The 50 Best Teams in College Basketball History

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2012

The 50 Best Teams in College Basketball History

0 of 50

    In college basketball as in other sports, there’s no single answer to the question of what marks a team as “great”. Some of the game’s most famous champions—say, Jim Valvano’s 1982-83 NC State squad—were respectable teams that got hot at the right time, while some of the most astounding collections of individual stars never made it to the pinnacle of the sport.

    Sometimes, of course, enormous talent does lead to championship success, as it did in 2009 for Tyler Hansbrough’s North Carolina juggernaut. Just as often though, a team like Paul Pierce’s 1996-97 Kansas Jayhawks seems to have all the pieces but can’t put together a title run.

    Herein, a closer look at those two loaded squads and the rest of the 50 greatest college basketball teams ever assembled.

    Note: in the interest of making the list less repetitious, teams that had very similar lineups in more than one season have been consolidated into a single entry. For example, the Florida Gators, who won the 2006 and 2007 national titles with the same starting five, appear once for both seasons.

50. 1972-73 South Carolina Gamecocks

1 of 50

    When freshmen became eligible for varsity play in 1972-73, few teams took better advantage than South Carolina. With senior (and newly-minted Olympian) Kevin Joyce providing leadership, a pair of freshman stars carried the Gamecocks to the Sweet 16.

    Mike Dunleavy Sr. ran the point (as he would do as an NBA reserve in Milwaukee), while Hall of Fame scoring machine Alex English averaged a double-double in his college debut.

    Junior swingman Brian Winters, most valuable as a rebounder on this team, would also go on to be a valuable NBA scorer who made a pair of All-Star appearances with the Bucks.

    Image from

49. 1980-81 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2 of 50

    The 1980-81 Fighting Irish were a masterpiece of unfulfilled potential. A roster boasting future pros aplenty could muster only a 23-6 record and a stunning second-round exit in the NCAA tournament (courtesy of Danny Ainge’s coast-to-coast dash for BYU).

    Orlando Woolridge, a defense-oriented PF in college, developed into a fine scorer with the Bulls, also the NBA home of point guard John Paxson (who won three titles as Michael Jordan’s backcourt mate).

    Irish backup center Joe Kleine went on to fill that same role with many NBA teams, while leading scorer Kelly Tripucka made two All-Star appearances as a Piston before becoming the first star of the expansion Hornets.

    Image from

48. 1990-91 Arkansas Razorbacks

3 of 50

    Although they didn’t win an NCAA title until three years later, the 1990-91 edition of the Razorbacks was the ultimate realization of Nolan Richardson’s renowned “40 minutes of hell” coaching philosophy.

    The “May-Day” backcourt of juniors Lee Mayberry and Todd Day combined for 33.9 points and 4.8 steals per game in leading the Hogs to the Elite Eight.

    That perimeter firepower was balanced by the considerable interior presence of hulking center Oliver Miller, who averaged a career-best 15.7 points per game that year.

    All three stars would go on to become part-time starters at the next level, with Day enjoying the most success as a pro (career highs of 16 points and 1.4 steals a night as a Buck).

    Image from

47. 1988-89 Illinois Fighting Illini

4 of 50

    Illinois had gone nearly 40 years without a Final Four appearance until everything came together for the 1988-89 squad.

    The much-loved Flying Illini played exciting, attacking basketball that carried them to the national semis, but couldn’t get past the superior size of eventual champion Michigan.

    High-scoring Kenny Battle (16.6 points and 2.5 steals a night) and reserve Marcus Liberty both had brief careers as NBA backups, but their running mates had better luck.

    Leading scorer Nick Anderson (18 points a game) became a standout three-point gunner with Orlando, while Kendall Gill had a fine career as a combo guard, leading the league in steals as a Net. 

    Image from

46. 1977-78 Arkansas Razorbacks

5 of 50

    The first Final Four berth in Arkansas history was a storybook finish for the 1977-78 Razorbacks.

    The Hogs made it to the national semis on the backs of the Triplets, three rangy guards who were as dangerous defending on the perimeter (4.2 steals a game combined) as scoring from it (52.1 points a game)—and all three were home-grown recruits.

    Marvin Delph never made it to the NBA, but his brothers-in-arms were appreciably more successful.

