Ranking the 10 Best Starting Lineups in College Basketball History
As you look throughout the history of college basketball, there are dozens and dozens of great teams that have made their mark on the sport.
But, even among the great teams, there are a select few that stand apart from the rest.
Here are the 10 best starting lineups of all time.
This list is not solely based upon numbers of NBA draft picks or a variety of rewards and recognitions. This list looks at team accomplishments instead of potential or talent.
Some teams had the horses but didn't ultimately finish the race. They are not included.
These teams played well and won lots of games...and championships!
10. 1984 Georgetown Hoyas
Starting Five: Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Michael Graham and Michael Jackson
Few teams had as much success in the 1980s as Georgetown. From 1982 to 1985, head coach John Thompson's teams went to three of four national title games. The Hoyas were freakishly athletic and physically intimidating. When you have Patrick Ewing patrolling the middle, you have a good head start on keeping opponents from driving the lane.
The 1984 edition of Hoyas hoops relied on Ewing and Michael Graham's ominous presence in the paint with Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Michael Jackson and Freddie Brown thrashing defenders on the perimeter.
Georgetown faced off against the Houston Cougars in the 1984 national championship game. This pitted two of the all-time best collegiate centers, Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, in a head-to-head clash.
Ultimately, Georgetown's intense defensive pressure was the deciding factor in the outcome of the game. The Hoyas forced 20 Cougars turnovers, while only committing nine.
Georgetown ended up beating Houston in a high-scoring battle, 84-75,
9. 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Starting Five: Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, David Butler, Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony
The 1990 Runnin' Rebels weren't just good...they were scary. They didn’t just beat teams; they disgraced them. UNLV had 24 double-digit wins to its credit with a ridiculous 17.8 margin of victory.
The Rebels were led by a trio of cold-blooded slayers: Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. They would suffocate their opponents on defense and blow past anyone attempting to guard them on offense. Eventually, all three of these players were NBA first-round draft picks and enjoyed successful careers in the Association.
When UNLV opened the 1990 NCAA tournament, many people wondered if head coach Jerry Tarkanian’s team was for real. They questioned whether it had built a booming season on beating inferior competition in the Big West Conference. Instead of shuddering under the bright lights of March Madness, the Rebels thumped one opponent after another.
On its way to facing Duke in the national championship game, UNLV beat its challengers by an average of 16 points per game. But nothing prepared the college basketball world for what ended up as the most lopsided NCAA title game in college basketball history (103-73).
The Rebels took it to the Blue Devils from the onset of the game, pressuring Duke into 23 turnovers and holding them to 1-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. UNLV shot 61 percent from the field. Final Four most outstanding player, Anderson Hunt, led the Rebels by dropping in 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting (4-of-7 from three).
8. 1974 North Carolina State Wolfpack
Starting Five: David Thompson, Tom Burleson, Monte Towe, Moe Rivers, Phil Spence
There are more than two programs along Tobacco Road, and the 1974 Wolfpack were a team for the decades. This NC State juggernaut was built around the mind-blowing skills of Thompson, the blue-collar board work of 7'4" Burleson and the tremendous floor leadership of Towe.
Just getting to the NCAA tournament was no small accomplishment. Head coach Norm Sloan's squad had to beat Maryland in overtime in the ACC finals just to qualify. At that time, only league champions were included in the March Madness field.
NC State came one game away from an unblemished 1973-74 season. Their one defeat came at the hands of the UCLA Bruins, who State lost to in a nonconference tilt earlier in the season, via SportsIllustrated.CNN.com. However, the Wolfpack got revenge on the Bill Walton-led Bruins by beating UCLA in the national semifinals.
This Final Four double-overtime victory was one of the most unforgettable games in March Madness history. It was notable for the game itself, but also for the fact that NC State's win halted UCLA's string of seven straight NCAA championships.
David Thompson, State's true superstar, shined brightly in the Final Four victories, via GoPack.com. The 6'4" high-flyer scored 28 points in the UCLA win. He followed it up by dropping in 21 against Marquette in the title game.
7. 1996 Kentucky Wildcats
Starting Five: Anthony Epps, Tony Delk, Derek Anderson, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty.
The 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats weren't the first great team to come out of Lexington, but they were the best of the best from Bluegrass country. Nine players from this Rick Pitino-coached team eventually played in the NBA. At one point in the 1995-96 season, the Wildcats won a remarkable 27 straight games.
Because of its incredible talent and impressive performances, this team was known as "The Untouchables." The Wildcats virtually had no weak spots in their lineup and had plenty of "game" coming off the bench.
One of their two losses came at the hands of UMass in an early season, nonconference contest. The Minutemen were coached, at the time, by none other than current UK coach John Calipari.
Leading up to the Final Four, the 'Cats won their four tournament games by a ridiculous average of 26 points per game. In the national semifinal, UK had the perfect chance to gain revenge against UMass. The team didn't let this opportunity slip by, beating the Minutemen 81-74.
To finish off this spectacular season, Tony Delk, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, led Kentucky by connecting on seven three-pointers on his way to scoring 24 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out two assists.
6. 1956 San Francisco Dons
Starting Five: Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Hal Perry, Carl Boldt, Gene Brown
A program may need to put together several outstanding seasons in a row to be considered a dynasty, but the San Francisco Dons were close to that in the 1950s.
Future Hall of Famer Bill Russell controlled games from his center position. He averaged over 20 points and 20 rebounds for his 79 game collegiate career. He was the anchor of the USF team that won 60 consecutive games over three seasons and won back-to-back NCAA Championships (1955 and 1956).
