Top 10 of the last 10: Best programs
In the first part of a weeklong look at the last decade in college basketball, ESPN.com anoints its top 10 programs from the past 10 years.
Editor's note: The Top 10 lists are an aggregate of the individual ballots from five ESPN/ESPN.com basketball experts. The experts' ballots can be found here.
Early entry into the NBA draft wasn't a new thing when Kevin Garnett took the leap in 1995 from the preps directly to the pros, but when he skipped college altogether, it empowered a new generation of prep stars to reconsider how long they needed to play at the college level.
Whether they followed Garnett's path (like Kobe Bryant in 1996 and Tracy McGrady in 1997) or just started shrinking the amount of time spent in college (like Lamar Odom's one season, in 1999) -- the change in the recruiting landscape to deal with the one- and two-year players ushered in a very new era of college basketball.
As such, we thought it would be intriguing -- and argument-forming -- to take a look at the best of the best of the past decade of college basketball. Over the next five days, we will explore the top 10 programs, individual teams, surprise programs and underachieving programs, and we'll wrap up on Friday with an examination of the 10 programs best positioned for success going forward.
First up: ESPN.com's Top 10 programs of the last 10 years.
|1. Duke (2 first-place votes)|
Love them or hate them, you can't quibble with the Blue Devils' performance during a 10-year run. With one national championship, three Final Fours, 28 NCAA Tournament wins, six ACC titles (five solo), seven ACC tournament titles (including five in a row) and an average RPI of 4.3 over that time period (almost six RPI places better than Kansas, which is second on that list), Duke's accomplishments, in arguably the nation's toughest conference, are unmatched by any other program. The Blue Devils have had a bunch of terrific college players over the past decade, and when you throw in pro stars such as Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer along with solid contributors like Shane Battier and Corey Maggette, the program even is shedding the "talent doesn't translate to the next level" label. It's fair to note that Duke has underperformed its NCAA Tournament seeds fairly significantly since its last national title in 2001, but it's also fair to mention that when you're a No. 1 seed almost every year (eight times in the last decade), it's hard to do anything but underperform in knockout-style events.
|T2. Michigan State (1)|
The sleeper team of the top 10, the Spartans don't have the blue-blooded reputation of a Kentucky or a Kansas, but they have a decade's worth of performance that would flatter either of those schools. The Spartans made three straight Final Fours from 1999 to 2001, winning the title in 2000. MSU returned to the Final Four in 2005, losing to North Carolina. In the past 10 seasons, the Spartans have four Big Ten titles, two Big Ten tournament titles and 24 NCAA Tournament wins (third-best over the past decade) -- but did so with an average seed of 5.1 (well behind Duke's average seed of 1.7). One significant drawback: They have not won either the Big Ten regular-season title or conference tournament title since 2001. MSU has generated some very solid pros, headlined by Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph and Morris Peterson.
|T2. UConn (1)|
The Huskies have been one of the nation's bellwether programs over the past 10 years and one of two programs (along with Florida) with more than one NCAA championship in that time. UConn won it all in both 1999 and 2004, cashing in both times it made the Final Four in that span. UConn also has notched 25 NCAA Tournament wins, five Big East championships and four conference tournament titles. Also, perhaps more than any other program in this list, UConn has generated a large number of extremely good NBA players, including Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Caron Butler, Richard Hamilton and Charlie Villanueva.
|4. Florida (1)|
My, how two seasons can change perceptions. In February 2006, Florida was a successful program that had gathered momentum in the SEC but was best known for repeatedly getting knocked out early in the NCAAs. Florida suffered first-round NCAA upsets in 2002 and '04 and needed a buzzer beater to escape Butler in overtime in 2000, when the Gators ultimately made it to the national championship game. Since last February, the Gators have ripped off 18 straight tournament wins (SEC and NCAA) and became the first school to win back-to-back national titles since Duke in 1991 and '92. When you look at the composite -- two national championships, three Final Fours, 22 NCAA Tournament wins -- it stacks right up there with the ultraheavyweights of the college game, but it's clear that much of that bulk came in the last two seasons. Florida's top talent at the pro level -- David Lee, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams -- isn't as impressive as that of some of its peers, but that should change down the road with three potential lottery picks (Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer) this year.