    Ron Brewer, though haunted by injuries, averaged as many as 18.8 points per game in the pros, and Sidney Moncrief became a perennial All-Star in Milwaukee while winning the NBA's first two Defensive Player of the Year awards.

    Image from

45. 1973-74 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

6 of 50

    Although they were bounced in the 1974 Sweet 16 by Campy Russell and Michigan, the Fighting Irish had already earned their biggest victory in the regular season.

    SG Dwight Clay capped a furious late-game comeback with a clutch jumper that made Notre Dame the first team in 88 games to beat John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

    Senior John Shumate, who matched shots with Bill Walton in that win, averaged 24.2 points and 11 boards a game for the season before becoming a capable NBA center.

    Freshman Adrian Dantley, Shumate’s sidekick with 18.3 points a night, became an elite NBA scorer who topped 30 points a game in four different seasons in his Hall of Fame career.

44. 1947-49 Kentucky Wildcats

7 of 50

    40 years prior to Michigan’s better-remembered version, Alex Groza, Wallace Jones, Kenny Rollins, Ralph Beard and Cliff Barker became the Fabulous Five at Kentucky.

    Coach Adolph Rupp won his first NCAA title and Olympic gold in 1948 with that quintet, and all but Rollins returned to Lexington and took home a second NCAA crown in 1949.

    Unlike that other Fab Five, these college stars didn’t make much noise in the pros. Only Beard and Groza found any NBA success, but both were soon banned from the league for their involvement in a point-shaving scandal at UK.

43. 1979-80 Arizona State Sun Devils

8 of 50

    Arizona State only made the second round of the 1980 NCAA tournament, but that was after a five-year absence from the Big Dance. The 22-7 Sun Devils’ college performance barely hinted at their future NBA success.

    Forwards Sam Williams and Kurt Nimphius (the team’s star with 16.6 points and 9.6 boards a night) became strong backups and occasional starters at the next level, as did center Alton Lister.

    Point guard Lafayette “Fat” Lever became the most versatile NBA guard this side of Magic Johnson (career highs of 19.8 points, 9.3 boards and eight assists a night with the Nuggets), while Byron Scott played alongside the actual Magic in the Lakers' backcourt and won three titles.

    Image from

42. 1989-90 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

9 of 50

    When it comes to perimeter offense, the first Georgia Tech team to play in a Final Four can stand with the best of all time.

    These Yellow Jackets boasted three 20 point-per-game scorers—Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver and freshman Kenny Anderson—bolstered by a point guard (Anderson) who dished out 8.1 assists a night.

    Although Oliver and PF Malcolm Mackey couldn’t catch on in the NBA, their teammates fared better.

    Scott was a feared three-point marksman for years in Orlando, while Anderson earned an All-Star nod with New Jersey and averaged as many as 18.8 points and 9.6 assists a game in the pros.

41. 1979-80 DePaul Blue Demons

10 of 50

    Few teams have ever flopped so disastrously in an NCAA tournament opener as DePaul, a defending Final Four team from 1979 and No. 1 seed that dropped its first game in 1980 to eighth-seeded UCLA and Kiki Vandeweghe.

    When it came to pure talent, though, the Blue Demons (who went 26-2 overall that season) had it in spades.

    The undersized backcourt featuring Clyde Bradshaw, Teddy Grubbs and Skip Dillard held its own, but the real star power was up front.

    Future Mavs star Mark Aguirre won the Naismith Award that season with 26.8 points and 7.6 boards a game, while Terry Cummings (later a Bucks All-Star) chipped in 14.2 points and 9.4 boards in his freshman season.

40. 1988-89 Michigan Wolverines

11 of 50

    If it hadn’t been succeeded so quickly by the sensational Fab Five, Michigan’s only national championship team might be better remembered for its extraordinary depth and talent.

    All five starters averaged double digits for a squad that edged out Seton Hall in one of history’s closest national title games (80-79 in OT).

    Future Hornet and Laker Glen Rice was the undisputed star, scoring 25.6 points a game and hitting over 51 percent of his treys.

    Leading rebounder Loy Vaught also became a longtime starter in the pros, while PF Terry Mills and the backcourt of Rumeal Robinson and Sean Higgins all became solid NBA reserves.

    Image from

39. 1996-97 Kansas Jayhawks

12 of 50

    Of all Roy Williams’ March letdowns at Kansas, the most painful had to be the Sweet 16 finish in 1997. With size, shooting and skill all over the roster, the Jayhawks became the first of three top seeds to fall before eventual champion Arizona.

