Ranking the 10 Most Entertaining NCAA Basketball Teams in the Past Decade
One of the most appealing qualities of college basketball is that it provides captivating teams, year after year, with which fans can easily connect.
Some of these are from well-known, celebrated programs that are cornerstones of the sport. Others are less familiar schools that virtually come out of nowhere, but still capture the attention if not hearts of the masses.
The following is a quick look at the 10 most entertaining college basketball teams from the past decade.
Like always, if I missed a team that you think belongs on this list (or if I included one that you think has no business being considered), throw it out there. Make your case.
10. 2011-12 Norfolk State Spartans
Teams that finish second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference generally are not expected to do much in the NCAA tournament. If fact, most of the time, they wouldn’t even be chosen on Selection Sunday.
At one early point during the 2011-12 season, Norfolk State was carrying a suspicious 4-3 record and looked like it was headed nowhere.
When the 15th-seeded Spartans made it into the 2012 Big Dance, no one outside of the Spartans locker room thought they would be able to match up with No. 2 seed Missouri in the opening round.
However, the NSU coach at the time, Anthony Evans, believed that they could be successful…and they were successful, beating Missouri before losing to Florida in the second round.
9. 2005-06 George Mason Patriots
Don’t you love it when teams that aren’t supposed to do anything in the NCAA tournament make a deep run in March Madness?
The 2005-06 George Mason Patriots were one of those teams that had a good season, made a good showing in their conference tournament and then were supposed to bow out in the opening round.
Evidently, someone forgot to tell head coach Jim Larranaga and the rest of the Patriots that was the plan.
This was a TEAM. They were tough and played incredibly well together. They really had no strong NBA prospects.
And yet, the Patriots successfully navigated their NCAA tourney gauntlet. The Patriots beat some of the most storied programs in college hoops: Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and UConn.
8. 2002-03 Syracuse Orange
The 2002-03 Orange were not a feared squad that everyone knew would win it all. In fact, Jim Boeheim’s bunch started the season unranked and lost its opening game to Memphis. Not exactly the kind of kickoff that ends up with a team cutting down the nets.
Once this team got on a roll, it was virtually unstoppable.
A unique detail about their March Madness run was the fact that the Orange faced and defeated four Big 12 teams in the NCAA tournament (Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas and Kansas).
McNamara, a gritty guard who could fill it up, amazingly knocked down six three-pointers in the first half of the championship game.
It was Anthony who was credited for carrying the ‘Cuse to its national championship. He dropped 33 points on Texas in the national semifinal game. Melo followed that up with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the title game.
7. 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky's 2012 National Championship team ended a 14-year title drought for the legendary program from Lexington.
After Tubby Smith’s 1997-98 squad cut down the nets in San Antonio, only the 2010-11 Wildcats made it as far as the Final Four until head coach John Calipari’s crew advanced to New Orleans in April 2012.
ESPN’s Dana O’Neil stated the obvious when she said that Kentucky “had the best thoroughbreds in the barn.”
Even though he only scored six points in the championship game, Davis won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award.
Calipari deserves a huge amount of credit for getting this group to buy into the concept and value of team basketball. They won it all by playing suffocating defense, blocking an absurd number of shots and playing selflessly on the offensive end.
Even if you are not a member of the Big Blue Nation, but you just like watching good basketball, this group was impressive.
6. 2005-06 Florida Gators
Some teams are great from beginning to end. Other teams have their highs and lows throughout the season and catch fire at the right time.
The Gators opened the season winning their first 17 games, but then hit a rough patch losing six of their next 11 games.
When February turned into March, Billy Donovan’s crew found its niche, and became a compelling team that tenaciously ran the table in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
This was not a circle of seasoned veterans, but a passionate group of young guys who just loved to play ball together.
The 2005-06 Gators were characterized by their versatility and unselfishness. Joakim Noah, voted Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, led the way in the championship game against UCLA by scoring 16 points, grabbing nine rebounds, dishing out three assists and blocking six shots.
Most of the college basketball world expected several of Florida’s key players to jump early into the NBA draft. Instead, the entire starting five returned and won the 2007 NCAA championship too.
5. 2010-11 VCU Rams
Virginia Commonwealth University’s men’s basketball program had never advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament before the 2010-11 season.
The Rams were entering into their second year under their young, charismatic coach, Shaka Smart. VCU had won the 2010 CBI Invitational the year before in Smart’s first season. On Selection Sunday 2011, VCU was one of the last teams to be chosen for the NCAA tournament. They began March Madness by playing in one of the initial “First Four” games.
