Ranking the Most Dominant Men's College Basketball Programs Since 2010
Gonzaga has never won a national championship and Kansas hasn't won one since 2008, but as the winningest programs dating back to 2010-11, both the Bulldogs and Jayhawks were easy choices near the top of our ranking of the most recently dominant programs in men's college basketball.
It has been exactly one year since I ranked the top programs dating back to 2000, and we wanted to run that back again with the focus specifically on the past 11 (and one-third) seasons.
Just to clarify/reiterate up front: "Since 2010" means since the 2010-11 season, rather than since the 2009-10 season.
That decision was made before diving into the data, so it wasn't done to help or hurt any specific programs. Having said that, it definitely helped North Carolina and Virginia, who went a combined 35-33 in 2009-10. It also definitely did not help Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State or Baylor, each of whom made it at least as far as the 2010 Elite Eight and finished that year in the KenPom.com top 20. But that's where the line in the sand was drawn.
It's also worth pointing out that recruiting pull and NBA draft picks were not included in the ranking process. The goal was to determine which programs have been the best—not necessarily which have been the best at pitching their programs to high school kids, nor the best at getting players ready and advertised for the NBA draft.
Rather, the focus is entirely on total wins, NCAA tournament appearances/success and year-end KenPom ratings.
I couldn't completely disregard the 2011 and 2014 national champions. Outside those magical runs, though, the Huskies did not finish a single year in the KenPom top 20, only won one other NCAA tournament game and have won fewer total games than the likes of Akron and Louisiana Tech.
Can't point out the lack of the 2011 and 2014 national champion without also mentioning the most recent champ. Scott Drew has turned Baylor into a pretty consistent title contender, one that might have been robbed of a Final Four appearance by the pandemic in 2020. The Bears did miss three NCAA tournaments (2011, 2013 and 2018) prior to 2020, though, and they didn't finish any of the first nine years ranked better than 13th on KenPom.
Florida finished three of the past 11 seasons in the top five on KenPom and made it to five Elite Eights. However, with just one Final Four appearance, no titles and a couple of tourney-less seasons during the transition from Billy Donovan to Mike White, the Gators fell just shy of our top 10.
Along with Florida, Wisconsin's a difficult omission. Those Frank Kaminsky-led Badgers had a fantastic two-year run with back-to-back Final Fours. But the Badgers went just 126-75 over the next six seasons—an impressive record by normal standards, but a brutal stretch when trying to identify the best of the best.
Ohio State Buckeyes
This was another difficult decision, and it's worth mentioning that the Buckeyes almost certainly would have landed in the top 10 if we had included the 2009-10 season. As is, this was one of the best teams in the country from 2010 to 2013, and it's in its third consecutive year of looking like a real contender. Like Florida, though, Ohio State had just the one Final Four appearance (2012), and there were a couple of rough years that kept the Buckeyes just shy of stacking up with the programs that made the top 10.
While Jim Boeheim's guys have spent the past seven years hovering around the tournament bubble, the Orange did make that surprising Final Four run in 2016, and they were an annual contender in the 2010-14 range.
The lone program that received serious consideration despite zero Final Four appearances, Arizona did have three Elite Eight runs from its seven years as a No. 6 seed or better. The Wildcats would have made the Big Dance in 2020 had there been one, and they likely would've gotten in last season were it not for the self-imposed postseason ban. Arizona was the only tempting candidate from the Pac-12, for whatever that's worth.
Wichita State Shockers
There have been a few other consistently respectable mid-majors (Belmont, Saint Mary's, San Diego State and VCU, in particular), but Wichita State is the one with the most legitimate claim to the top 10. Not only did the Shockers have that undefeated regular season in 2013-14, but they also had a stretch of seven consecutive seasons of finishing at No. 21 or better on KenPom. While none of those years ended in the top five and though they only have 10 NCAA tournament wins, they're one of just five programs with at least 300 total wins since 2010-11.
10. Michigan Wolverines
NCAA Tournament: nine appearances, 22 wins, two Final Fours (2013 and 2018)
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 4/8
Total Wins (excluding current season): 274
Michigan wasn't even worth an honorable mention when I ranked the programs dating back to 2000, as the Wolverines were dealing with and trying to recover from the Fab Five scandal for pretty much the entirety of 2000-10.
By year No. 4 of John Beilein's tenure, though, Michigan turned quite the corner to become a near-annual staple in the NCAA tournament.
