Counting down the most prestigious programs since 1984-85
And then there were 10.
All week, we've outlined our criteria for the Prestige Rankings, a numerical method of ranking the best Division I men's college basketball programs since the 1984-85 season. The 1984-85 season was when the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams, making it the first time a national champion had to win six tournament games to cut down the nets. It was also the start of the fairest inclusion in the NCAA tournament: Before that season, even the best conferences got only one team in the field. And with the introduction of the 3-point line in 1985-86, the past 24 seasons can be considered the most modern era of college basketball.
So, to rank the most consistent, most prestigious programs since 1984-85, we let the numbers do the talking.
• 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-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.
And now, the top 10 programs of the past 24 seasons:
10. GEORGETOWN HOYAS, Big East
Positives: 9 conference titles (5 regular-season, 4 tourney); 15 20-win seasons; 22 postseasons (16 NCAA, 6 NIT); 3 No. 1 seeds; 8 Sweet 16s; 2 Final Fours; 31 NCAA tourney wins; 11 All-Americans; 7 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 2 losing seasons; 0 national titles (the only Top 10 team without a title)
Total points: 230
Did you know? Georgetown would have easily leapfrogged its biggest rival in Syracuse if these rankings went back one season farther to 1984 when the Hoyas won the national title. Only one first-round loss in 16 NCAA tournament appearances definitely helps their cause, along with having seven top-10 NBA picks. The Hoyas win the tiebreaker with Michigan State thanks to a .687-.668 winning percentage advantage since 1984-85.
9. SYRACUSE ORANGE, Big East
Positives: 10 conference titles (6 regular-season, 4 tourney); 23 20-win seasons; 23 NCAA berths (19 NCAA, 4 NIT); 9 Sweet 16s; 3 Final Fours; 2003 national title; 35 NCAA tourney wins; 11 All-Americans; 4 NBA top-10 picks; 0 losing seasons
Negatives: 1 NCAA sanction; 0 No. 1 seeds; lost to 15th-seeded Richmond (the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15-seed) in 1991; lost to 13th-seeded Vermont in 2005; lost to 12th-seeded Texas A&M in 2006;
Total points: 238
Did you know? With Pete Gaudet the official Duke head coach for 19 games in 1994-95, Syracuse is the best school on our list that has had only one head coach since 1984-85. SU is also the highest-ranked school that didn't have the benefit of a single No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Orange are just a rock-solid, consistent winner that hasn't suffered a losing season since 1968-69.
8. UNLV REBELS, Mountain West
Positives: 19 conference titles (9 regular-season, 10 tourney); 5 30-win seasons; 18 postseasons (11 NCAA, 7 NIT); 3 No. 1 seeds; 6 Sweet 16s; 3 Final Fours; 1990 national title; 24 NCAA tourney wins; 5 All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 2 losing seasons; 2 NCAA sanctions; 10 coaches since 1984-85; 0 NCAA tourney wins between 1992 and 2007
Total points: 239
Did you know? One of the most scandal-plagued programs in the history of the sport still cracks the Top 10. It's all thanks to the glory days of Jerry Tarkanian, when the Rebels dominated the Big West while racking up five 30-win seasons. Between 1987 and 1991, UNLV made three Final Fours, including a dominating national title in 1990.
7. UCLA BRUINS, Pac-10
Positives: 8 regular-season conference titles; 19 20-win seasons; 21 postseasons (19 NCAA, 2 NIT); 11 Sweet 16s; 4 Final Fours; 1995 national title; 38 NCAA tourney wins; 6 All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 2 losing seasons; tied with Arizona for most losses to 12-16 seeds with 4: lost to 13th-seeded Penn State in 1991, lost to 12th-seeded Tulsa in 1994, lost to 13th-seeded Princeton in 1996, lost to 12th-seeded Detroit in 1999
Total points: 272
Did you know? If this was an all-time list, the Bruins would be sitting on top of the heap. They are still near the top with their four Final Four appearances (including three in the last three years) and don't forget the 1995 national title. However, that was their first title since the 1975. Believe it or not, the Bruins haven't even won the most Pac-10 regular-season and tourney titles since 1985. That honor would belong to Arizona, which won 21, six more than the Bruins.
6. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES, Big East
Positives: 14 conference titles (8 regular-season, 6 tourney); 6 30-win seasons, second-most in this era; 20 postseasons (15 NCAA, 5 NIT); 11 Sweet 16s; 2 Final Fours; 2 national titles (1999, 2004); 38 NCAA tourney wins; 1989 NIT title; 7 All-Americans; 8 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 3 losing seasons, the most in the Top 10; just 2 Final Fours in seven Elite Eights; did not make the NCAA tournament from 1985-89; lost to 13th-seeded San Diego in 2008
Total points: 292
Did you know? An NIT title in 1988 was the turning point transforming this regional power into a national one. Two national titles followed (1999, 2004), along with six 30-win seasons and the third-most top-10 NBA picks. The top-ranked Big East program on our list finished with the best record in the league an impressive eight times.