Their inclusion in the field of 68 was criticized by many in the media. USA Today’s Michael Hiestand detailed the protests of ESPN’s Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale, as well as former CBS analyst Billy Packer. Rather than being sidetracked by the controversy, Smart used the disapproval as a team motivator, rallying his squad in an “us-against-the-world” mindset.
Whether or not you call them a “David” team, VCU outplayed its opponents and proved its critics wrong by not only winning its opening games, but advancing to the 2011 Final Four. The Rams beat Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas along the way.
For most of the college basketball world, this was their first exposure to Smart and his "havoc" defense. Their gritty style and underdog persona were more than fans could resist.
4. 2010-11 Brigham Young University Cougars
BYU's Jimmer Fredette was not a one-man team in 2010-11.
The Cougars actually put a strong starting five on the floor that were enjoyable to watch and tough to beat.
Brandon Davies, Jackson Emery, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo were more than one-dimensional role players to position around Jimmer.
Dave Rose’s squad put up an impressive 32-5 record (most wins in school history) and made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years.
But, honestly, it sure was thrilling wondering how much Fredette was going to put up on a given night. His BYU bio says that the 6’2” guard “scored 20-plus points 33 times, 30-plus points 15 times, 40-plus points four times and 50-plus points once.”
Fredette was not only the nation’s leading scorer (28.9 PPG), but his bio also states that he had the “highest scoring average by one player in NCAA Division I since Jason Conley in 2002 (29.3 PPG for VMI).”
3. 2007-08 Davidson Wildcats
Davidson College’s 2007-08 season will not be forgotten anytime soon.
The Wildcats started off by running the Southern Conference table with a perfect 20-0 league record. They swept through their conference tournament by winning each of their three games by an average margin of victory of 26.3 points.
Where Davidson really surprised most college basketball fans was in the 2008 NCAA tournament. One of the main reasons that Bob McKillop’s bunch went crazy was the insane shooting of Stephen Curry.
As a sophomore, Curry averaged 25.9 PPG in the regular season, but he ratcheted things up during March Madness.
In the opening round, he dropped 40 on Gonzaga. In the round of 32, he scorched Georgetown with 30 points. In the Sweet 16, Curry carved up Wisconsin with 33 points. And finally, in the Elite Eight, he tapped No. 1 seed Kansas with 25 points in a 59-57 loss.
ESPN.com’s recap of the Kansas game expresses that Curry was “only the fourth player to hit the 30-point mark in his first four NCAA tournament games.”
If they had pulled off the upset against KU, it would have been fun to see Curry go up against cross-state Goliath, North Carolina, in the 2008 Final Four.
2. 2009-10 Butler Bulldogs
Butler has been one of the most successful mid-major programs in college basketball.
The Bulldogs’ Wikipedia page maintains that they have won almost 1,500 games in school history.
Their most recent run of success has thrust them solidly into the national spotlight.
In the 2009-10 season, Butler’s head coach Brad Stevens led the Bulldogs to an incredible season that took them all the way to the Final Four and the national championship game against Duke.
On its way to the championship game, Butler went a flawless 18-0 in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs sped through the HL postseason tournament without any trouble.
After an NCAA tournament opening-round cake walk against UTEP, the Bulldogs had to battle fiercely for every win: Murray State (two-point margin of victory); Syracuse (four points); Kansas State (seven points) and Michigan State (two points).
When Stevens’ stubborn squad advanced to the NCAA championship game against Duke, no one gave them a chance to win. But the Bulldogs had the ball on the last play of the game with a chance to pull off the upset of the century.
1. 2012-13 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
The most entertaining team in the last decade of college basketball was this past year’s Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
Head coach Andy Enfield believed in his team and employed a coaching philosophy that said that players play better if they enjoy what they are doing.
The Eagles didn’t just act like they were having fun during March Madness; they were having fun.
“Dunk City” was created.
They played a wide-open brand of basketball that converted steals into fast-break dunks and high-flying alley-oops.
They won their way into the NCAA tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament in only the second year of their tournament eligibility.
Once selected, they immediately faced heavily favored second-seeded Georgetown and took down the Hoyas with a level of dominance that shocked the world.
The Eagles weren’t through with one upset; they went on to put down San Diego State in their round of 32 game.
In its Sweet 16 contest against Florida, FGCU charged out strongly early on, but the Eagles came up short in what would have been an enormous upset.