    Jacque Vaughn dished out 6.2 assists a night, while PF Scot Pollard blocked 2.6 shots and pulled in 8.3 boards a night, skills that made both of them longtime NBA reserves (in Utah and Sacramento, respectively).

    Raef LaFrentz, the team’s leader with 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a night, became a first-rate three-point shooter and shot-blocker in Denver.

    Paul Pierce, of course, went on to the greatest NBA success, though the career Celtic and nine-time All-Star is having a rough time in 2011-12.

38. 1961-63 Cincinnati Bearcats

13 of 50

    Although the Bearcats had to replace two key starters from the 1961 national champs, replacements George Wilson and Ron Bonham performed brilliantly in bringing a second straight title to Cincinnati.

    The next season, the same starting lineup (minus only standout PF Paul Hogue) made it back to the national title game, falling to Loyola (IL) by a mere two points.

    The heart of the team was do-it-all forward Tom Thacker, with plenty of help from the sweet-shooting Bonham outside.

    Point guard Tony Yates didn’t rack up big numbers, but his mastery of coach Ed Jucker’s slowdown offense was vital to the Bearcats’ string of title-game trips.

37. 1997-98 North Carolina Tar Heels

14 of 50

    Of all the ways for a team featuring Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison to lose, the Tar Heels’ offense let them down when it counted.

    After overpowering all comers in the 1998 East Regional, North Carolina limped to a 65-59 defeat against Utah in the national semis.

    Point guard Ed Cota became the third player in history to record 1,000 career assists, but never made it as a pro, while backcourt mate Shammond Williams became a competent NBA backup.

    The two scoring stars, of course, are still clinging to pro careers, though their respective All-Star days (a combined 10 appearances) are a far cry from their current performances in Cleveland (Jamison) and Dallas (Carter).

36. 1965-66 Texas Western Miners

15 of 50

    There have been many NCAA champions with more raw talent, but none who overcame quite the same challenges as the famed 1966 Miners squad.

    Texas Western (now UTEP) was up against a good deal more than a basketball team when it entered the championship game trying to become the first all-black starting five to win an NCAA title.

    Bobby Joe Hill’s game-high 20 points came with a couple of key steals as Texas Western outran Louie Dampier and high-scoring Kentucky for the first and only title in program history.

    The symbolism of the Miners’ victory coming against Adolph Rupp (whose teams had been all-white for the entirety of his three-plus decades at the Wildcat helm) has not exactly been lost on history.

35. 2004-05 Illinois Fighting Illini

16 of 50

    The Illini didn’t have the big bodies inside to get past Sean May in the 2005 title game, but their guard-heavy lineup worked wonders against everyone else. The Illini tied an NCAA record with 37 victories that season.

    Undersized SG Dee Brown flopped in the pros after a fine college career, but his backcourt mates have enjoyed more success.

    Luther Head (who led that Illinois squad with 15.9 points a game) is in the D-League this year but has been an effective NBA reserve, while Deron Williams is a two-time All-Star and counting, even if he is toiling for the dreadful Nets.

34. 1982-83 Louisville Cardinals

17 of 50

    Sandwiched between national title winners in 1980 and 1986, the 1982-83 “Doctors of Dunk” were a better team than either.

    After a 32-win performance and a Final Four trip, however, they got knocked out of the tournament by Phil Slama Jama and Houston in the national semis.

    Guards Milt Wagner and Lancaster Gordon keyed the up-tempo offense with a combined 28.1 points a game, but neither would succeed at the next level.

    Senior Rodney McCray, however, became a fine NBA small forward who made an impact as a scorer, passer and rebounder with the Rockets and Kings.

33. 1986-87 UNLV Rebels

18 of 50

    Although they would be overshadowed by the phenomenal team Jerry Tarkanian assembled three years later, the 1986-87 Rebels put together the best regular season in school history.

    After a record-tying 37 total wins, though, UNLV fell to Steve Alford and eventual champion Indiana in the Final Four.

    Senior PG Mark Wade stunned the basketball world with an NCAA-record 406 assists on the season.

    Many of those passes were setting up low-post star Armen Gilliam (23.2 points and 9.3 boards a night), who went on to a long and productive pro career with the Sixers, Nets and others.

