In today’s age of one-and-done collegiate superstars who simply use college basketball as a brief training stint for the NBA, consistency is often overlooked.
Great players come and go, but the ability to build a program that fans and rivals know will win regardless of personnel changes is admirable. There are certainly more than five of those schools across the country, but read on to see which five programs have been the most consistent in the last decade.
*Note: This list is compiled using stats and results from the 2003-04 season through the 2012-13 season. Information courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
There are a few certainties in life—we all know death and taxes are two of them, but another is Tom Izzo appearing in the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State has qualified for college basketball’s biggest stage the past 16 seasons, which means they have had 10 straight Big Dances for the decade we're covering in this article. The Spartans have also been participants in three Final Fours during that 10-year stretch, although they were not able to win the whole thing.
In fact, it is only because of the lack of a national title during this decade that Izzo’s program only gets an honorable mention nod.
As well, Michigan State has taken home three Big Ten regular season crowns and one Big Ten tournament title since 2003-04. The only fellow conference school with more league championships during that time is Ohio State.
The Spartans have not seen as many of their players get drafted in the last 10 years as some other elite schools have, but that simply speaks to Izzo’s brilliance. He has built one of the nation’s most consistently excellent programs, one which relies on four-year commitments rather than one-year talent flashes.
The defending national champions kick off our list of the five most consistent programs in the past decade.
Louisville has enjoyed a renaissance under Rick Pitino and has been to nine NCAA tournaments during that 10-year stretch. Three of those appearances resulted in Final Four berths and last year brought the program’s first national title since 1986.
The Cardinals also count two Big East regular season crowns and three Big East tournament titles as part of their past decade resume. Winning those marathon events in Madison Square Garden may not garner the headlines of a national title, but it is a feat that that deserves to be recognized.
Much like Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Pitino has not sent a large number of Louisville players to the NBA in the past 10 years. Instead, he has gradually built a national powerhouse through effective recruiting and impressive player development.
While many of his players weren’t considered 5-star prospects as freshmen, it’s a safe bet Pitino’s players are leaving Louisville with more than just an exciting YouTube montage of high school highlights.
When the word consistency is brought up in regards to college basketball, Coach K and his Duke program often come to mind immediately and for good reason.
The Blue Devils have participated in each of the last 10 NCAA tournaments and reached the Final Four in two of those appearances. The 2009-10 team won the national championship over Butler when Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave at the buzzer just rimmed out.
It’s not just the March success that indicates Duke is a consistent program. The Blue Devils have been ranked in the Top Five at some point in every year of the past decade, which is a remarkable statistic given the turnover that occurs every season. They also had three ACC regular season titles and five ACC tournament championships in that span.
In fact, from 2005-2011 Duke basically turned the ACC tournament into its personal playground, winning five of the seven contests during that stretch. Current NBA rosters are also littered with Blue Devil players of the past 10 years, including the likes of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng.
Hate them or love them, there is no question the Blue Devils are a pillar of consistency.
The argument can be made that Florida is the most under-the-radar team in college basketball year in, year out. The Gators never garner the headlines of Duke, North Carolina or even conference-mate Kentucky, yet they continue to win and advance deep into March every season.
In the past 10 years, Billy Donovan’s program has qualified for eight NCAA tournaments, five Elite Eights and two Final Fours. The Gators won the national title both times they reached the sport’s final weekend. As consistent as a program like Duke is, the Gators have more national titles, the same amount of Final Fours and more Elite Eights than the Blue Devils do in the same stretch.
Florida also has three SEC (or SEC East) championships in that stretch and three SEC tournament titles in the past decade. Consistent production at the next level, from the likes of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, David Lee, Matt Bonner, Chandler Parsons and Bradley Beal, doesn’t hurt the Gators’ case either.
It was somewhat of a down year for Roy Williams and North Carolina last season, but the fact that their down year still included an NCAA tournament victory is all you need to know about the Tar Heels’ consistency.
They have been in nine of the past 10 NCAA tournaments and reached the Elite Eight in six of those appearances. What’s more, North Carolina has three Final Fours and two national championships under its belt in the past decade and was ranked in the Top 10 at some point in each of the last 10 seasons.
The Tar Heels have won six of the past nine ACC regular season titles and also won back-to-back ACC tournament crowns in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Basically, Duke and North Carolina have run the show in the ACC this decade.
The NBA draft picks in the past 10 years that played at Chapel Hill is too long to list here, but it includes the electric Ty Lawson, reliable Danny Green and Harrison Barnes, who potentially has a very bright future ahead of him.
Critics may decry Kansas for a handful of earlier-than-expected NCAA tournament losses in the past 10 years, but that does nothing to change the fact that Bill Self’s program has been the sport’s most consistent.
The Jayhawks have participated in the last 10 NCAA tournaments (a streak that actually dates back to the 1989-90 season), reaching the Elite Eight in five of them and the Final Four in two. They also took home the 2007-08 national championship after an impressive 37-3 year.
But what really makes Kansas stand out among its peers when it comes to consistency is its domination of one of the country’s power leagues. The Jayhawks have won nine consecutive Big 12 crowns, fending off challenges from the likes of Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Missouri and some kid named Kevin Durant at Texas.
They have also won six of the past eight Big 12 tournaments. To say that the Big 12 has been Kansas’ personal training grounds for the NCAA tournament this decade would be quite the understatement.
As long as Kansas continues to rack up conference crowns, NBA draft picks, No. 1 seeds and appearances in the Final Four, the occasional misfire in an early NCAA tournament round will do nothing to knock it off its consistency perch.