Table of Contents:
This is the sixth 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. 13-15, and all of the teams rated No. 21-25.
Conferences: (Conference Rank, Team, Points, Overall Rank, ESPN’s Overall Rank)
15) Sun Belt Conference – Average Point Total: 33.54
1) Western Kentucky – 210 (T-54, T-43)
2) South Alabama – 44 (T-126, T-82)
3) Louisiana Lafayette – 42 (T-130, T-119)
4) New Orleans – 40 (T-132, 88)
T-5) Arkansas-Little Rock – 38 (T-142, 107)
T-5) Middle Tennessee State – 38 (T-142, T-141)
7) Louisiana Monroe – 12 (T-157, T-96)
8) North Texas – 4 (T-191, 220)
T-9) Troy – 2 (T-226, T-161)
T-9) Florida Atlantic – 2 (T-226, T-233)
T-9) Arkansas State – 2 (T-226, T-168)
T-9) Florida International – 2 (T-226, T-260)
13) Denver – 0 (T-273, DNQ)
The top six teams in the Sun Belt rankings all have at least one NCAA tournament victory in the last 24 seasons. However, Western Kentucky clearly stands out among all the other teams in this conference.
The Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky are the only team in the conference with multiple tournament wins. They have the highest point total by far of any team we have seen in the conference rankings with 210. They barely missed out on the top 50 in my rankings and actually made the top 50 in the ESPN rankings (again, because they play in a weaker conference).
Western Kentucky has played in nine tournaments since 1985 and has two Sweet 16 appearances. They also have three second-round exits. With seven total tournament wins, they easily more than quadruple any other Sun Belt teams’ point total.
While no other team has achieved near the tournament success of Western Kentucky in this conference, the tournament appearances is much more balanced among the top teams in the Sun Belt.
After WKU’s nine appearances, in order of rank, South Alabama has six, Louisiana Lafayette has five, New Orleans has four, Arkansas-Little Rock has three, Middle Tennessee State has three, and Louisiana Monroe has six.
14) MAC – Average Point Total: 38.00
1) Kent State – 98 (85, T-61)
2) Miami (OH) – 94 (T-102, T-80)
3) Ball State – 92 (T-160, T-115)
4) Eastern Michigan – 88 (T-189, T-225)
T-5) Western Michigan – 36 (T-191, 191)
T-5) Central Michigan – 36 (T-191, T-203)
7) Ohio – 6 (T-226, T-208)
8) Northern Illinois – 4 (T-273, T-298)
9) Akron – 2 (T-273, T-298)
T-10) Buffalo – 0 (T-273, T-298)
T-10) Bowling Green – 0 (T-273, T-298)
T-10) Toledo – 0 (T-273, T-298)
The Mid-American Conference has a very close race at the top of the rankings. The top four teams are all within 10 points of each other, a rare occurrence after looking at all of the previous conference standings.
Kent State gets the top spot in the conference on the heels of their Elite Eight appearance in 2002, when current NFL star Antonio Gates was a key player on their team. The Golden Flashes also won their first-round tournament matchup in 2001. They have five tournament appearances since 1985, all coming from 1999 to 2008.
Miami of Ohio gets the second spot with seven tournament appearances, including one Sweet 16 and one second-round exit. Ball State is third, with a Sweet 16 and a second-round exit, but only six tournament appearances. Eastern Michigan is only four points behind them; they also have one Sweet 16 and one second-round exit, but only have four total tournament appearances.
The bottom part of the MAC is rather weak, which keeps it below some of the other mid-major conferences in the rankings. Buffalo, Bowling Green, and Toledo all have no tournament appearances in the time period of the rankings.
13) WAC – Average Score: 45.11
1) Nevada – 122 (T-78, T-74)
2) New Mexico State – 94 (T-87, T-61)
3) Louisiana Tech – 88 (T-93, T-74)
4) Utah State – 46 (T-124, T-61)
5) Fresno State – 36 (T-149, T-148)
6) Boise State – 8 (T-163, T-109)
7) Hawaii – 6 (T-175, 156)
8) Idaho – 4 (T-191, T-196)
9) San Jose State – 2 (T-226, T-282)
Much like the MAC, the WAC also has a fairly balanced and successful top of the division but a weaker bottom half. The difference is that Nevada has had exceptional tournament success for the WAC, and every WAC team has at least one tournament appearance in the last 24 seasons.
Nevada has four NCAA tournament victories in the time frame, all which have come in the past five seasons. Their best finish was a Sweet 16 appearance in 2004, as a No. 10 seed.
New Mexico State also has had a lot of tournament success, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1992 and a first-round victory in 1993. Louisiana Tech has had the same success, but only with three less tournament appearances.