32. 1999-2000 Michigan State Spartans

19 of 50

    They may not have had quite the rock-star cachet of Michigan State’s first national champs, but the 2000 Spartans played some exciting basketball in their own right.

    Point guard Mateen Cleaves led a perimeter-focused attack that romped through the March Madness field with six straight double-digit victories.

    Cleaves was the hero with 6.9 assists a night, but he never caught on in the pros.

    Not so leading scorer Morris Peterson (whose 11-year career may be over after playing just four games last season) or reserve Jason Richardson, who’s looked wretched with Orlando lately but has been a 20 point-per-game scorer three times as a pro.

31. 1985-86 Duke Blue Devils

20 of 50

    Five years after his arrival at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski served notice that the Blue Devils were a national power again.

    Duke set an NCAA record (since tied) with 37 wins in a season, making it all the way to the title game before falling to Pervis Ellison and Louisville.

    Johnny Dawkins was the hero of the squad, capping a career in which he broke the school record with 2,556 points (and setting up a fine NBA tenure with San Antonio and Philly).

    Dawkins had his share of help inside from 6’8” Mark Alarie and budding scoring star Danny Ferry (both future NBA journeymen).

30. 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels

21 of 50

    With all the star-studded teams in Tar Heel history, none have matched the tournament run of the 2009 national champs.

    Roy Williams’ second title squad at North Carolina won every game of March Madness by at least a dozen points, a performance that included a 21-point slaughter of Gonzaga and a 17-point title-game rout of Michigan State.

    Ty Lawson looks to be headed to the best NBA future of these Tar Heels, as the skills that helped him dish out 6.6 assists a night during the championship season have him putting up comparable numbers this year in Denver.

    The unquestioned collegiate hero, though, was Tyler Hansbrough, then a senior finishing a dazzling career in which he amassed 2,872 points and 1,219 rebounds.

29. 2007-08 Memphis Tigers

22 of 50

    If the Tigers had shot just a little better from the free-throw line, they’d have captured the first national championship in school history in 2008.

    As it was, they merely set an NCAA record with 38 wins in a single season (since vacated thanks to violations involving star PG Derrick Rose).

    While the team’s other standouts—scoring leader Chris Douglas-Roberts and rebounding leader Joey Dorsey—have started off as reserves in their young pro careers, Rose has been a star from day one.

    It took Rose three seasons in the NBA to go from Rookie of the Year to MVP, though whether he can add a championship ring to that resume is very much an open question.

28. 1980-81 Indiana Hoosiers

23 of 50

    The Hoosiers’ place on this list is less about the fact of their winning the program’s fourth NCAA championship and more about how they won it.

    A 32-point Elite Eight demolition of St. Joseph’s highlighted a tournament run in which no opponent—even James Worthy and mighty North Carolina in the title game—came within a dozen points of Indiana.

    PG Isiah Thomas deservedly gets most of the credit (he did, after all, set school records with 5.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game) for the victory, and his performance launched him on a Hall of Fame NBA career.

    It was PF Ray Tolbert, though, who won Big Ten Player of the Year honors with 12.2 points and 6.4 boards a night, while future Hawk Randy Wittman added another double-digit scorer to the mix.

27. 1998-99 Duke Blue Devils

24 of 50

    Mike Krzyzewski has put together plenty of impressive rosters at Duke, but the 1998-99 squad was as loaded as any of them. UConn knocked them off in a massive title-game upset, but they still tied the NCAA record with 37 wins in a season.

    The backcourt of Trajan Langdon and William Avery combined for 32.2 points and 6.9 assists a game, though neither of them panned out at the pro level.

    Grizzlies forward Shane Battier, then a sophomore, was already a terrific defender and three-point threat, while Elton Brand (a two-time All-Star as a Clipper prior to his 76ers tenure) led the Blue Devils with 17.7 points and 9.8 rebounds a night.

26. 2007-08 Kansas Jayhawks

25 of 50

    They might not have been the Cinderella story that Danny Manning’s team was 20 years earlier, but the 2008 champs made a major impression in their own right.

    Bill Self’s squad tied the NCAA record with 37 wins in a season, making them (bizarrely) the only team with a share in that record that also brought home the national title.

    The championship run was very much a team effort, with current Warrior Brandon Rush narrowly leading four Jayhawks in double figures.