The pessimist will mention the lack of a national championship in the past 10 seasons (actually, make that 19). The optimist will point out that the Jayhawks have an overall profile worthy of this spot, despite being one of only two programs on this list without a national title in that span. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of six Big 12 titles and have four conference tournament crowns. They also have the second-best RPI in the nation (10.20) over that time frame, along with 20 NCAA Tournament wins (despite back-to-back first-round losses in 2005 and '06) and two Final Four appearances. Looking to the NBA for additional affirmation, KU has produced Paul Pierce, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden and Raef LaFrentz.
|T5. North Carolina|
With the Roy Williams connection, funny that these two programs ended up deadlocked in our poll. Much to the consternation of Jayhawk Nation, Williams did in Chapel Hill what he couldn't do in Lawrence -- guide his team to the national title, winning it all in 2005 with a loaded club that produced four NBA lottery picks. In the past 10 years, Carolina has compiled 20 NCAA Tournament wins, three Final Four appearances and the one national title. UNC's contribution to the NBA ranks has been top-shelf as well, with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison being joined by the 2005 class headlined by Marvin Williams, Sean May and Raymond Felton.
Heresy? Yes, Kentucky has the 1998 national title in its account for this drill, one that wrapped up one of the most dominant three-year runs in modern NCAA basketball history, but in the nine seasons that followed, the Wildcats' 17 NCAA wins have not earned them even one return trip to the Final Four. Of course, you can't discount the five SEC titles and five conference tournament championships in this stretch, either. The lack of standout NBA players may be evidence of the biggest knock on former coach Tubby Smith -- recruiting that saw a decline in the amount of blue-chip talent coming to Lexington. The best of the bunch probably is Tayshaun Prince.
Here's the other program in the top 10 without a national title in the last decade, although the Wildcats did win it all in 1997. Zona also has underachieved a bit in the NCAAs, turning three No. 1 seeds into only one Final Four appearance. Still, the Cats have long been one of the nation's elite programs. In the past 10 years, they have 18 NCAA wins, four league titles (surprisingly, though, so does Stanford) and won the Pac-10's first conference tournament in 12 seasons in 2002. Looking for some stars at the pro level? Try Gilbert Arenas, Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson and Jason Terry, for starters.
Maryland has operated rather successfully in the very long shadows of Duke and North Carolina in the ACC. The Terps have a league championship, a conference tournament championship, two Final Four appearances and the national championship in 2002. The Terps actually have had a better average RPI than Carolina over the past 10 years (helped a good amount by the Heels' 8-20 disaster in 2002), and also have only one fewer NCAA Tournament wins (20 for UNC, 19 for Maryland) over that span. When it comes to talent for the NBA, Steve Francis is by far the best of a so-so bunch.
The Carmelo-fueled 2003 national title helps a lot, as the rest of the past decade has netted only seven additional NCAA Tournament wins. The Orange also have won shares of two regular-season Big East titles and claimed back-to-back conference tournament titles in 2005 and '06. Take away the national title (say, the Orange lost in that Final Four) and they probably are behind such schools as Illinois, Texas and Stanford. Just shows how much winning championships is valued in our basketball world. Hakim Warrick probably is next in line after Anthony on the NBA level.
Others receiving votes: Texas, Gonzaga
Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU College Basketball Insider podcast.
Top 10 in the Last 10
ESPN.com's college basketball experts weigh in on college basketball over the last 10 years.
• Top 10 programs | Ballots
• Katz: Spartans take top spot
• Best individual teams | Ballots
• Lunardi: Hard to ignore UF
• Underrated programs | Ballots
• Bilas: Nice to be underrated
• The 10 underachievers | Ballots
• Gottlieb: Why they struggle
• 10 primed for success | Ballots
• Forde: Florida's primed for more
• SN: Rank the top programs
• SN: Rank the top seasons
• SN: Rank the underappreciated
• SN: Rank the underachieving
• SN: Rank the future kings