Updated: Feb 8, 2021
This is a pretty commonly debated topic, to say the very least. I’ve seen lists ranking the various champions, the best teams that didn’t win the title, and pretty much everything in between. One of the ones that I saw had 2014-15’s Kentucky squad at #2-which, as much as I like to hate on Kentucky, was pretty accurate. This is probably going to get some flack, and deservingly so. Are there teams left out that should probably have been on here? Most definitely. Anyway, in the words of Jim Nantz shortly before we see some 7’1 center dunk as the beat hits in an Imagine Dragons song, let’s meet the teams.
15. Saint Joseph’s, 2003-04
I was five in 2004 and not much of a college hoops guy then(yes, I know that makes you feel old), but from looking at their record I’m getting very similar vibes to Dayton’s 2019-20 squad, one of the many covid-19 what-ifs. Both Catholic schools? You bet. Dominant conference record? Check. Both teams went undefeated for regular-season championships. Deep tournament runs? Sort of- Saint Joseph’s lost 64-62 to Oklahoma St in the Elite Eight, and we never got to see what Dayton could’ve done.
14. Wichita State, 2013-14
In all honesty, this team probably should have played for a title. They made a Cinderella run to the final four the previous year, returned pretty much everyone, and then proceeded to go undefeated the next year before falling in the Round of 32 to the eventual runner up by two. Most of the brackets I saw had them falling in the Sweet 16 to an incredibly under-seeded Louisville team, which was a far cry from my bracket(Final Four of Virginia, Creighton, Wichita State, and Florida with the fourth over the third in the title game). If you haven’t noticed, that was the year I really started to get into college basketball. An elite team that happened to just run into fire. Sure, they went undefeated in what was a rather unimpressive MVC that year, but they also had several quality nonconference wins and all but three of their conference wins were by double digits.
13. Ohio State, 2010-11
This was one of those teams that had the talent for a title but just happened to run into a red-hot team, with that team being a Kentucky squad that wound up losing by one point in the Final Four to eventual champion UConn. Enough about them, though. Let’s talk about this Ohio State squad. 32-2, with the #1 overall seed heading in. The #2 and #12 ranked recruits in the Class of 2010, plus a beast in Aaron Craft that by the time he graduated was probably eligible for AARP. If it weren’t for that two point loss to Kentucky, there might be a championship banner for 2011 hanging in Value City Arena.
12. Duke, 2018-19
I spent the entirety of this season hating on them just to make them one of my four Final Four picks with an eventual championship win over Auburn. Then they ruined that by losing to Michigan State. Such is life. Never got lower than #5 in the nation, three of the first ten draft picks, and the number one overall seed in the tournament. Zion was admittedly easy to hate on that year due to ESPN giving him more attention than your mom's Facebook friends on your birthday, but he's also an incredibly hardworking and stand-up dude. Plus, the broken shoe.
11. UCLA, 2007-08
This team had Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, the fourth and fifth picks in the 2008 draft and I think we all know how they’ve done in the league. They also had Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. I’ve never heard of the guy, but he went 37th overall that year. They probably would have had an absolutely classic title game against Kansas, but that 38-win Memphis squad beat them and had a classic title game instead.
10. Ohio State, 2006-07
If this team had beaten Florida, they probably would have been five spots higher, minimum. They may have had more talent than their football team who ALSO lost to Florida in the national championship-that may be a stretch but I bet it holds up. They had the first and fourth overall draft picks in Greg Oden and Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook came shortly after at 21st. Top overall seed, never lower than #7, and they lost by less than ten to a Florida squad that had that won their second straight and had their roster practically decimated by the draft later that year.
9. North Carolina, 2008-09
Some people, including me, forget just how good this team was, especially when you consider that the team before was the top overall seed and fell to Kansas in an absolutely loaded Final Four. This team, on the other hand, was loaded like a baked potato with all the fixings. They were never lower than fifth in the country, came in at preseason #1, and the only team since to really compare to their dominance (they scored 24 of the first 33 points in the championship against Michigan State) is Villanova. This team was so loaded that they had four guys taken in the draft(three in the first round and two of those in the first 20) and then proceeded to crash and burn the next season.