    PG Mario Chalmers, the title-game hero for his game-saving three-pointer to force OT, has made the biggest NBA impact of the lot with his performance in Miami.

25. 2003-04 UConn Huskies

26 of 50

    Few teams in the era of the two-round NBA Draft have had as many players selected as the seven draftees produced by the 2004 NCAA champs.

    They also enjoyed a bit of a height advantage—the Huskies’ collection of four forwards 6’10” or taller helped them block an NCAA-record 315 shots on the year.

    Although several supporting players from this squad had brief stints as NBA benchwarmers, some of their teammates have enjoyed greater success.

    Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon (UConn's leader with 18.5 points a game that year) have been reunited in Detroit, while Emeka Okafor has followed up his collegiate star turn (17.6 points, 11.5 boards and 4.1 blocks a game) with a slew of double-doubles for the Bobcats and Hornets.

24. 1984-85 St. John's Redmen

27 of 50

    The Redmen (as they were called at the time) had more weapons than any St. John’s team ever and parlayed them into the school’s first Final Four appearance in 30 years. 

    Unfortunately for them, one of the few teams in college history that could beat them for depth and skill in the frontcourt was the Georgetown squad that knocked them out in the national semis.

    PF Walter Berry, a year away from winning the Wooden Award, combined with future Bulls center Bill Wennington to average 29.5 points and 15.1 rebounds a game.

    They were joined up front by that season’s Wooden Award winner, Warriors Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, who averaged 19.8 points a game even without the benefit of a three-point line.

    Rounding out the future NBA talent was freshman PG Mark Jackson, then a backup but eventually a Knicks All-Star.

23. 1996-97 Arizona Wildcats

28 of 50

    The only NCAA championship team in Arizona history, the 1997 Wildcats earned their crown with an astonishing tournament run.

    Arizona became the first (and still only) team to take down three No. 1 seeds—Kansas, North Carolina and defending champion Kentucky—in a single tournament.

    Sharpshooter Miles Simon (18.4 points per game) earned MOP honors for the Wildcats, but his teammates enjoyed more success at the NBA level.

    Michael Dickerson played three fine seasons with the Rockets and Grizzlies before injuries scuttled his career, and Mike Bibby and Jason Terry are still earning their keep as reserves after a dozen outstanding NBA seasons apiece.

22. 1986-87 Syracuse Orangemen

29 of 50

    It’s no surprise that it took Keith Smart’s iconic buzzer-beater to keep the then-Orangemen from capturing the 1987 NCAA title. Jim Boeheim’s first Final Four squad had more future-NBA clout than any roster in Syracuse history.

    Freshman Derrick Coleman—who would post three straight seasons of 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets and still be remembered as a bust—was the catalyst for the postseason run, setting a school record with 19 boards in the title game.

    Junior center Rony Seikaly combined with Coleman for 27 points and 17 rebounds a game, while his future Miami teammate Sherman Douglas dished out 7.6 assists a night en route to breaking the NCAA career assists record two years later.

21. 2005-07 Florida Gators

30 of 50

    After winning the 2006 NCAA title (the first in school history), Florida accomplished a near-miracle by losing none of its five starters to the NBA.

    As a result, the same quintet of Gators (all averaging double-figure points for the second year in a row) won a second championship in 2007.

    Although Lee Humphrey shot a stunning .459 from long range in each season, the real star power was in the front court.

    Lockdown defender Corey Brewer is a Nuggets reserve now (and has been a bench player much of his pro career), while C Joakim Noah earned all-defensive recognition with the Bulls last year and PF Al Horford is a two-time All-Star in Atlanta.

20. Oklahoma 1987-88

31 of 50

    Although Danny Manning’s Kansas squad upset them in the title game, the 1987-88 Sooners put on a show for the ages. OU won 35 games and lit up scoreboards to the tune of an NCAA-record 4,012 total points on the year.

    Future Hawks All-Star Mookie Blaylock dished out 5.9 assists a game while averaging a ludicrous 3.8 steals a night.

    Stacey King—who won three NBA titles thanks to Michael Jordan—led the team with 22.3 points per contest, while Harvey Grant added 20.9 before joining brother Horace in the NBA and becoming a productive starter for Washington.

19. 1973-74 North Carolina State Wolfpack

32 of 50

    Although it was Notre Dame that ended UCLA’s record winning streak midway through the 1973-74 season, N.C. State stopped an even more remarkable run.

