Commentary

Counting down the most prestigious programs since 1984-85

Originally Published: July 24, 2008
By Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica | ESPN Research

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 Division I men's college basketball teams, weighing 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 provide unbiased rankings of 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 … 25
• Title game loss … 20
• National semifinal loss … 15
• Elite Eight loss … 10
• Best W-L record in conference's regular season … 5
• 30-plus 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 … 2
• 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 with their current conferences
!! In conferences without postseason tournament champions, the points were awarded to the regular-season champ.

So far, we've unveiled Nos. 21-50.

Now we continue the countdown to No. 1.

20. TEMPLE OWLS, Atlantic 10
Positives: 13 conference titles (6 regular-season, 7 tourney); 15 20-win seasons; 17 NCAA berths; 5 Elite Eights; 6 NITs
Negatives: 1 losing season; 0 first team All-Americans; 0 Final Fours
Total points: 179
Did you know? The 2007-08 season was the first 20-win season for Temple since the 2000-01 season, but the Owls have been respectable in that downturn, falling under .500 just once (2006-07). The Owls have five Elite Eight appearances since 1985, a tally that helps them fly up the charts, but we'd be remiss not to mention that they are 0-5 in those chances to reach the Final Four.

19. CINCINNATI BEARCATS, Big East
Positives: 18 conference titles (10 regular-season; 8 tourney); 15 20-win seasons; 14 NCAA berths; 1992 Final Four; 3 first-team All-Americans
Negatives: 5 losing seasons, the most of any team in the Top 20; 1 NCAA sanction
Total points: 180
Did you know? Before Bob Huggins' arrival in 1989, the Bearcats were dreadful. In 16 seasons under Huggins, they were a 20-win team 14 times and made the Final Four in his third season on campus. Now, Cincinnati is considered an elite program despite the recent struggles as it has transitioned to the Big East.

18. TEXAS LONGHORNS, Big 12
Positives: 16 20-win seasons; 2 30-win seasons; 18 NCAA berths; 4 Elite Eights; 4 first-team All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 3 losing seasons; just 2 conference tourney titles, the fewest of any team in the Top 20
Total points: 186
Did you know? The arrival of Tom Penders in 1988 turned around a program that was mediocre for a decade. The run under Rick Barnes this decade (seven 20-win campaigns, two 30-win seasons and 10 straight NCAA tourney appearances, including the 2003 Final Four) puts the Longhorns in the Top 20.

17. XAVIER MUSKETEERS, Atlantic 10
Positives: 21 conference titles (12 regular-season, 9 tourney); 19 20-win seasons; 17 NCAA berths; win over No. 4-seeded Missouri in 1987, win over No. 3-seeded Nebraska in 1991
Negatives: 1 losing season; 3 All-Americans and 2 NBA top-10 picks; 15 NCAA tourney wins, the fewest of any team in the Top 25
Total points: 187
Did you know? Xavier is the highest-ranked school without a Final Four appearance. The Musketeers have made the postseason in 20 of 24 seasons, including two Elite Eight appearances. They had the best record in their conference 12 times, which certainly helped their profile.

16. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS, Big East
Positives: 16 conference titles (7 regular-season; 9 tourney); 2 30-win seasons; 17 NCAA berths; 9 Sweet 16s; 1986 national championship
Negatives: 3 losing seasons; 1 first-team All-American; 14 20-win seasons is tied for the fewest of the teams in the Top 20
Total points: 204
Did you know? Louisville would have been at least 14th on this list if it had been able to upset North Carolina in that Elite Eight game this past March. A five-year span between the 1997-98 and 2001-02 seasons is the only stretch of mediocrity for a program that has been consistently good. The Cardinals are last among the three schools tied with 204 points because of the lowest combined winning percentage (.658) since 1984-85.

15. ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS, SEC
Positives: 4 30-win seasons; 17 NCAA berths; 2 No. 1 seeds; 3 Final Fours; 1994 national championship
Negatives: 3 losing seasons; 0 first team All-Americans
Total points: 204
Did you know? The Razorbacks found success in the Southwest Conference and continued that tradition when Arkansas moved to the bigger SEC in 1991. New coach John Pelphrey seems to have the proud program back on the upswing. This is the highest-ranked school that hasn't had any first team All-Americans since 1985. The Razorbacks come in second among the three schools tied at 204 points because of a .660 combined winning percentage since 1984-85.

14. MEMPHIS TIGERS, Conference USA
Positives: 12 conference titles (7 regular-season; 5 tourney); 4 30-win seasons; 20 postseasons (13 NCAA, 7 NIT); 2 No. 1 seeds; 5 Elite Eights; 8 All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 3 losing seasons; 0 national championships; lost to 12th-seeded DePaul in 1989, lost to 12th-seeded Drexel in 1996; 1 NCAA sanction
Total points: 204
Did you know? The Tigers have won at least 30 games for the past three seasons, and that recent run of dominance helped them leapfrog some of their rivals. With the butter-soft C-USA providing little resistance lately, Memphis is a program with a high ceiling in our rankings. The Tigers come in first among the three schools tied with 204 points because of the best combined winning percentage (.686) since 1984-85.

13. INDIANA HOOSIERS, Big Ten
Positives: 5 regular-season conference titles; 17 20-win seasons; 2 30-win seasons; 21 NCAA berths, the fifth-most of any team since 1984-85; 2 No. 1 seeds; 3 Final Fours; 1987 national championship; 13 All-Americans; 2 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 1 losing season; lost to 14th-seeded Cleveland State in 1986, lost to 13th-seeded Richmond in 1988, lost to 13th-seeded Kent State in 2001
Total points: 214
Did you know? The Hoosiers definitely would be higher on this list if we went back further. They did win it all in 1987 and made three Final Fours, but just one of those Final Fours took place in the past 16 years. Other than IU's surprise title game appearance in 2002, the Mike Davis era was mostly disappointing, including two seasons of missing the NCAA tournament.

12. OKLAHOMA SOONERS, Big 12
Positives: 10 conference titles (4 regular-season, 6 tourney); 20 20-win seasons; 4 30-win seasons; 19 NCAA berths; 5 No. 1 seeds, the fifth-most since 1984-85; 2 Final Fours; 6 All-Americans; win over No. 4-seeded Arizona in 1999; 0 losing seasons
Negatives: lost to 13th-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette in 1992, lost to 13th-seeded Manhattan in 1995, lost to 13th-seeded Indiana State in 2001
Total points: 221
Did you know? Despite not having a national title banner hanging from their rafters, the Sooners are ranked this high thanks to consistency. They never had a losing season in the past 24 years, and they won at least 20 games 20 times. Reasonable NCAA tournament success (five No. 1 seeds, two Final Fours and a title game appearance) puts OU in the top dozen.

11. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS, Big Ten
Positives: 5 regular-season conference titles; 14 20-win seasons; 4 No. 1 seeds; 18 NCAA berths; 9 Sweet 16s; 4 Final Fours; 2000 national championship; 12 All-Americans
Negatives: 2 losing seasons; 14 20-win seasons is tied for the fewest of any team in the Top 20; lost to 14th-seeded Weber State in 1995
Total points: 230
Did you know? The Spartans are tied with four other programs with the fourth-most Final Fours in the past 24 seasons. However, their five first-round losses, including an upset by Weber State in 1995 as a 3-seed, cost them a spot in the Top 10.

Check ESPN.com on Friday for the Top 10.

Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica are researchers at ESPN.

Chris Fallica

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