8. Gonzaga, 2016-17
There were a few milestones that really solidified the Zags as a major program and not just another very good mid-major program. There was that first-ever AP No. 1 ranking in 2013. There are the 21 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances dating back to 1999- and looking at the powerhouse that Mark Few has right now, it doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. Maybe it’s the appearances in every final AP poll for the last 13 years. This squad was another one, not only advancing to the first Final Four in school history but also making it all the way to the national title game before falling to a talented North Carolina squad in the title game. Oh, and we can’t ignore the absolute unit that was Przemek Karnowski.
7. Duke, 2000-01
Probably a top three Duke team, they had Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams, and Mike Dunleavy, among other people. In an ACC that saw all but four teams finish in the top 25, they went 13-3 and were never ranked below the 1-seed line while doing so. Oh, and of their losses, just one was by more than 10-the other three were by a combined five points. National champions, but that was probably the expectation for them.
6. Illinois, 2004-05
This team will make you look at the current state of Illinois basketball and wonder what the hell happened. They started at No. 6, were No. 1 three into the season, and that didn’t change until North Carolina beat them in the national championship-almost four months later. They had two guys taken in the first round and were voted by Sports Illustrated in 2014 as the best team to not win a national title.
5. Wisconsin, 2014-15
At first, I had Wisconsin in front of the team that beat them in the championship, and then I looked at some stuff, and came to my senses, and switched them around. Enough about Duke, though. This team was insanely talented. They had Frank Kaminsky, who completed a clean sweep of the Player of the Year awards before going eighth overall in the draft, Sam Dekker(18th overall, 2x Second-Team All-Big Ten), as well as returning stars Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser, and Bronson Koenig. Just three losses prior to the national championship, and the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships. This team was incredibly good.
4. Duke, 2014-15
Refer to the previous entry when I said I had Wisconsin at #4 in first. That was mostly because they beat that Kentucky team, and then I realized something. Duke was, all around, the much better team that year. Better overall seed, three guys in the first round, and if you really want to get technical then through the transitive property they also beat Kentucky. Sure, it’s definitely not the most talented Duke squad(my money goes to the absurdly good 1991-92 team), but they’re definitely up there.
3. Villanova, 2017-18
One of the single most dominant runs of all time(their smallest margin of victory was 12)? Check. 14-4 in a Big East that had six of ten teams make the NCAA tournament? Check. Sure, Xavier won the regular season with a 15-3 record, but they lost in the Round of 32. Villanova won their second title in three years. I think we have a clear winner there. Four players drafted that year, with two in the first 20. Absolutely dominant.
2. Kentucky, 2014-15
As an avid Kentucky hater who’s currently greatly enjoying their dumpster fire of a season(it’s a respectful kind of hate, don’t worry), it almost felt sacrilegious putting them here. But this team was loaded, and I mean LOADED. Like when you get that magic order at Taco Bell after a day of drinking and it puts you into a sleep so deep that when you wake up three hours later you’re completely re-energized for the night out. #1 in the country literally the entire season, every starter above 6’6, and to really put things into perspective, Devin Booker didn’t even start and was still selected 13th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
1. Kentucky, 2011-12
This Kentucky team was like that one cousin/neighbor/child of one of their friends that your parents can’t stop comparing you to. 38 wins, enough to tie the record for those in a season. Just TWO losses(one of which was on a buzzer-beater while up by two)-I don’t know about you, but that was nine years ago now and it still sounds insane in my head. I don’t think I can ignore that national championship either, taking down a huge rival in Louisville in the final four and then fellow blue blood Kansas in the title game. The roster wasn’t too shabby, either-the first two draft picks were future 7x All-Star and NBA Champ Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.