March is college basketball’s month. Cinderellas and Goliaths meet on the dance floor to tango in pursuit of a National Championship. Bluebloods such as Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas, Indiana, and Michigan State each have a rich history. Additional big-time programs like Cincinnati, Florida, Louisville, Arizona, Connecticut (UConn), Syracuse, Houston, Oregon, Georgetown, and Oklahoma State also have their fair share of success in March.
However, anything can and will happen, which is why the Division I NCAA basketball tournament is better known as March Madness.
Here are the teams with the most impressive runs in NCAA men’s basketball history, in my opinion.
5. 2008 Kansas Jayhawks
The 2008 Jayhawks started the season 20-0 and climbed up to the No. 2 ranked team in the country. Seniors Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson, and Sasha Kahn were joined by juniors Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers to form one of the most experienced cores in the country. Sophomores Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins also played big roles, along with freshman Cole Alrdrich.
Kansas beat Portland State, UNLV, and Villanova in the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament and met the Stephen Curry-led Davidson Wildcats in the Elite 8. Victorious by a score of 59-57, the Jayhawks earned a spot against North Carolina in the Final Four.
KU handled the North Carolina Tar Heels 84-66 to book a date against the John Calipari-led Memphis Tigers in the National Championship. The game was one for the ages. Chalmers drained an iconic tournament shot to send the game into overtime. The more experienced Jayhawks were able to pull away for a 75-68 National Championship victory.
Kansas finished the season 37-3, a program record for wins in a season. It’s their third and most recent National Championship.
4. 1990 UNLV Rebels
The Runnin’ Rebels basketball team ran away with the National Championship in 1990. Led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony, UNLV had a high-flying squad that fed off opponents’ turnovers.
They gained steam as the calendar turned from February to March. The Runnin’ Rebels breezed through the Big West Tournament and earned a one-seed in the West Region.
In the NCAA Tournament, UNLV faced Arkansas-Little Rock and Ohio State in the first two rounds and won decisively. They met Ball State in the Sweet Sixteen for their closest game of the tournament—winning 69-67.
The Runnin’ Rebels’ Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship performances were a thing of beauty. They beat Loyola Marymount 131-101 in the Elite Eight and Georgia Tech 90-81 in the Final Four. In the National Championship game in New Orleans, UNLV decimated Duke 103-73.
3. 1992 Duke
The Blue Devils returned a majority of their 1991 National Championship core of Christain Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill the following year. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team was near perfect. The only two losses came against rival North Carolina and Wake Forest in the regular season.
Duke’s tournament run began without much resistance. The first three rounds were won by double-digits against Campbell, Iowa, and Seton Hall respectively. In perhaps the greatest college basketball game of all time, Laettner hit a turnaround jumper at the buzzer in overtime for the win over the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Blue Devils went on to defeat the Indiana Hoosiers 81-78 in the National Semifinal. They squared off against Michigan and the Fab Five in the National Championship and won decisively by a score of 71-51.
Duke became the first repeat champions since UCLA in 1972-73.
2. 1979 Michigan State
The 1979 Spartans were led by Magic Johnson, Greg Kesler, and Jay Vincent. They started the season 6-1 in nonconference play and entered the Big Ten season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. MSU went 2-4 in their first six conference games but were able to turn it around for a share of the Big Ten Championship.
The Spartans earned the number two seed in the Mideast regional. They cruised through the first four rounds of the tournament with wins over Lamar, LSU, Notre Dame, and Penn, winning each game by double digits.
The NCAA Championship game featured a matchup against Indiana State and Larry Bird in Salt Lake City, Utah. This would be the first of many hard-fought games in the Magic and Bird rivalry that extended to the NBA. The Spartans prevailed 75-64 to win the school’s first basketball championship, and Johnson earned Most Oustanding Player of the Final Four. The title game was the most-watched college basketball game in history at the time.
1. 1973 UCLA
To describe the 1972-73 UCLA Bruins is simple: unbeatable. Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, Larry Farmer, and Larry Hollyfield each averaged over 10 points per game. Walton was especially unstoppable. In the 1973 National Championship game, he scored 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds.
John Wooden’s team cruised through the NCAA Tournament. They defeated Arizona State, San Francisco, Indiana, and Memphis State en route to the national title. It was the second consecutive undefeated season and seventh consecutive title for the Los Angeles based team. This team accounted for 30 wins of the 88-game win streak—the longest in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history.
It’s hard to say if we’ll ever see a college sports program as dominant as UCLA was in the 1960s and 70s. Wooden won 10 National Championships, including nine in a 10-year stretch, and is widely regarded as the greatest coach of all time.