Rating the NCAA basketball champions
We’ve completed another decade of college basketball. The ’00s are behind us, which means we’re two decades removed from the sport’s zenith.
The 1980s were the height of college basketball. That’s when we had great players and good parity. Before the ’80s, we didn’t have the parity, though we were getting there as the ’70s progressed. After the ’80s, we didn’t have the great players, most of whom had gone pro.
In the ’80s, eight schools won championships — only Indiana and Louisville did it twice, but each did it six years apart, which meant a completely different set of ballplayers. The ’80s had epic ballplayers like Isiah Thomas, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson and Danny Manning.
So it’s not really fair to compare college basketball now to the 1980s. So let’s not do it. Let’s just take the last 20 years and rank the NCAA champions. Which are the best teams? Here’s a ranking, 20 to 1.
20. Arizona 1997: Wildcats had a great backcourt in Miles Simon and Mike Bobby. They were a fourth seed, went 25-9 and beat Kentucky 84-79 in the finals.
19. Syracuse 2003: Carmelo Anthony was great, Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara were solid. The Orange was seeded third, went 30-5 and beat Kansas 81-78 in the finals.
18. Florida 2006: Gators were a year away but won it anyway, with a lineup Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey and Corey Brewer. Florida was a No. 1 seed, finished 33-6 and beat UCLA 73-57 in the finals.
17. Duke 1991: Blue Devils had no business winning the title but pulled an epic upset in the semifinals, beating unbeaten UNLV. You remember the names — Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Thomas Hill, Billy McCaffery. Duke was a second seed, finished 32-7 and beat Kansas 72-65 in the finals.
16. Kentucky 1998: Tubby Smith’s makeover included no starters from the UK title team of ’96. Scott Padgett, Nazr Mohammed, Allen Edwards, Jeff Sheppard and Wayne Turner started. Jamaal Magliore came off the bench. Kentucky, a No. 2 seed, went 35-4 and beat Utah 78-69 in the finals.
15. Michigan State 2000: The ultimate blue-collar team. Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson were the stars. Charlie Bell, A.J. Granger and Andre Hutson were role players, and freshman Jason Richardson came off the bench. The Spartans were a No. 1 seed, finished 32-7 and beat Florida 89-75 in the finals.
14. UNLV 1990: This was not the super team that would come along a year later, only to lose to Duke in the Final Four. This Runnin’ Reb team had Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony. It was a No. 1 seed, went 35-5 and beat Duke 103-73 in the finals.
13. Kansas 2008: Jayhawks had Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson. They were top-seeded, finished 37-3 and beat Memphis 75-68 in overtime for the title.
12. North Carolina 1993: Tar Heels were strangely (for them) void of stars, with Donald Williams, Derrick Phelps, Eric Montross, George Lynch and Brian Reese comprising the starting lineup for a team that was No. 1-seeded, went 34-4 and beat Michigan 77-71 in the finals after Chris Webber’s infamous timeout.
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