Though the Dons had no trouble putting the ball in the basket, they overwhelmed teams with their intense defensive pressure. CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello pointed out that:
They used a 2-2-1 full court zone press to force turnovers and get baskets in transition. They led the nation in scoring defense for the second consecutive season, allowing just 52 points per game. San Francisco won only one regular-season game by fewer than seven points, beating teams by an average of 20 points per game.
Borzello also pointed out that, “The Dons were the first team to go undefeated during the regular season and then win the national title.”
5. 1992 Duke Blue Devils
Starting Five: Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Thomas Hill, Antonio Lang
Over the last four decades, only three teams have won back-to-back NCAA championships. UCLA actually piled up seven consecutive titles from 1967 to 1973. Florida did it in 2006 and 2007. And Duke collected successive titles in 1991 and 1992.
The Blue Devils advanced to the Final Four in six of seven seasons, starting in the 1985-86 season and running through the 1991-92 campaign. This was when Coach K became Coach K and the Blue Devils became the Blue Devils.
The trio of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill was the dynamic, driving force behind Duke’s runaway success. Laettner and Hurley lived through the humiliation of their lopsided loss to UNLV in the 1990 title game. Now, it was their turn to humble a few opponents.
To be able to cut down the nets in Minneapolis, the Blue Devils had to beat Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. The East regional finals game against UK was where "The Shot" took place. While Laettner and Hill grabbed more of the headlines, it was Bobby Hurley who made this team unrivaled. The gritty pass-first point guard took center stage, being named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
4. 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels
Starting Five: Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Jimmy Black, James Worthy
Any team where Michael Jordan may be the second- or third-best player has to be good. Even though MJ was named the 1982 ACC Rookie of the Year, he was by no means the clear-cut top dog on this talented squad.
James Worthy and Sam Perkins deserve every bit as much credit for the Tar Heels' 1981-82 success. Worthy was not only the UNC's leading scorer (15.6), but he also won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player by scoring 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting. Perkins was the team’s leading rebounder and consistently protected the rim.
UNC had to beat two exceptional teams in the Final Four to be able to cut down the nets in the Louisiana Superdome. In the national semifinals, Carolina had to take down Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama. After beating the Cougars, the Tar Heels faced Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd and the Georgetown Hoyas.
Very few championship games have featured so many all-time great players.
With both teams trading baskets, the game went down to the final seconds. After Jordan hit a jumper with under 20 seconds left, Georgetown’s Freddy Brown mistakenly threw the ball straight to James Worthy, and the game (and Dean Smith’s first title) was history.
3. 1973 UCLA Bruins
Starting Five: Bill Walton, Larry Farmer, Jamaal (Keith) Wilkes, Greg Lee, Larry Hollyfield
Putting together one undefeated national championship season is unbelievable. Two in a row is absolutely insane. But that is exactly what Bill Walton and his Bruin teammates did in the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons. It is the only squad in NCAA history to pull this off.
But UCLA was more than a one-player show. Keith Wilkes was a silky smooth shooter who kept teams from packing the lane in an attempt to shut down the big redhead. Larry Farmer was a double-figure scorer who complemented Walton’s inside artistry.
UCLA won all of its games leading up to the championship contest by double figures. But it was the title game against Memphis that was the crowning performance for this gifted group. Walton was nearly unstoppable, scoring 44 points on an mind-boggling 21-of-22 shooting.
2. 1968 UCLA Bruins
Starting Five: Lew Alcindor, Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackelford, Mike Warren, Mike Lynn
In the late 1960s, John Wooden was establishing his empire and stacking up national championships in Westwood. When the 1967-68 Bruins started rolling, they were nearly impossible to beat. UCLA’s sole loss during the season came against Houston in the Game of the Century when Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was recovering from a scratched cornea.
Alcindor was a once-in-a-lifetime player. His dominance did not come only because of his size and length. He ruled games by his surprising agility. Because the slam dunk was not allowed in college hoops, he was forced to develop post moves and shooting skills that he would not have otherwise.
Without a doubt, this could have easily become a one-player show. But Wooden, the quintessential teacher of team, made sure that the Bruins were balanced. Alcindor was not alone on the court. All five starters averaged double figures. Lucius Allen stood out as a true shooter who lessened some of the pressure in the paint.
This version of UCLA basketball brilliance was at full luster when it came to the 1968 Final Four. In the national semifinal game against Houston, Alcindor was at full strength and the Bruins crushed the Cougars by 32. The championship contest was not much closer, as Wooden’s warriors trampled the North Carolina Tar Heels, 78-55.
CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello makes a great point about this UCLA team. He said:
A team with one loss might scare some away from anointing this version of the Bruins as one of the greatest of all time, but it shouldn't. UCLA steamrolled teams, averaging 93.4 points per game and beating teams by 26.2 per game.
1. 1976 Indiana Hoosiers
Starting Five: Quinn Buckner, Bob Wilkerson, Tom Abernethy, Scott May and Kent Benson
Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers starting five was the best of all time. They were undefeated national champs, and no other team has been able to accomplish that in the last 37 years and counting.
Scott May and Kent Benson formed an unrivaled combo that teams virtually could not contain. The Hoosiers worked the ball for open looks and rarely forced a bad shot up. They played hard on defense and crashed the boards on both ends. Though it was not the most athletic team around, it still got the ball out on the break and scored plenty of points in transition.
IU rolled through the early rounds of the NCAA tournament with having only one difficult contest (against Alabama). For the finals, the Hoosiers faced Big Ten foe Michigan. While it was still a total team effort, Indiana was paced by point guard Quinn Buckner’s steady floor leadership, Scott May’s timely scoring (26 points) and Kent Benson, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player’s exceptional performance (25 points and nince rebounds).
Knight set the bar for this team high. He was not interested in just winning the Big Ten or even the national championship. He thought that this group was capable of perfection.
Like him or not, Knight was right.