerry West, and it is thus better remembered than the 1960 version. But for overall strength and depth of talent, 1960 is the clear choice.

In the title game, Lucas and Havlicek swept aside defending champ California—a team that had only lost once the entire season—to begin their own mini-dynasty.

Big O and the Bearcats, meanwhile, were relegated to the third-place game, whereupon they routed an NYU team led by future eight-time NBA champion Satch Sanders.

 

11.) 1979

Teams: Michigan State (2), Penn (9), Indiana State (1), DePaul (2)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.846

Players of Note: Magic Johnson (Michigan State), Larry Bird (Indiana State), Mark Aguirre (DePaul)

The Johnson-Bird title-game showdown almost necessitates 1979's inclusion on this list. And Mark Aguirre—a three-time NBA All-Star—isn't a bad third fiddle.

But none of these four could be considered all-time great college teams. In fact, Penn—who had been a national power earlier in the decade—might be one of the weaker clubs to ever reach the season's final weekend.

 

10.) 2007

Teams: Georgetown (2), Florida (1), Ohio State (1), UCLA (2)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.855

Players of Note: Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Greg Oden (Ohio State), Joakim Noah (Florida), Mike Conley (Ohio State), Roy Hibbert (Georgetown), Jeff Green (Georgetown), Darren Collison (UCLA), Al Horford (Florida), Arron Afflalo (UCLA)

Billy Donovan's Florida Gators coasted to their second consecutive national championship, which is pretty impressive considering the competition they faced.

Georgetown had its most talented team in decades. UCLA was in the middle of three consecutive Final Four appearances and loaded at the guard position. Ohio State had the "Thad Five," one of recent history's most ballyhooed freshman classes.

Greg Oden's injury-plagued professional career puts a slight damper on the "players of note" list, although it's pretty impressive as is.

 

9.) 1974

Teams: North Carolina State, Kansas, UCLA, Marquette

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.861

Players of Note: Bill Walton (UCLA), David Thompson (North Carolina State), Jamaal Wilkes (UCLA), Maurice Lucas (Marquette)

David Thompson's Wolfpack snapped UCLA's seven-season national championship streak with a thrilling 80-77 semifinal win. In the title game, they faced off against Marquette's Maurice Lucas—a soon-to-be NBA collaborator of Bruins star Bill Walton—and won rather handily, 76-64.

 

8.) 2003

Teams: Syracuse (3), Marquette (3), Kansas (2), Texas (1)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.813

Players of Note: Kirk Hinrich (Kansas), Nick Collison (Kansas), Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse), Dwyane Wade (Marquette), Hakim Warrick (Syracuse), Steve Novak (Marquette), T.J. Ford (Texas)

The 2003 Final Four presents an odd juxtaposition between dominant regular-season teams that didn't produce standout pros (Texas and Kansas) and lower-seeded teams that did (Syracuse and Marquette).

It's hard to know at this point exactly where Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony will fall among the all-time greats, but it's safe to say that '03 featured two of a generation's best.

 

7.) 2001

Teams: Arizona (2), Michigan State (1), Duke (1), Maryland (3)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.806

Players of Note: Gilbert Arenas (Arizona), Zach Randolph (Michigan State), Richard Jefferson (Arizona), Jason Richardson (Michigan State), Juan Dixon (Maryland), Shane Battier (Duke), Carlos Boozer (Duke), Mike Dunleavy Jr. (Duke), Jay Williams (Duke)

Maryland was the only one of these four that failed to produce an NBA All-Star, and it's not as if the Terps were without firepower.

The core players that led Gary Williams' team to Minneapolis—Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake—would team up with fast-improving forward Chris Wilcox the very next year to deliver Maryland its first and only NCAA title.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Battier and Boozer, 2001

 

6.) 1992

Teams: Michigan (6), Duke (1), Cincinnati (4), Indiana (2)

Collective Winning Percentage: 0.833

Players of Note: Chris Webber (Michigan), Grant Hill (Duke), Jalen Rose (Michigan), Calbert Cheaney (Indiana), Juwan Howard (Michigan), Christian Laettner (Duke), Bobby Hurley (Duke), Nick Van Exel (Cincinnati)

You wouldn't say any of the players to emerge from the 1992 Final Four qualify as all-time greats, but Chris Webber and Grant Hill may well have been if injury hadn't derailed their respective careers. And overall, '92 produced a ton of better-than-average pros, including Cincinnati's Nick Van Exel.