Utah State has also been one of the better teams in the WAC since 1985. Their tournament success is a little below some of the other teams, but their other accolades were enough to have them tied for first place with New Mexico State in the ESPN rankings for this conference.
Utah State has seven tournament appearances but only one tournament win in this time period.
Fresno State is the only other team in the WAC with a tournament victory.
Top 50 Teams
25) Stanford Cardinal – Total Points: 466
- 1 Final Four Appearance, 1 Elite Eight Appearance, 2 Sweet 16 Appearances, 9 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 25
Stanford has been one of the most consistent college basketball teams in the last 24 years. It is their consistency that puts them in the top 25 rather than their top finishes.
The Cardinal only has one Final Four appearance, which came in 1998, as a No. 3 seed. They lost by one point to Kentucky, who went on to win the championship.
Stanford could be much higher in the rankings, but from 1985 to 1994, they had only two tournament appearances and zero tournament victories. Since then, they have only missed qualifying for one tournament, and have only lost two of their first-round games.
Stanford did make the Sweet 16 for the first time in four seasons this past year, but their team may have difficulty returning to that point next season after the loss of Brook and Robin Lopez to the NBA draft.
24) Michigan Wolverines – Total Points: 475
- 1 NCAA Championship, 2 Championship Game Appearances, 1 Elite Eight Appearance, 1 Sweet 16 Appearance, 12 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 22
The last time Michigan made the NCAA tournament was 1998. The last time Michigan made it to at least the Sweet 16 was 1994 (where they made the Elite Eight). That should give you an idea of how dominant Michigan was from 1985 to 1994.
Michigan won the National Championship in 1989 as a No. 3 seed by defeating Seton Hall by one point. They also lost the championship game in 1992 to Duke and again lost in the finals the next year to North Carolina.
The championship game loss to North Carolina was the famous game where Chris Webber took a timeout that Michigan did not have
There is another big negative for Michigan though. Several year ago, the University of Michigan self-imposed a sanction on its basketball team after an investigation revealed that a Michigan booster had given money to four of the basketball players, including Chris Webber.
They forfeited all of their tournament victories where players that had been paid participated.
My rankings still give Michigan credit for the wins that they recorded. This is for simplicity, but also because Michigan still earned these wins on the court. As a basketball team, those victories still took place and fans will remember those teams as great basketball teams.
The repercussions of the sanctions can be seen in the fact that Michigan has not had a good basketball team in 10 years, so there is no need to further penalize the Wolverines.
23) Alabama Crimson Tide – Total Points: 484
- 1 Elite Eight Appearance, 5 Sweet 16 Appearances, 10 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: T-35
Alabama has only made it past the Sweet Sixteen round once in the last 24 years, but their consistency as a solid basketball team puts them in the top 25. Five Sweet 16 appearances are the most of any team outside the top 15 in the rankings.
Most of Alabama’s tournament success actually came from 1985-1991. They made the Sweet 16 in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, and 1991.
Even though the Crimson Tide had much more success in the earlier years than these rankings cover, their best finish did come in 2004. They made the Elite Eight as a No. 8 seed, where they lost to eventual champion UConn.
22) Florida Gators – Total Points: 500
- 2 NCAA Championships, 1 Championship Game Appearance, 1 Final Four Appearance, 2 Sweet 16 Appearances, 10 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 21
The success of the Florida basketball program over the past 10 years has catapulted them into the elite of college basketball. The Gators did miss out on the NCAA tournament this past season, but after losing all of their starting players on a team that won two straight NCAA Championships, they deserve a little bit of a break.
In addition to their championships in 2006 and 2007, Florida also played in the final game of the tournament in 2000 as a No. 5 seed, losing to Michigan State.
Outside of the last 10 seasons, the main accomplishment for Florida in this time period was a Final Four appearance in 1994 as a No. 3 seed.
Four first-round losses and four second-round losses, along with 10 missed tournaments, keep Florida from being higher in the rankings.
21) Cincinnati Bearcats – Total Points: 504
- 1 Final Four Appearance, 2 Elite Eight Appearances, 1 Sweet 16 Appearance, 10 Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 19
Cincinnati has not made the NCAA tournament in the past three seasons. They also did not qualify for the tournament at all from 1985-1991. They did, however, make the tournament for every season in between.
In their streak of 14-straight tournament appearances, the Bearcats only lost in the first round twice. They had slightly more trouble with their second-round games, losing eight times in the round of 32.
Cincinnati’s best finish was a Final Four appearance in 1992 as a No. 4 seed. They lost to No. 6 seeded Michigan in their semifinal matchup.
It’s important to remember that the biggest point jump comes from a team winning a first-round tournament game, since most of the teams are eliminated at this point.
The consistency of the Bearcats is enough to beat out the four Final Fours (including two championships) of the Florida Gators.