    The Wolfpack became the first team since 1965-66 to defeat UCLA in NCAA tournament play, earning the first national title in school history with Final Four wins over the Bruins and the Marquette Warriors.

    Center Tom Burleson would have been the hero of many other NCAA champions, as the 7’2” future Sonics standout averaged 18.1 points and 12.2 rebounds a night.

    On this team, though, he played second fiddle to one of the greatest players in college hoops history, the incomparable David Thompson.

    Thompson averaged 26 points and 7.9 rebounds a game that year as a junior, showing the game-changing athleticism that made him an NBA Hall of Famer as a Nugget. 

18. 1983-84 Georgetown Hoyas

33 of 50

    For one season, Georgetown found the right chemistry to turn Patrick Ewing from a title-game mainstay into a national champion. The 1983-84 Hoyas overcame Hakeem Olajuwon and Phi Slama Jama to capture the only NCAA title in school history.

    Ewing was flanked by two world-class defenders in David Wingate and freshman Reggie Williams, both of whom became productive NBA forwards (Wingate with the Hornets and elsewhere, Williams most notably in Denver).

    As for the big man himself, he averaged 16.4 points and 10 boards (plus an unofficial 3.6 blocks) per game, numbers that proved a fine indication of the Hall of Fame performance he would give as a Knick.

17. 2000-01 Duke Blue Devils

34 of 50

    The 2001 champs had too much star power for any defense to contain, as evidenced by an NCAA tournament romp in which no opponent came closer to them than Arizona’s 10-point title game loss.

    All five Blue Devil starters averaged at least 12.3 points a game, and only point guard Jay Williams (who dished out 6.1 assists a night) failed to pull down at least 5.2 boards per contest.

    Williams blew out his knee in a motorcycle crash before he could get any traction in the pros, but sixth man Chris Duhon has become a first-rate NBA backup, as has swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr.

    Shane Battier has been a valuable starter in Houston and (now) Memphis, while Carlos Boozer is a two-time All-Star who’s now a complementary scorer on Derrick Rose’s Bulls.

16 1991-93 Michigan Wolverines

35 of 50

    Steve Fisher made news enough by starting five freshmen just a couple of years after taking over as the full-time head coach. He made even more headlines when the legendary Fab Five made back-to-back trips to the national championship game.

    Neither Ray Jackson nor Jimmy King did much at the NBA level, but backcourt mate Jalen Rose became a productive shooting guard (when he wasn’t masquerading as a point guard) in Indiana and elsewhere.

    Chris Webber, the team’s biggest star (19.2 points, 10.1 boards and 2.5 blocks a game in 1992-93), is also retired after a sensational career as a slick-passing PF for the Kings, but Juwan Howard—though no longer a Washington All-Star—is clinging to a career with the Heat.

15. 1995-96 Kentucky Wildcats

36 of 50

    Rick Pitino has never put together a better lineup to run his pressing, three-point-bombing system than the one that brought him a national title in 1996.

    Four starters hit 40 percent or better from long range, and all five grabbed at least one steal a night for a team that set an NCAA tournament record by racking up an aggregate margin of victory of 129 points over six games.

    F/C Walter McCarty became a journeyman NBA benchwarmer, while combo guard Tony Delk was a longtime sixth man in the pros.

    Swingman Derek Anderson and sixth man Ron Mercer both went on to become dangerous scorers at the next level, but neither matched the brilliance (or shooting volume) of three-time All-Star Antoine Walker.

14. 1978-79 Michigan State Spartans

37 of 50

    The 1979 NCAA tournament was a watershed moment in college hoops history, as the phenomenal title-game showdown between Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird established March Madness as a premier television event.

    A major part of that success was the flair with which Magic’s Spartans won the first NCAA title in school history, a tournament run that saw them beat five opponents by an average of 20.8 points.

    Johnson, a sophomore at the time, earned the superstar status he would bring to the NBA with averages of 17.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.4 assists a game.

    His classmate Jay Vincent (a future Dallas Maverick) was a solid complementary player as well, but the other key to MSU’s success was undersized PF Greg “Special K” Kelser and his team-leading 18.8 points and 8.7 boards a night.

13. 1967-68 Houston Cougars

38 of 50

    The Cougars went undefeated in the 1967-68 regular season, a feat that included snapping UCLA’s 47-game winning streak in a showdown often called the Game of the Century.