The 1992 Duke Blue Devils were among the modern era's more dominant teams, losing just twice over the course of the season and defending their first-ever NCAA title with relative ease.

 

5.) 1999

Teams: Michigan State (1), Connecticut (1), Ohio State (4), Duke (1)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.879

Players of Note: Shane Battier (Duke), Richard Hamilton (Connecticut), Michael Redd (Ohio State), Morris Peterson (Michigan State), Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Elton Brand (Duke), Corey Maggette (Duke)

The 1999 Final Four featured three No. 1 seeds, one of whom would win the championship that year (Connecticut), one of whom would win it a year later (Michigan State) and the last of whom would win it the year after that (Duke).

 

4.) 1991

Teams: UNLV (1), Duke (2), North Carolina (1), Kansas (3)

Collective Winning Percentage: 0.847

Players of Note: Grant Hill (Duke), Larry Johnson (UNLV), Christian Laettner (Duke), Stacey Augmon (UNLV), Bobby Hurley (Duke), Hubert Davis (UNC), Eric Montross (UNC), George Lynch (UNC), Rick Fox (UNC), Greg Anthony (UNLV)

None of the central figures from the 1991 Final Four went on to legendary NBA careers, but Duke's Grant Hill and UNLV's Larry Johnson were both standouts in their own right.

And for collective amateur excellence, it's hard to do much better than this foursome. UNLV was the defending national champ and came into the tournament undefeated. Duke was on the fourth leg of five straight Final Four appearances, the latter two of which would yield national championships.

North Carolina, meanwhile, had already assembled the core parts of a team that would go on to win the 1993 NCAA title.

 

3.) 1981

Teams: Indiana (3), North Carolina (2), Virginia (1), LSU (1)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.816

Players of Note: James Worthy (UNC), Isiah Thomas (Indiana), Sam Perkins (UNC), Ralph Sampson (Virginia), Randy Wittman (Indiana)

It's amazing to imagine a Final Four so stacked that Isiah Thomas and the Indiana Hoosiers entered as the underdogs.

They would of course leave as champions, thanks in large part to Thomas' 19-point, four-steal second half against North Carolina in the championship game.

 

2.) 2008

Teams: Memphis (1), UCLA (1), Kansas (1), North Carolina (1)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.924

Players of Note: Kevin Love (UCLA), Derrick Rose (Memphis), Ty Lawson (UNC), Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Tyler Hansbrough (UNC), Mario Chalmers (Kansas), Darren Collison (UCLA), Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis)

Love and Rose still have a long way to go in their respective careers, but 2008 could wind up as one of the greatest Final Fours ever played.

All four teams came in as No. 1 seeds—the only time that's happened since seeding was first implemented in 1978—and the finale was worthy of the hype. Kansas tied Memphis on a three by Mario Chalmers at the end of regulation and finished off the comeback in overtime.

 

 

1.) 1982

Teams: North Carolina (1), Houston (6), Georgetown (1), Louisville (3)

Combined Winning Percentage: 0.803

Players of Note: Michael Jordan (UNC), Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston), James Worthy (UNC), Clyde Drexler (Houston), Rodney McCray (Louisville), Sam Perkins (UNC), Derek Smith (Louisville), Sleepy Floyd (Georgetown)

Fifty-five combined NBA All-Star selections. Thirteen NBA championships. Five Hall of Fame plaques.

The 1982 Final Four was, quite simply, the greatest collection of basketball talent this tournament has ever seen.

Fittingly, all three contests were decided by five or less. And perhaps you recall the name of the string-bean freshman who knocked down the title-clinching jump shot?

 

 

Honorable Mention: 1959, 1964, 1965, 1985, 1997

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