Which Is the Greatest College Basketball Program of All Time?

Mark RudiCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 21:   Kentucky Wildcat fans celebrates following the 88-44 victory over the Drexel Dragons at Rupp Arena on December 21, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky. The victory was the 2,000th in the history of Kentucky basketball.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Since Kentucky got its 2,000th victory on Monday, there's been a debate about which college basketball program is the greatest of all time.

Is it Kentucky? Is it North Carolina? Or someone else?

Kentucky fans obviously have a lot to brag about when saying their program is the best college program ever. The Wildcats boast seven national championships, which is second all time, have the most all-time wins, highest all-time winning percentage, and the most NCAA Tournament appearances. 

Kentucky also has nine current players in the NBA and has had a total of 91 players selected in the NBA. Seven of those were lottery picks, and 20 were in the first round. 

UK's golden years were during Adolph Rupp's reign as the Wildcats' head coach for 42 years from 1930-72. Rupp brought Kentucky four of their seven national titles (1948, '49, '51, '58). In the late '40s and early '50s, Kentucky basketball was truly dominant. Rupp is known as one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever, thus why Kentucky's arena is named Rupp Arena. 

But Kentucky basketball has lost a little bit of its luster lately. Since Rupp retired in 1970, which he was forced to do due to a mandatory policy at the university that employees must retire at the age of 70, Kentucky has only had three national titles, their last coming in 1998 when now Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith was at the helm.

Since Smith left, the program took a downturn when Billy Gillispie was hired and the Wildcats were found in a place they don't want to be in March last season: the NIT.

But now things are looking up for Kentucky, as they hired former Memphis coach John Calipari despite some scandals he had while at UMass and Memphis. Kentucky is also currently ranked No. 3 in the country.

UCLA is always brought up in the discussion about the best ever. The Bruins have more NCAA titles then anybody (11), and championships always top overall wins. UCLA also may have had the best coach to ever coach the game: John Wooden.

UCLA also has produced the likes of Bill Walton, Baron Davis, Reggie Miller, Larry Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose name was Lew Alcindor while at UCLA.

The Bruins also won seven consecutive national championships from 1967-73, made 13 NCAA title game appearances, reached 18 Final Fours (10 consecutive from 1967-76), and had an 88-game regular season winning streak from 1971-74.

The 1970s under Wooden were the golden years for UCLA. However, when thinking about top programs, UCLA doesn't really come to mind anymore. The fact is, the current generation doesn't look at what the program did in the 1970s. They don't care what happened 30 years ago; they want to know what the program is doing now. 

While I still consider UCLA a great program, it's way past its heyday. The Bruins only have one national title since Wooden retired (1994) and have only made the championship game once since their last title. UCLA lost to Florida in the 2006 NCAA Championship game.

The 2009-10 season does not look good for them, as they are currently 4-7 with losses to Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Long Beach State, and Mississippi State.

You could also go with Indiana. The Hoosiers own five national titles, which is tied with North Carolina for third all-time, and Indiana's roots trace to the origins of the game of basketball.

But like UCLA, IU seems to be past its heyday. Their last national title was in 1987, and the days of Bobby Knight are long gone. However, former IU coach and now UAB head coach Mike Davis took the Hoosiers back to the national title game in 2002, but Indiana was defeated by Maryland.

The program also has been under a lot of controversy. From Knight's behavior issues to Kelvin Sampson's recruiting violations, Indiana was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Time will only tell with Tom Crean whether the program can rise again.

All in all, I think this discussion will come back to North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been the most recognizable program since the 1980s, mainly due to Michael Jordan, who is arguably the greatest player to ever play the game. 

UNC also has five national titles, is the current defending NCAA Champion, and has 41 NCAA Tournament appearances. The number of NBA players North Carolina has produced is a remarkable list, which includes the likes of Jordan, Vince Carter, George Karl, Rasheed Wallace, James Worthy, and current head coach Roy Williams. 

North Carolina usually leads college sports in merchandise sales, and their "Carolina Blue" color is recognized everywhere.

The debate about the greatest college basketball program of all time is one that will never end. All these schools qualify for it, and all have very fine programs.

Who knows? Maybe as we go into another decade, another program will emerge to be dominant.