The 2012-13 team led by Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas started out 16-0 and would've won a national championship were it not for Luke Hancock's 22 points off the bench for Louisville in the title game. And despite losing Burke and Hardaway, they were even better the following year, earning a No. 2 seed in the 2014 tournament.
But what's most impressive is how they bounced back a couple of years after losing that nucleus, finishing in the top 20 on KenPom in each of the past five years while changing their roster and their identity.
In the Burke-led years, it was all offense. When the Wolverines made it back to the national championship five years later, it was with one of the best defenses in the nation. Then they transitioned from Beilein to Juwan Howard and had perhaps their best team yet last season.
Nine other programs have been better, but none of them started the 2010s from as low a point as Michigan did.
9. Louisville Cardinals
NCAA Tournament: seven appearances, 16 wins, two Final Fours (2012 and 2013), 2013 national champion
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 5/9
Total Wins (excluding current season): 275
Officially, Louisville went winless from 2011-12 through 2014-15 and has not been to a Final Four since 2005.
In reality, the Cardinals won it all in 2013, finishing at No. 1 on KenPom both that year and the following year, and joining Kentucky (2012 and 2015), Villanova (2016 and 2018) and Gonzaga (2017 and 2021) on the list of teams to end at least two of the past 11 seasons in that top spot.
Put a great big asterisk on it if you want, but just like Barry Bonds belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Louisville needs to be mentioned as one of the top programs in recent history.
This team was a consistent contender with Rick Pitino at the helm, and the back-to-back seasons with Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock in the primary rotation were top-notch. Aside from the Florida team that won titles in both 2006 and 2007, that might have been the most dominant two-year stretch by any program since the turn-of-the-century Duke Blue Devils.
Even after the multiple scandals knocked them down a few pegs and resulted in multiple coaching changes, the Cardinals have still been respectable, averaging better than 21 wins over the past six years. However, there's no question that this ranking is deeply rooted in the seasons that allegedly never happened.
8. Michigan State Spartans
NCAA Tournament: 10 appearances, 17 wins, two Final Fours (2015 and 2019)
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 7/8
Total Wins (excluding current season): 279
Last year was a photo finish, but Michigan State has not been left out of the NCAA tournament since 1997. And, usually, the Spartans are one of the top candidates to win the whole thing—even though they have not done so since 2000.
Seven finishes in the KenPom top 10 was a major selling point for Sparty. Only six programs have done that at least half a dozen times since 2010-11, and only Kansas (eight times) has done it more often than Michigan State.
The Spartans have earned at least a share of four of the past 10 Big Ten regular-season titles and have won four conference tournaments during that time. Not too shabby, considering they play in a conference where Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin were all strong candidates for this top 10.
And at least until last season, Michigan State always seemed to have one of the most noteworthy players in the country, be it Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, Denzel Valentine, Miles Bridges or Cassius Winston. None of those guys won the Wooden Award, but they were all worthy candidates.
The Spartans would have been a much stronger candidate for a spot in our top five were it not for (by their standards) disappointing seasons in 2010-11, 2016-17 and 2020-21, in which they went a combined 54-43 with one NCAA tournament win. They finished each of those seasons in 40th or worse on KenPom but still had impressive ratings overall.
This is easily the best program to have not even played in a national championship game since 2009.
7. Virginia Cavaliers
NCAA Tournament: eight appearances, 13 wins, 2019 Final Four, 2019 national champion
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 5/7
Total Wins (excluding current season): 280
The early part of the 2010s did Virginia no favors here. In the first three years of this data set, the Cavaliers went 61-37 overall, made one NCAA tournament (2012) as a No. 10 seed and did not win a game in that Dance.
Over the next six seasons, though, their average year-end KenPom ranking was 4.8, as they earned four No. 1 seeds and—one year after the most embarrassing first-round loss in tournament history—won it all in 2019. They broke up the Duke-North Carolina duopoly atop the ACC by earning at least a share of five of the past eight regular-season conference titles, four of those in outright fashion.
There were a few significant stars along the way, most notably Malcolm Brogdon and De'Andre Hunter. But the real star has been Tony Bennett's pack-line defense.
The Cavaliers have finished top-seven in adjusted defensive efficiency in eight of the past 10 years, pretty much always ranking as one of the slowest-paced teams in the country.
In the years when the offense struggled, watching Virginia basketball was like watching an ugly-color paint dry for two hours. But in the years when this team could shoot, it often felt like the Cavaliers were the most unbeatable squad in the country.
