Table of Contents
This is the 10th and second to last 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 the top conferences and top overall teams in the rankings. Tomorrow I will release the 11th and final part in the series, which will be a brief summary and consolidation of my previous articles.
Conferences (Conference Rank, Team, Points, Overall Rank, ESPN’s Overall Rank)
3) Big East – Average Point Total: 366.81
1) Connecticut – 724 (7, 6)
2) Syracuse – 713 (8, 9)
3) Georgetown – 690 (9, T-10)
4) Louisville – 637 (11, T-14)
5) Cincinnati – 504 (21, 19)
6) Villanova – 425 (31, T-30)
T-7) Seton Hall – 378 (T-35, 51)
T-7) Pittsburgh – 378 (T-35, T-43)
9) St. John’s – 356 (40, T-35)
10) Notre Dame – 278 (T-47, T-86)
11) West Virginia – 248 (50, 67)
12) DePaul – 210 (T-54, 95)
13) Marquette – 190 (58, T-61)
14) Providence – 130 (T-73, T-111)
T-15) South Florida – 4 (T-191, T-229)
T-15) Rutgers – 4 (T-191, T-225)
The Big East, with the help of its recently added teams, is the third-highest ranked conference in the last 24 seasons. The Big East boasts eleven top 50 programs, which is by far the most of any conference (the Big East also has more teams than most conferences).
The race for the top spot in the conference was very close, as the top four teams were all within ranked overall within five spots of each other. UConn grabbed the top spot with the seventh overall rank, Syracuse was second in the Big East and eighth overall, Georgetown came next at ninth overall, and Louisville finished fourth in the Big East but 11th overall.
The Big East has earned five national championships since 1985. Villanova has one (1985), Louisville has one (1986), Syracuse has one (2003), and Connecticut has two (1999 and 2004).
Nine teams in the Big East have reached at least the Final Four in the last 24 seasons (UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Cincinnati, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Marquette).
The main visible negative for this conference is the bottom teams. Both South Florida and Rutgers have been very poor basketball programs in this time period. Neither has a tournament victory, and they have only two tournament appearances each.
2) Big Ten – Average Point Total: 399.91
1) Michigan State – 655 (10, T-10)
2) Illinois – 616 (13, 23)
3) Indiana – 587 (15, 13)
4) Purdue – 546 (18, 29)
5) Michigan – 475 (24, 22)
6) Ohio State – 440 (30, 27)
7) Iowa – 404 (34, 49)
8) Wisconsin – 364 (T-37, T-43)
9) Minnesota – 226 (52, 68)
10) Penn State – 86 (T-96, T-185)
11) Northwestern – 0 (T-273, T-290)
The Big East may have the highest number of teams in the top 50, but the Big Ten has the highest proportion of teams within the top 50, helping it to be the second-highest ranked conference in the last 24 seasons. The Big Ten has eight of its 11 teams ranked inside the top 50 (actually inside the top 37).
Michigan State is the pride of the conference and is ranked 10th in the overall rankings. Illinois and Indiana were the only teams within 100 points of the Spartans.
The Big Ten has three national championships to its credit since 1985. Indiana has one (1987), Michigan has one (1989), and Michigan State has one (2000).
Seven Big Ten teams have reached at least the Final Four in the last 24 seasons (Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota).
The separation between the Big Ten and the top ranked conference comes from the Big Ten’s lack of a top overall team and Northwestern.
Michigan State is the highest ranked overall team in the Big Ten, and they only score high enough for 10th overall.
Northwestern, at the bottom of the Big Ten rankings, has a score of zero points. They are the only team in any of the six major conferences to not have any tournament appearances in the last 24 seasons. They weigh down the Big Ten average point total significantly.
1) ACC – Average Score: 435.00
1) Duke – 1,135 (1, 1)
2) North Carolina – 1,106 (2, 3)
3) Maryland – 601 (14, 28)
4) Georgia Tech – 446 (29, 33)
5) Wake Forest – 416 (33, T-37)
6) Boston College – 364 (T-37, T-70)
7) North Carolina State – 358 (39, 52)
8) Virginia – 278 (T-47, T-70)
9) Florida State – 180 (T-59, 128)
10) Clemson – 142 (71, T-111)
11) Miami – 122 (T-78, T-145)
12) Virginia Tech – 72 (T-102, T-210)
The ACC is the No. 1-ranked conference in the last 24 seasons. It has not only the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked teams overall (Duke and North Carolina), but also eight top 50 teams.
The strength of the bottom part of the ACC is also much better than other conferences. This is the only conference where every team has multiple tournament victories. The 72 points for Virginia Tech, ranked last in the conference, is by far more points than any other conference’s last ranked team. The previous high point total for a last place team in a conference was eight.
The ACC has six national championships to its credit since 1985. Duke has three (1991, 1992, and 2001), North Carolina has two (1993, 2005), and Maryland has one (2002).
Surprisingly, only four teams in the ACC have reached the Final Four in this time period. Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia Tech are the only teams that have done so.
In addition, it should be noted that despite the ACC’s huge advantage over any other conference in average point total, the newest additions to the ACC have hurt the conference’s prestige. Miami and Virginia Tech are the two lowest-rated teams in the conference, and Boston College is only at No. 6.
The average point total of the ACC without these three newest teams would actually be 518, which is significantly higher than their actual average point total of 437.
