Table of Contents
This is the fourth part in my series of Prestige Rankings for NCAA Basketball over the past 24 years. My rankings are a more accurate and simplistic approach to the Prestige Rankings released by ESPN several weeks ago. Please refer to the table of contents to view other articles in the series.
Here I will unveil all of the teams in conferences rated No. 19-21, and all of the teams rated No. 31-35.
Conferences (Conference Rank, Team, Points, Overall Rank, ESPN’s Overall Rank)
21) Big Sky – Average Point Total: 14.44
1) Weber State – 72 (T-102, 89)
2) Montana – 44 (T-126, T-76)
T-3) Northern Arizona – 4 (T-191, T-136)
T-3) Montana State – 4 (T-191, 155)
T-5) Portland State – 2 (T-226, DNQ)
T-5) Eastern Washington – 2 (T-226, T-233)
T-5) Idaho State – 2 (T-226, T-274)
T-8) Northern Colorado – 0 (T-273, DNQ)
T-8) Sacramento State – 0 (T-273, T-278)
With two first round tournament wins under their belt, Weber State easily tops all the other teams in the Big Sky. They defeated No. 3-seeded Michigan State as a No. 14 seed in 1995, and then beat No. 3-seeded UNC as a No. 14 seed again in 1999.
The only other tournament win in this conference comes from the Montana upset of No. 5-seeded Nevada as a No. 12 seed in 2006.
Although there are only two teams in the conference without a tournament appearance in the past 24 seasons, no other team besides the top two have made it more than twice. The weakness of the bottom teams is a contributing factor to Montana and Weber State being so overrated in the ESPN rankings.
20) Southern Conference – Average Point Total: 16.36
1) Davidson – 68 (T-114, 60)
2) Chattanooga – 60 (117, 48)
3) College of Charleston – 40 (T-132, 50)
T-4) UNC Greensboro – 4 (T-191, T-129)
T-4) Georgia Southern – 4 (T-191, T-119)
T-6) Appalachian State – 2 (T-226, T-172)
T-6) Western Carolina – 2 (T-226, T-282)
T-8) The Citadel – 0 (T-273, 289)
T-8) Elon – 0 (T-273, DNQ)
T-8) Furman – 0 (T-273, T-256)
T-8) Wofford – 0 (T-273, DNQ)
Like most of the other small conferences with higher averages, the Southern Conference is very top-heavy. However, there are three teams that have enjoyed tournament success from this conference. Again, since the bottom teams are so weak, the top three are highly overrated in the ESPN rankings.
The Southern Conference has had two very successful years in the NCAA tournament in the past 24 seasons.
This past year, Davidson made a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight. Stephen Curry and the rest of the No. 10-seeded Wildcats impressively beat elite teams Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin before losing on a missed last second shot to eventual champion Kansas. With the return of Curry this year, Davidson is expected to be a serious threat in the tournament again this season.
Chattanooga also had a Sweet 16 run in 1997 as a No. 14 seed. In that same NCAA tournament, College of Charleston recorded the only other tournament victory for the Southern Conference in this time period by defeating No. 5-seeded Maryland as a No. 12 seed.
T-18) Ivy League – Average Score: 18.00
1) Princeton– 82 (100, T-40)
2) Pennsylvania – 56 (T-118, 34)
3) Cornell – 4 (T-191, T-225)
4) Brown – 2 (T-226, T-266)
T-5) Columbia – 0 (T-273, T-294)
T-5) Yale– 0 (T-273, T-241)
T-5) Harvard – 0 (T-273, T-284)
T-5) Dartmouth – 0 (T-273, T-284)
The Ivy League has been dominated by Pennsylvania and Princeton over the past 24 years. Princeton is the first team in the conference section that has cracked the top 100 overall teams. Along with a Pennsylvania team that has 12 tournament appearances with one tournament win, Princeton puts the Ivy League surprisingly high in the rankings.
Princeton has nine tournament appearances and two tournament wins. They defeated No. 4-seeded UCLA as a No. 13 seed in 1996 and then beat No. 12-seeded UNLV as a No. 5 seed in 1998.