5. ARIZONA WILDCATS, Pac-10
Positives: 21 conference titles; 22 20-win seasons; 24 NCAA berths; 5 No. 1 seeds; 11 Sweet 16s; 4 Final Fours; 1997 national title; 39 NCAA tourney wins; 14 All-Americans; 7 NBA top-10 picks; 0 losing seasons
Negatives: 4 losses to 12-16 seeds, tied for the most since 1985: lost to 14th-seeded East Tennessee State in 1992, lost to 15th-seeded Santa Clara in 1993, lost to 12th-seeded Miami (Ohio) in 1995, lost to 13th-seeded Oklahoma in 1999; did not win an NCAA tourney game from 1985-1987
Total points: 338
Did you know? The Wildcats are the only program to make the NCAA tournament in all 24 seasons of our era. Arizona joins Duke as the only schools from major conferences in the double digits for conference championships and automatic bids. Throw in four Final Fours and a national title, and this Top 5 ranking is a no-brainer.
4. KENTUCKY WILDCATS, SEC
Positives: 20 conference titles (8 regular-season, 12 tourney); 6 30-win seasons; 21 NCAA berths; 7 No. 1 seeds; 14 Sweet 16s; 4 Final Fours; 1996 and '98 national titles; 52 NCAA tourney wins; 10 All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 1 losing season (13-19 in 1988-89); 2 NCAA sanctions; has not advanced past the NCAA tourney first weekend since 2005
Total points: 378
Did you know? The premier program in the SEC cracks the Top 5 despite being banned from the NCAA tournament twice. The Wildcats dominated the conference tournament, earning 12 automatic berths (tied with Penn for the most). UK hasn't been too shabby in the Big Dance either, making three straight national title games from 1996-1998 and winning twice. However, the Wildcats haven't made the Final Four since.
3. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS, ACC
Positives: 16 conference titles (9 regular-season, 7 tourney); 6 30-win seasons; 23 postseasons (22 NCAA, 1 NIT); 9 No. 1 seeds; 16 Sweet 16s; 8 Final Fours; 1993 and 2005 national titles; 61 NCAA tourney wins; 17 All-Americans; 11 NBA top-10 picks
Negatives: 1 losing season (8-20 in 2001-02); lost to 14th-seeded Weber State in 1999
Total points: 448
Did you know? A stat-sheet stuffer in every category, including NIT appearances and losing seasons. Along with Kansas, Kentucky, Connecticut and Florida, the Tar Heels have won two national titles. They also have been a No. 1 seed nine times and have six 30-win seasons. Very impressive, but still not as impressive as their big rival eight miles down the road.
2. KANSAS JAYHAWKS, Big 12
Positives: 22 conference titles (14 regular-season, 8 tourney); 8 30-win seasons; 23 NCAA berths; 8 No. 1 seeds; 15 Sweet 16s; 7 Final Fours; 1988 and 2008 national titles; 58 NCAA tourney wins; 13 All-Americans; 5 NBA top-10 picks; 0 losing seasons
Negatives: 1 NCAA sanction; lost to 14th-seeded Bucknell in 2005; lost to 13th-seeded Bradley in 2006
Total points: 455
Did you know? The Jayhawks had eight 30-win seasons in the time span, tied for the most with Duke. A big part of KU's undoing was the failed tournament runs in the mid-1990s when they were 1- or 2-seeds. Others will point to the back-to-back first-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and 2006.
1. DUKE BLUE DEVILS, ACC
Positives (with overall ranking):
• 21 conference titles (11 regular-season, 10 tourney): T-2nd
• 21 20-win seasons: T-3rd
• 9 30-win seasons: 1st
• 23 NCAA tournament berths: T-2nd
• 10 No. 1 seeds: 1st
• 17 Sweet 16s: 1st
• 10 Final Fours: 1st
• 3 national championships (1991, 1992, 2001): 1st
• 69 NCAA tournament wins: 1st
• 12 first team All-Americans: 1st
• 25 All-Americans: 1st
• 11 NBA top-10 picks: T-1st (with North Carolina)
Negatives: 1 losing season (13-18 in 1994-95)
Total points: 538 (83 points more than No. 2 Kansas)
Did you know? By any measure of success, Duke is king of the hill in college basketball in the 64-team era of the NCAA tournament. Besides the three national titles, Duke is No. 1 among all basketball programs with 69 NCAA tournament wins, 12 first team All-Americans, 11 top-10 NBA picks, 10 No. 1 seeds and seven title game appearances. An easy selection in any format for No. 1.
Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica are researchers at ESPN.
Correction: In a July 25 story about the most prestigious college basketball programs since 1984-85, some facts for Kansas and North Carolina were incorrectly tabulated by the ESPN research department. The correct numbers for KU's conference titles and UNC's number of All-Americans resulted in Kansas switching places with North Carolina and it moved the Jayhawks from No. 3 in the overall rankings to No. 2 and dropped the Tar Heels from No. 2 to No. 3.
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