    It took those same Bruins, led by the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to end Houston's run in the national semifinals.

    The heart and soul of the team was future Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, who averaged 36.8 points and 18.9 boards a game in his final collegiate season.

    He got plenty of help from soon-to-be Celtic Don Chaney, who would become a five-time All-Defensive selection and two-time champion as a pro.

12. 1981-82 North Carolina Tar Heels

39 of 50

    Dean Smith finally broke through to a national championship with a 1981-82 lineup stocked with physical defenders and dangerous jump-shooters.

    It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, as the Tar Heels opened the tournament with a two-point squeaker over James Madison and closed it on a game-winning jumper against Georgetown, drained by a not-yet-deified Michael Jordan.

    His Airness was merely a very good freshman that season, the third of three great scorers with 13.5 points a night.

    Center Sam Perkins (14.3 points and 7.8 boards a night) was a long-range sniper who became an outstanding three-point shooter as a pro, while star SF James Worthy (15.6 points per contest) earned MOP honors in the tournament and moved on to a Hall of Fame career with the Showtime Lakers.

11. 1989-90 Loyola Marymount Lions

40 of 50

    In spite of the tragic on-court death of star Hank Gathers in the WCC tournament, the Lions rewrote the NCAA record books in 1989-90.

    Guard Jeff Fryer set an NCAA tournament record by draining 11 treys to beat defending champion Michigan, but he was only the third-best scorer on the most prolific offense (122.4 points per game) in Division I history.

    Gathers had been averaging 29 points a game (along with a team-leading 10.8 boards) during the regular season.

    Bo Kimble, his childhood friend, led the nation with 35.3 points a game and led the Lions to an Elite Eight finish before eventual champion UNLV rang midnight on the Cinderella story.

    Kimble, a right-handed shooter, took his first free throw of each NCAA tournament game left-handed in memory of southpaw Gathers—and went 4-for-4.

10. 1956-57 North Carolina Tar Heels

41 of 50

    The first ACC team to win the national title, the 1956-57 Tar Heels were also the second undefeated champion in as many years.

    Led by scoring machine Lennie Rosenbluth (28 points per game), UNC triumphed in the greatest championship game ever played, a triple-OT marathon against Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks that went to UNC by a single point, 54-53.

    Unlike future Tar Heel squads, this one didn’t fare well in the transition to the NBA. Rosenbluth and 5’11” Tommy Kearns (who jumped center to psych out Chamberlain in the title game) both played in the pros, but the two combined to appear in just 83 games.

9. 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers

42 of 50

    Going on four decades later, the 1975-76 Hoosiers are still the last undefeated champions in college basketball. The team that put Bobby Knight among the coaching elite thrived on Knight’s brand of hard-nosed defense and precision offense.

    SG Bobby Wilkerson went on to a solid pro career in Denver, while center Kent Benson (the Final Four MOP) did the same in Detroit.

    Scott May—the Naismith Award winner and leading scorer with 23.5 points a night—became a very good power forward for the Bulls, but the greatest pro success belonged to PG Quinn Buckner, a four-time All-Defensive selection who had his best years with the Bucks.

8. 1959-61 Ohio State Buckeyes

43 of 50

    The Buckeyes used a lineup heavy on star power to win the only national title in school history in 1960.

    Forward Joe Roberts left and was replaced in the starting lineup by Bobby Knight (yes, that one), but the rest of the team stayed intact and returned to the national title game before falling to Cincinnati.

    Guard Larry Siegfried, a longtime NBA backup in Boston, ran the offense for one of the best frontcourt tandems in basketball history, college or pro.

    Hall of Famer John Havlicek averaged just 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game in his college career because he was playing alongside Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas, who racked up 24.3 points and 17.2 points a night in a Buckeye uniform. 

7. 1963-64 UCLA Bruins

44 of 50

    John Wooden’s first NCAA title team was also the first in his amazing set of four undefeated champions. Contrary to UCLA’s later reputation for dominating with elite centers, the 1963-64 squad got its biggest contributions from its smallest players.

    Guards Walt Hazzard (later Mahdi Abdul-Rahman) and Gail Goodrich combined for 40.1 points a game before moving on to outstanding NBA careers, with Goodrich going on to the Hall of Fame after starring on the legendary 1971-72 Lakers.

