Top 10 of the last 10: Best teams
In the second part of a weeklong look at the past decade in college basketball, ESPN.com anoints its top 10 teams from the past 10 years.
Editor's note: This Top 10 list is an aggregate of the individual ballots from five ESPN/ESPN.com basketball experts. The experts' ballots can be found here.
Two concepts come into play when you compile any "best of" list, especially as the period of time gets longer: the recency effect and how much weight a championship is worth.
The recency effect refers to humans' minds being more aware of (and often more favorable to) the most recent happenings in a series of events. It makes sense -- we can much more readily recall specific moments of greatness from the 2007 Florida Gators than from teams of the late '90s.
When you combine that with the somewhat overrated criterion of winning a national title in a single-elimination tournament format, you can get some skew. Which should you trust more: the end-of-season random championship generator or performance over an entire season? It's possible to have more than one great team in a given season. Why unfairly punish the team that doesn't win the title? Winning six games in March is a big bonus, but it's not absolutely required to be great.
That's not to take anything away from what Florida accomplished this season, but there were teams further back in our evaluation period that were better, including at least one that didn't win the national championship.
As you will see, my colleagues disagree with that position. It will be interesting to see what you think.
Without further ado today's Top 10: Best individual teams of the last 10 seasons.
|2. North Carolina 2005 (1)|
My personal choice for the best team of this past decade, this version of the Tar Heels featured four 2005 NBA lottery picks, including Marvin Williams, who went No. 2 overall despite not starting a game all season. Carolina played at a blistering pace with deadly efficiency, averaging 88 points per game on a tick under 50 percent shooting and over 40 percent from the arc. The Heels dominated a number of teams during the regular season and get an added bonus for taking down another team on this list (Illinois) in a classic national title game. All five starters averaged in double figures and the emergence of forward Sean May down the stretch was enough to cap off a 33-4 championship season in which Carolina had a plus-17.7 scoring margin and was plus-7.5 on the glass. The nitpicks? The season-opening loss at Santa Clara without Raymond Felton was surprising, but the biggest drawback to the Tar Heels' candidacy is the semifinal loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC semifinals.
|3. UConn 1999|
The first of two UConn clubs in a row on our list, this team lacked a bit of the glamour of its 2004 counterpart but had a more dominant season (perhaps in part because of Emeka Okafor's health issues on and off in 2003-04). The main man was Richard Hamilton, who averaged more than 21 points per game. You probably also remember stocky PG Khalid El-Amin, who chipped in 13.8 points and four assists a game. Beyond that? The Huskies went a total of nine or 10 deep, but you'd be hard-pressed to name many in the supporting cast. Perhaps you recall Jake Voskuhl and Ricky Moore, but how about the team's third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, Kevin Freeman? Brand names or not, the Huskies rolled to a 34-2 record, with a plus-16.0 scoring margin and a ridiculous plus-14.2 rebounding margin. They capped off the season by beating a tremendous Duke team by three to win the school's first national title. Nitpicks? Other than some less-than-stellar shooting percentages, there's not much to dislike.
|4. UConn 2004 (1)|
More glitz, same glory, a few more blemishes than its 1999 counterpart. A lot of people forget that this UConn team, even though many observers picked it to win the NCAA title, actually was a No. 2 seed. Much of that was because of the lingering questions about Okafor's back, but nonetheless, the Huskies entered the NCAAs with six losses -- a large number for an elite team. This version of the Huskies, though, was loaded. The leading scorer was Ben Gordon (18.5 ppg). Okafor poured in 17.6 a game and added 11.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks, as well. They also had sharpshooter Rashad Anderson on the wing, the Browns (Denham and Taliek), and young versions of Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone. The Huskies finished with a plus-14.9 scoring margin and plus-9.7 on the glass. They shot well from the field (48 percent) and from the arc (40 percent) but were atrocious from the foul line (62 percent). Nitpicks: Yes, Okafor wasn't 100 percent for much of the season, but six losses, including L's to Providence and Notre Dame? Also needed a Duke collapse to escape the national semis. This team was not the enigma that was the 2006 Huskies, but the inconsistency keeps this squad outside the top three.
|5. Duke 2001|
Because of the self-inflicted motorcycle accident that basically ended his NBA career, it's easy to forget how good Jason (Jay) Williams was in college. Williams was the lead man (averaging 21.6 points and 6.1 assists per game) on a team that included Shane Battier (19.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. These Blue Devils shot 48 percent from the field and better than 38 percent from the arc on their way to a 35-4 national championship season that also included a share of the ACC regular-season crown and the ACC tournament title (over UNC by 26). The Devils averaged a blistering 90.7 points per game and had a huge plus-20.2 scoring margin. Three of their four losses were by two or fewer points, and all four losses were to teams ranked 16th or better. This Duke team also won all six NCAA Tournament games by double figures. Nitpicks? There aren't many. This was the rare dominating national champ that was mediocre on the glass (plus-1.0 margin), and the Devils could be a little flaky from the foul line (a bad night there blew the UNC game at Cameron), but it didn't seem to matter much overall. Honestly, this team (or maybe the team at No. 7) probably should be higher in this list.