6. Villanova Wildcats
NCAA Tournament: nine appearances, 18 wins, two Final Fours (2016 and 2018), two national championships (2016 and 2018)
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10 / Top 25: 4/7
Total Wins (excluding current season): 287
Just like Virginia, the early 2010s didn't help Villanova. In fact, going 54-45 with no NCAA tournament wins for the first three years of the decade hurt the Wildcats even more than it hurt the Cavaliers.
But Jay Wright's guys more than made up for it in the middle of the decade with two titles during their five consecutive seasons as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
When that reign first began, I can still remember people thinking the sophomore point guard's name was Archie Diacono. But by the time Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Daniel Ochefu started winning darn near every game they played, everyone knew his name.
From 2014-15 through 2017-18, Villanova went 136-16, this despite getting unceremoniously bounced in the second round by No. 8 seeds in both the 2015 and 2017 tournaments. Only 2005-09 Memphis (137-14 in the final four years of John Calipari's tenure) has ever won more games in a four-year span, but 38 of those wins were later vacated, and let's just say Conference USA and the Big East are different difficulty levels.
In each of those four seasons, Villanova finished top-four in adjusted offensive efficiency and top-12 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Before and after that run, though, defense has let the Wildcats down a bit, and the extreme dependence on three-pointers has resulted in a handful of disastrous offensive performances over the past four years—including the recent nightmares against Baylor and Purdue.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels
NCAA Tournament: 10 appearances, 24 wins, two Final Fours (2016 and 2017), 2017 national champion
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10 / Top 25: 6/7
Total Wins (excluding current season): 289
North Carolina has been a No. 8 seed or better in each of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, though there sure is a big 2020 asterisk on that streak, because there's no chance the Tar Heels (with a 14-19 record) were going to receive an invitation to that Dance.
But that season was an outlier in what has otherwise been a strong era of hoops.
Not only have the Heels been a No. 8 seed or better 10 straight times, but they were also either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in six of those years, averaging 27.5 wins in the 10 non-2019-20 campaigns.
In five consecutive years prior to that dud, North Carolina finished top-10 on KenPom. It was particularly dominant in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, reaching the national championship game in the former and winning it in the latter—a remarkable feat, considering the Tar Heels had to replace veteran leaders Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson during the offseason in between.
What they consistently did well throughout Roy Williams' tenure as head coach was push the pace and dominate in the paint on offense. From John Henson and Tyler Zeller to Luke Maye and Garrison Brooks and everyone in between, the Heels pretty much always had (at least) two great offensive rebounders, as well as a point guard capable of going 100 miles an hour.
In the first year of Hubert Davis' run as head coach, though, the Heels have slowed down a bit and have become much more of a perimeter-oriented offense. But it's working well, and they do have a star in the paint in Armando Bacot. There's a different feel to this team, but it's still a contender, per usual.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
NCAA Tournament: eight appearances, 28 wins, four Final Fours (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015), 2012 national champion
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 6/8
Total Wins (excluding current season): 304
This is where it gets difficult. There's a clear Mount Rushmore of Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Kentucky, but trying to rank those four programs was not easy.
Despite four trips to the Final Four (no other program has more than two) and two of the most dominant seasons in recent history—the Anthony Davis-led 2011-12 team and the platoons experiment of 2014-15—Kentucky was the odd man out with two disappointing seasons in the past decade.
After the 2012 title came the infamous year in which the Wildcats lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. They also struggled for the first four months of the following season before making that incredible run to the national championship game as a No. 8 seed. And then last year's 9-16 disaster cemented Kentucky at the bottom of the top tier of four programs.
One other thing to note is that Kentucky "only" finished six of the past 11 seasons in the KenPom top 10 with three years in the top five. Each of Duke, Gonzaga and Kansas has at least seven and four, respectively.
It's hard to argue for anything worse than fourth place for John Calipari's program, though. Because even though Kentucky missed two of the past 10 NCAA tournaments, it has more tournament wins than any other team during that time, and it's not even close. Gonzaga, Kansas and North Carolina are tied for second place with 24 wins, meaning the Wildcats are 16.7 percent ahead of the pack.
That'll happen when you make seven trips to the Sweet 16, six to the Elite Eight, four to the Final Four and two to the national championship game. Even with a couple of misfires, it's been one heck of a run in Lexington.