    Forward Keith Erickson couldn’t measure up to those two high-scoring stars, but he became a solid pro and a longtime supporting player with the Lakers.

6. 1982-83 Houston Cougars

45 of 50

    The best team that never won an NCAA championship, the Phi Slama Jama Cougars made three straight Final Fours with their highlight-reel dunks and physical D.

    They never came closer to a title than in 1983, when Lorenzo Charles’ put-back dunk stunned them at the buzzer in the championship game.

    Guard Michael Young led the team with 17.3 points a game, but in spite of his prodigious leaping ability he couldn’t make the jump to the NBA.

    Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon, on the other hand, both went on to Hall of Fame pro careers after combining for 29.8 points and 20.2 rebounds a night in their only shared season as Cougar starters.

5. 1990-92 Duke Blue Devils

46 of 50

    After getting humiliated by UNLV in the 1990 title game, Duke bounced back in style with back-to-back national championships. When Bill McCaffrey transferred following the 1991 title run, Brian Davis stepped into his SG spot and the winning continued.

    Although future Pistons All-Star Grant Hill would become by far the best pro of the group, at Duke he was a supporting player to two of college hoops’ all-time legends.

    Christian Laettner, immortalized for his buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 Final Four, racked up career totals of 2,460 points and 1,149 rebounds, while PG Bobby Hurley dealt out an NCAA record 1,076 assists.

4. 1954-56 San Francisco Dons

47 of 50

    San Francisco’s inaugural championship season turned out to be just the opening act for the loaded Dons.

    After winning it all in 1954-55, San Francisco returned its entire lineup and became the first team in NCAA history to win an undefeated championship (part of a then-record 60 straight wins overall).

    Coach Phil Woolpert bucked contemporary prejudices with three black starters, including SG Hal Perry and PG K.C. Jones (a Hall of Famer for his stifling defense in Boston).

    The third of those starters was the incomparable Bill Russell, a game-changing defender himself, who averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds a game for his college career as a prelude to the 11 titles he would win with the Celtics.

3. 1971-73 UCLA Bruins

48 of 50

    The 1971-72 Bruins won an undefeated national championship, plugged in Larry Hollyfield for Henry Bibby in the backcourt, and ran the table again in 1972-73. Those two teams accounted for the bulk of UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak.

    Swingman Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes averaged 15 points a game in college but became a three-time All-Star for his 20 point-per-game scoring with the Warriors and Lakers.

    The heart and soul of the team, though, was the unstoppable Bill Walton, the Naismith Award winner in both seasons (and the next year as a senior) who averaged 20.3 points and 15.7 boards a game at UCLA before going on to a Hall of Fame pro career as a Blazer.

2. 1989-91 UNLV Rebels

49 of 50

    At their best, there wasn’t a team in the country that could compete with the Rebels, as Duke found out in losing the 1990 title game by 40.

    Even after center David Butler graduated, the Rebels returned with George Ackles in the pivot and won 34 straight games before falling to those same Blue Devils in the Final Four.

    Three-point gunner Anderson Hunt won tournament MOP honors in the title run, but he was the only core player not to go on to the NBA.

    Stacey Augmon earned his “Plastic Man” nickname with suffocating defense as a Hawk, while Greg Anthony (the PG who spearheaded an NCAA team-record performance with 24.7 assists a game in 1990-91) became a solid NBA reserve.

    The leader of the star-studded cast was Larry Johnson, the 1991 Wooden and Naismith Award winner who averaged 21.6 points and 11.2 boards over two college seasons and became an NBA All-Star with the Hornets.

1. 1966-68 UCLA Bruins

50 of 50

    From 1966-68 the UCLA Bruins lost exactly one game and won two national titles (the first of John Wooden’s inconceivable seven in a row).

    Kenny Heitz graduated and Mike Lynn was plugged into his forward slot, but the core of the team remained identical.

    Mike Warren and Lucius Allen both won All-America honors in 1968, with the former becoming a successful TV actor and the latter a successful combo guard with the Bucks and Lakers.

    Meanwhile, the player who made this team the greatest of all time (and won three championships in three collegiate seasons) was 7'2" Lew Alcindor.

    The star center would change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar only after averaging 26.4 points and 15.5 rebounds a game in college and winning an NBA title (the first of his six) with the Bucks.