|6. Michigan State 2000|
In seeing how many were surprised by Michigan State's lofty status in Monday's Best Programs voting, it's also easy to underrate (and confuse) the Spartans' three consecutive Final Four teams from 1999 to 2001. Part of the reason is that this principally was a defense-first, grind-it-out club. These Spartans had the capacity to score (they hung 114 on Michigan and averaged more than 74 a game for the season), but preferred locking you down (holding opponents under 40 percent shooting and 59 points a game). That trait was never on display more than when they faced Wisconsin, which they beat four times (including in an unwatchable 53-41 national semifinal), holding the Badgers to a total of 185 points. (Editor's note: This was corrected.) Morris Peterson was the main stat man, leading the club in scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.4 rpg), but Mateen Cleaves was the heart and soul at the point. The Spartans get a decent-sized pass on their seven total losses because four came during the first 13 games, when Cleaves was out with a stress fracture. They went 23-3 with him in the lineup. Interestingly, a young Jason Richardson came off the bench for about 15 minutes per game.
|7. Duke 1999|
The first of two teams on this list that did not win the national title, these Blue Devils fell by three in a great national title game to a UConn team that's No. 3 in this exercise. At the expense of sounding like a Duke homer, this is too low for this team. These Devils were absolutely loaded, featuring Elton Brand (17.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Trajan Langdon (17.3 ppg, 44.1 percent from 3), William Avery, Corey Maggette, Chris Carrawell and Battier, all of whom averaged more than nine points a game. They went unbeaten in the ACC, rolling to the regular-season and tournament titles at a combined 19-0, and were 37-1 entering the national championship game. This goes to show just how much importance -- maybe too much -- is put on winning the national title, as this team very well could have been No. 1 on this list had it found four more points against the Huskies. The Devils had an enormous plus-24.6 scoring margin, scoring more than 91 points per game on 51.4 percent from the field and just under 40 percent from the arc. Nitpick? They lost the title game. Unfair, isn't it?
|8. Maryland 2002|
It's possible we'll hear more about the Terps on Wednesday when we discuss underappreciated programs, but this was an extremely good club that finished off what it had let slip away the previous year in the national semifinals against Duke, when Maryland blew a 20-point first-half lead. The starting five of Juan Dixon (20.4 ppg), Lonny Baxter (15.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Chris Wilcox, Byron Mouton and Steve Blake (8.0 apg) was balanced and imposing, and Drew Nicholas and Tahj Holden gave good minutes off the bench. These Terps were a good shooting team (48 percent, 37 percent 3s, 73 percent FTs) that racked up 85 points per game and had a plus-14.1 scoring margin. Bonus: Beat Kentucky, UConn and Kansas in succession en route to the championship game against Indiana. Nitpicks? Two of the three regular-season losses were by at least 16 points, and Maryland lost to NC State in the ACC tournament semis.
|9. Illinois 2005|
The other non-title-winner on the list and, like the 1999 Duke team, probably rated too low here. The easy way to put this in perspective is that this Illinois team was the best team in the nation for much of the same season as the 2005 UNC team that is second on this list (and my pick for No. 1). The Illini made it until the final game of the regular season unbeaten before falling at Ohio State, won the Big Ten tournament and fell by five to Carolina in a riveting final, one in which the guard-heavy Illini jacked up 40 3s (making only 12). Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head made up a lethal perimeter (incidentally, how many people recall that Head actually led the team in scoring by a significant margin), and Roger Powell Jr. and James Augustine got it done well enough inside. Bonus points for the absurd comeback from 15 down with four minutes left against Arizona in the regional final and for being one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory. Small nitpick? A lack of depth and inside bulk cost Illinois down the stretch against North Carolina.
|10. Syracuse 2003|
These Orange are known as the Melo Show, but there was a lot more on that roster than just the precocious freshman. Add in Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara, for starters, and contributions from Kueth Duany and (when he was on the roster) Billy Edelin, and this was a much more complete team than it's given credit for. Cuse had an impressive NCAA Tournament run, winning four games by double figures and beating a good Kansas team in the final. That said, despite the Orange's 30-5 record, they didn't blow people away (plus-10.0 scoring margin), shot the 3 at a very mediocre rate (34.4 percent) and were only plus-2.6 on the glass. Bonus: Warrick's legendary block in the final seconds of the title game against Kansas, preserving the three-point win. Nitpicks: As listed above, this was a very good but not great basketball team. Personally, I did not have it in my 10.
Others receiving votes: Florida 2006, North Carolina 1998, Saint Joseph's 2004, Cincinnati 2000
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