3. Duke Blue Devils
NCAA Tournament: nine appearances, 20 wins, 2015 Final Four, 2015 national champion
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 7/10
Total Wins (excluding current season): 302
It's hard to believe, but Duke has only been to one Final Four since winning it all in 2010 (which didn't count in this exercise, as a reminder). Mike Krzyzewski did get to the Elite Eight in each of 2013, 2018 and 2019, but winning it all in 2015 was the only recent trip to the promised land for the Blue Devils.
With neither Duke nor Kentucky having played in a national semifinal since 2015, the "can't win it all with one-and-dones" narrative has regained a lot of steam in recent years.
But Duke has still been quite successful, finishing top-five on KenPom in each of 2018, 2019 and 2020 and looking like one of the top candidates to win it all this year.
Last year didn't go according to design (to say the least), but going 13-11 was the first time since 2006-07 that Duke failed to win at least 25 games in a season. Even with that disappointing 2020-21 season included, Duke's year-end average KenPom ranking dating back to 2010-11 is 10.6. Only Kansas (8.8) has been better, and Gonzaga (11.9) is the only other team with an average mark of 17.0 or better.
Between the total wins (18 fewer than Kansas; 37 fewer than Gonzaga), just the one trip to the Final Four and the surprising inability to earn even a share of an ACC regular-season crown since 2010, Duke didn't quite have a case for a spot in the top two. But good luck telling an oral history of the 2010s in men's college hoops without the likes of Duke's Zion Williamson and Jahlil Okafor.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs
NCAA Tournament: 10 appearances, 24 wins, two Final Fours (2017 and 2021)
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 7/10
Total Wins (excluding current season): 339
Yes, we have to take the total wins with several grains of salt.
Including conference tournaments, Gonzaga has gone 192-18 against West Coast Conference "competition." That's a 91.4 winning percentage, which is just outrageous. Stephen Curry misses free throws (90.7 percent in his NBA career) more often than Gonzaga loses to conference foes.
However, the beauty of KenPom is that it accounts for opponent strength, and the beauty of the NCAA tournament is that it forces Gonzaga to face legitimate competition on a neutral floor.
And though the Bulldogs have yet to win the whole shebang, they have consistently been one of the highest-rated teams and one of the most successful programs in the Dance—particularly over the past seven seasons.
Gonzaga has finished either first or second in the nation on KenPom in four of the past five seasons and has also ended up in the top 10 in six of the last seven years. During that time, the Zags have won 20 NCAA tournament games. No other team—not even two-time national champion Villanova—has more than 17. Moreover, 15 of those wins have come against major-conference teams, and four of the losses came against teams that ended the year in the KenPom top Five.
They laid an egg in last year's national championship game against Baylor, and they came up just short of beating North Carolina in the 2017 title game. But if you still think this is a program that can't win it all until it joins a "real" conference, it's long past time to recalibrate your grumpy meter
1. Kansas Jayhawks
NCAA Tournament: 10 appearances, 24 wins, two Final Fours (2012 and 2018)
Years Ended in KenPom Top 10/Top 25: 8/10
Total Wins (excluding current season): 320
Kansas has not won a national championship since 2008, so there might be some objection to having the Jayhawks in the No. 1 spot.
However, only Kentucky has more NCAA tournament wins or Final Four appearances; only Gonzaga (in a drastically weaker conference) has more regular-season conference titles than Kansas' nine and more total wins than Kansas' 320; no team has more NCAA tournament appearances; and no team has finished this many seasons in the KenPom top 10.
Last year, Kansas went 21-9, earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and—despite getting destroyed by USC in the second round of the Dance—ended up at No. 27 in the KenPom rankings. There are more than 300 men's college basketball programs that would kill for a single season that successful.
Yet, by Kansas' ridiculous standards, it was arguably the Jayhawks' worst season since they last missed the NCAA tournament...all the way back in 1989.
Over the past 10 Dances, Kansas has earned five No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds, a No. 3 seed and a No. 4 seed. The Jayhawks were also likely headed for the No. 1 overall seed had there been a tournament in 2020, which might have been the year they would have won it all. (That hypothetical didn't factor into this ranking, but it's worth pointing out that was the lone year that Kansas finished at No. 1 on KenPom.)
Even though the Jayhawks haven't won a title recently, two Final Fours and five Elite Eights isn't too shabby. And perhaps they'll end that title drought this year, as it sure looks like they're headed for yet another No. 1 or No. 2 seed.