Cornell won the Ivy League crown last year to become the first team besides Penn or Princeton to represent the Ivy League since Cornell won the league championship in 1988. Cornell went undefeated in Ivy League play in 2008 but was beaten badly by No. 3-seeded Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Again, I apologize to any Ivy League fans for putting them in this post and the conference they are tied with in the next post. The reasoning was that all of the teams in the other conference have made the NCAA tournament at least once, while there are four Ivy League teams that have never made the tournament in the past 24 seasons.
Top 50 Teams:
T-35) Pittsburgh Panthers – Total Points: 378
- Four Sweet 16 Appearances, 11 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: T-43
It’s surprising that a team that hasn’t advanced past the Sweet Sixteen is so high in the rankings, but Pittsburgh is certainly one of the top college basketball programs over the past 24 seasons.
In addition to four Sweet 16s, Pittsburgh has only lost four first round matchups and has consistently qualified for the NCAA tournament, except for an eight-year stretch from 1994 to 2001. Four Sweet 16 appearances is more than anyone else we have seen in the top 50 thus far, and also more than anyone else below the top 50 except for Vanderbilt (No. 57).
The outlook for the Panther basketball program looks very good for the future as well, as they have established themselves as a consistent contender in a Big East conference now stacked with prestigious programs. It shouldn’t be long before the Panthers finally advance past the Sweet 16 in an NCAA tournament.
34) Iowa Hawkeyes – Total Points: 404
- One Elite Eight Appearance, Two Sweet 16 Appearances, 10 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 49
Iowa has only advanced to at least the Sweet 16 three times in the past 24 seasons, but they have qualified for the tournament 14 times and only lost their first round game four of those years.
The Hawkeyes made the Elite Eight in 1987 after losing first round games in both 1985 and 1986, and then didn’t lose another first round tournament game again until 2005.
Unfortunately for Hawkeye fans, Iowa has only made the tournament twice in the past seven seasons, and they lost both of those first round tournament games.
33) Wake Forest Demon Deacons – Total Points: 416
- One Elite Eight Appearance, Three Sweet 16 Appearances, 12 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: T-37
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Wake Forest was able to challenge UNC and Duke in the ACC and became one of the country’s top programs.
The fact that they have zero Final Fours, never made the tournament for the first six years that these rankings cover, and have had a big letdown after Chris Paul’s departure and not made the NCAA tournament in the past three seasons is what keeps the Demon Deacons outside of the top 30.
Wake Forest’s best tournament finish came in 1996, when Tim Duncan led them to the Elite Eight.
32) Xavier Musketeers – Total Points: 418
- Two Elite Eight Appearances, One Sweet 16 Appearance, Seven Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 17
Seven missed tournaments for Xavier are the fewest out of any team outside the top 20 teams in my rankings. The Musketeers have been one of the most consistently good basketball programs in the past 24 seasons, a very impressive feat for a team that is not in one of the power conferences.
Xavier has been making it further into the tournament lately, as both of their Elite Eight appearances have come within the past five seasons. They made it as a No. 7 seed in 2004 and then again as a No. 3 seed in 2008.
The downside that keeps Xavier from being higher in the rankings is seven first round tournament losses in the time period.
31) Villanova Wildcats – Total Points: 425
- One NCAA Championship, Two Elite Eight Appearances, Two Sweet 16 Appearances, 11 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: T-30
Villanova is the lowest rated NCAA Champion in the rankings. They also have many other impressive tournament highlights in the past 24 years. However, the Wildcats have too many missed tournaments and too many first round exits to be any higher up in the rankings.
The Wildcats won the NCAA tournament in 1985 as a No. 8 seed after defeating their rival and defending national champion Georgetown in one of the most memorable championship games of all time. With the win, Villanova became the highest (numerically) seeded team to win the tournament championship.
Villanova also had Elite Eight appearances in 1988 and 2006. The 2006 Villanova team really signaled that the Wildcats were back as a top college basketball team after not advancing past the second round of the tournament for 16 years after their 1988 Elite Eight run (they finally made the Sweet 16 in 2005).