How do you rank the best programs in the modern era of college basketball?
It's not easy, but this summer, we decided to tackle the hundreds of college basketball teams, the thousands of regular-season and postseason wins and losses, the NBA draft picks, the All-Americans and the national titles to come up with a numerical point system to unbiasedly rank every college hoops program's success since the start of the 1984-85 season -- the season when the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.
We let the numbers do the talking by assigning the following point values for certain successes and failures.
• National title
• Title game loss 20
• National semifinal loss 15
• Elite Eight loss 10
• Best W-L record in conference's regular season 5
• 30+ wins in a season 5
• Sweet 16 loss 5
• Conference tournament title 3
• AP first team All-American 3
• Losing in NCAA second round 3
• Player in top 10 of NBA draft 2
• NCAA first-round win as a 12-16 seed
• NIT title 2
• AP second team All-American 2
• 20-29 wins in a season 1
• NCAA tournament berth 1
• Postseason NIT berth 1
• AP third team All-American 1
• NCAA first-round loss to a 12-16 seed -2
• Losing season -3
• Ban from NCAA tournament -3
>> Minimum 15 seasons in Division I
** Ties are broken by overall winning percentage since the 1984-85 season
^^ Teams are listed by their current conferences
So far, we've unveiled Nos. 31-50.
Now we continue the countdown to No. 1.
30. MURRAY STATE RACERS, Ohio Valley
Positives: 22 conference titles (13 regular-season; 11 tourney); 12 20-win seasons; defeated third-seeded NC State in 1988 first round
Negatives: 1 losing season; 1 NCAA tournament win in 11 trips
Total points: 126
Did you know? You may be surprised to see the Racers this high in the rankings as the highest true mid-major. It's not surprising when you consider how rock-solid they have been. Since 1984-85, they have had at least a share of the best record in the Ohio Valley Conference 13 times. That's a number only Kansas and Penn can match. They've had all this success without a single first-round NBA draft pick. The downside is that Murray State has lost its past 10 NCAA tournament games. The Racers win a tiebreaker with Villanova thanks to a .669-.608 winning percentage advantage.
29. PURDUE BOILERMAKERS, Big Ten
Positives: 10 conference titles (5 regular-season, 5 tourney); 17 NCAA berths; 5 Sweet 16s; 3 No. 1 seeds
Negatives: 5 losing seasons; 0 Final Fours
Total points: 140
Did you know? The Boilermakers are the sixth Big Ten team to make the Top 30. They were consistent under coach Gene Keady and won five Big Ten tournament titles, but they haven't had much NCAA tournament success. Just two Elite Eight appearances in 24 seasons hold them back in our rankings.
28. MARYLAND TERRAPINS, ACC
Positives: 15 NCAA berths; 8 Sweet 16s; 2002 national championship; 6 first- and second-team All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 4 losing seasons; just 3 ACC titles (2 regular-season; 1 tourney); 2 NCAA sanctions
Total points: 143
Did you know? It's hard to believe that one of the true blue bloods of college basketball has only one ACC tournament title since 1985 (in 2004). The Terps are 2-6 in Sweet 16 games since 1985, missing out on some big point-gainers. Gary Williams' boys have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the past four years.
27. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES, Big Ten
Positives: 6 regular-season conference titles; 4 Sweet 16s; 2 Final Fours; 10 conference titles (6 regular-season); 11 NCAA berths; 2 NIT titles
Negatives: 6 losing seasons; 9 20-win seasons; loss to 12th-seeded Utah State in 2001
Total points: 153
Did you know? This is the only team with less than 10 20-win seasons to crack the Top 30. The Buckeyes are helped by the five players who were drafted in the top 10, including 2007 No. 1 pick Greg Oden, who led Ohio State to the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles and a national title game appearance.
26. GONZAGA BULLDOGS, West Coast
Positives: 21 conference titles (12 regular-season; 9 tourney); 15 20-win seasons; 11 NCAA berths
Negatives: 1 losing season; 1 Elite Eight
Total points: 159
Did you know? The pride of Spokane, Wash., is the highest-ranked school without a 30-win season under its belt. But what the Zags have done the past decade is astounding: 10 straight NCAA tournament appearances while averaging more than 26 wins per season.
25. STANFORD CARDINAL, Pac-10
Positives: 4 regular-season conference titles; 3 30-win seasons; 20 postseasons (15 NCAA; 5 NIT); 3 No. 1 seeds; 1 Final Four; 8 All-Americans
Negatives: 2 losing seasons; loss to 14th-seeded Siena in 1989
Total points: 164
Did you know? The Cardinal have made the tournament in 13 of the past 14 seasons and have topped the impressive 30-win plateau three times. It makes you wonder how much higher they could have climbed in the rankings if they did more with their three No. 1 seeds (5-3 combined record in the 2000, 2001 and 2004 tournaments). Brook Lopez being picked in the top 10 of the 2008 NBA draft puts them in our Top 25.
24. UTAH UTES, Mountain West
Positives: 14 20-win seasons; 11 conference regular-season titles; 13 NCAA berths; 5 Sweet 16s; 1998 Final Four
Negatives: 4 losing seasons
Total points: 171
Did you know? The Utes have cleaned up in the regular season, winning 11 conference championships. They were one half away from beating Kentucky for the national title in 1998. They are also helped by having three first-team All-Americans and three top-10 picks in the NBA draft (Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller and Andrew Bogut).
23. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI, Big Ten
Positives: 5 regular-season conference titles; 19 NCAA berths; 17 20-win seasons; 2 30-win seasons; 3 No. 1 seeds; two Final Fours
Negatives: 3 losing seasons; loss to 14th-seeded Austin Peay in 1987, loss to 12th-seeded Dayton in 1990; 1 NCAA sanction
Total points: 175
Did you know? Illinois is a very solid program but still searching for that elusive national championship. The Illini have had their fair share of success in the Big Ten and are a mainstay in the Dance. However, they've never had a first-team All-American and have advanced as far as the Elite Eight only three times in 24 seasons.
22. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES, Big Ten
Positives: 16 20-win seasons; 2 30-win seasons; 12 NCAA berths; 3 Final Fours; 1989 national title; 2 NIT titles
Negatives: 6 losing seasons; 2 conference regular-season titles; 1 NCAA sanction
Total points: 177
Did you know? Despite the 1989 national title and back-to-back title game appearances from the Fab Five, the Wolverines still had to suffer through the Brian Ellerbe/Tommy Amaker eras. They haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1998 and haven't won a regular-season conference championship since 1986. Still, if not for the minus-3 point penalty for being ineligible for the NCAA tournament in 2003, Michigan would've been ahead of Florida.
21. FLORIDA GATORS, SEC
Positives: 2 national titles (2006, '07); 4 Final Fours; 14 NCAA berths; 14 20-win seasons; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 5 losing seasons; 3 SEC tourney titles; loss to 12th-seeded Creighton (in 2OT) in 2002, loss to 12th-seeded Manhattan in 2004
Total points: 178
Did you know? Despite winning back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, the Gators still don't make our Top 20. Why? From the 1984-85 season until 1997-98, Florida had more losing seasons (five) than 20-win ones (four). Having Kentucky in your conference definitely takes away from your chances at conference glory, too. Failing to advance beyond the first weekend of the NCAA tourney under Billy Donovan from 2001 to 2005 also hurt the Gators.
Check ESPN.com on Thursday for Nos. 11-20.
Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica are researchers at ESPN.