Top 50 Teams
5) Arizona Wildcats – Total Points: 749
- One NCAA Championship, one Championship Game Appearance, two Final Four Appearances, three Elite Eight Appearances, four Sweet 16 Appearances, zero Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 5
Arizona is the only team in Division I college basketball that has made the NCAA tournament every year for the past 24 seasons. That, along with some very successful tournaments, makes the Wildcats undoubtedly one of the most prestigious programs of the time period.
The highlight for Arizona came in 1997 when they won a national championship. They defeated No. 1-seeded Kentucky as a No. 4 seed in the finals in a close game.
Arizona also made the national championship game in 2001 as a No. 2 seed, but they lost to No. 1-seeded Duke. The Wildcats have two other Final Four appearances since 1985: one in 1988 and one in 1994.
The reason why Arizona ranks below teams that have missed a few tournaments is their high number of first round losses. In their 24 tournament appearances in this time period, Arizona has lost in the first round 10 times. This includes each of the past two seasons.
4) Kentucky Wildcats – Total Points: 978
- Two NCAA Championships, one Championship Game Appearance, one Final Four Appearance, six Elite Eight Appearances, four Sweet 16 Appearances, three Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 4
Arizona may have won the battle of the Wildcats by defeating Kentucky in the national championship game in 1997, but Kentucky wins the war by besting Arizona in the prestige rankings.
Kentucky has dominated the SEC conference and has had a lot of success in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky is below the top three in the rankings because of a tournament ban that caused them to missed three straight tournaments from 1989 to 1991, as well as several missed opportunities. Their six losses in the Elite Eight round are more than any other college basketball team in this period
Kentucky does have two national championships to its credit in the last 24 seasons. They won the tournament as a No. 1 seed in 1996, defeating No. 4-seeded Syracuse in the finals, and also won it all two years later in 1998 as a No. 2 seed. There they defeated No. 3-seeded Utah in the finals.
Kentucky also made the championship game in 1997 and the Final Four in 1993.
3) Kansas Jayhawks – Total Points: 1,076
- Two NCAA Championships, two Championship Game Appearances, three Final Four Appearances, three Elite Eight Appearances, five Sweet 16 Appearances, one Missed Tournament
- ESPN Rank: 2
Kansas is the No. 3 most prestigious program in the last 24 seasons. They have been in the NCAA tournament 23 of the 24 years and have made it to at least the Final Four in seven of those years.
The Jayhawks won the national championship in 1988 as a No. 6 seed by defeating No. 1-seeded Oklahoma in the finals. They added another national championship this last year by defeating No. 1-seeded Memphis in the finals in dramatic overtime fashion as a No. 1 seed. Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation.
Kansas has also been to the national championship game two other times. In 1991 they lost to No. 2-seeded Duke in the finals as a No. 3 seed, and in 2003 they lost to No. 3-seeded Syracuse in the finals as a No. 2 seed. Kansas’ other Final Four appearances came in 1986, 1993, and 2002.
You may notice the only difference in my top five teams from ESPN’s is that Kansas and UNC switched places. While Kansas has had more regular season success because they do not have any competition that matches Duke in their conference, North Carolina has had the better tournament success.
2) North Carolina Tar Heels – Total Points: 1,106
- Two NCAA Championships, six Final Four Appearances, four Elite Eight Appearances, four Sweet 16 Appearances, two Missed Tournaments
- ESPN Rank: 3
The Tar Heels are the second-most prestigious basketball program over the last 24 seasons. They have only two missed tournaments, both of which came under coach Matt Doherty during the recovery after Dean Smith’s retirement.
Amazingly, in the 22 tournament appearances, UNC has only lost in the first round once. This came in 1999 when they were upset as a No. 3 seed by No. 14-seeded Weber State.
North Carolina has reached at least the Final Four eight times. They won the national championship in 1993 as a No. 1 seed by defeating No. 1-seeded Michigan. Then, after their only other Final Four victory in this time period, UNC won another national championship in 2005. They defeated No. 1-seeded Illinois as a No. 1 seed.
The Tar Heels also had six losses in the semifinals (1991, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2008).
1) Duke Blue Devils – Total Points: 1,135
- Three NCAA Championships, four Championship Game Appearances, three Final Four Appearances, one Elite Eight Appearance, six Sweet 16 Appearances, one Missed Tournament
- ESPN Rank: 1
The number one most prestigious team in the last 24 seasons is the Duke Blue Devils. It seems no matter what criteria you use, Duke has been the top program in college basketball in this time period.
The Blue Devils have only missed one tournament, in 1995. They have also only lost in the first round twice out of their 23 tournament appearances.
Duke has made it to at least the Final Four 10 times since 1985, easily more than any other team. Duke won the national championship in 1991, 1992, and 2001. In 1991 they defeated No. 3-seeded Kansas in the finals as a No. 2 seed. Then the next season they beat No. 6-seeded Michigan in the championship game as a No. 1 seed.
They also won the tournament in 2001 as a No. 1 seed, when they defeated No. 2-seeded Arizona in the finals.
Duke has also lost in the championship four times. They lost to No. 2-seeded Louisville as a No. 1 seed in 1986, to No. 1-seeded UNLV as a No. 3 seed in 1990, to No. 1-seeded Arkansas as a No. 2 seed in 1994, and finally to No. 1-seeded UConn as a No. 1 seed in 1999.
Duke also made the Final Four in 1988, 1989, and 2004, but lost all of their semifinal games in those years.