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The 10 Best College Basketball Championship Teams, Ranked
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

March is college basketball‘s month.

It’s when 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, Arizona, Connecticut (UConn), Syracuse, Houston, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Maryland, Texas Tech, Illinois, Oregon, Georgetown, and Oklahoma State also have their fair share of success in March.

Rick Pitino seems to win tournament games wherever he goes, but his 2013 national championship with the Louisville Cardinals was surely a thing of our imagination.

However, anything can and will happen, which is why the NCAA Tournament is better known as March Madness.

Underdogs like Loyola-Chicago in 2018, VCU in 2011, George Mason in 2006, and Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 become darlings of the tournament.

Here are the teams with the most impressive runs in NCAA basketball history, in my opinion.

This list could be filled with UCLA’s best teams from the John Wooden dynasty. However, I’m fulfilling my duty as a media member and shunning the West Coast.

Best College Basketball National Championship Teams

10. 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 nation’s most experienced cores.

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Sophomores Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins also played big roles, along with freshman Cole Alrdrich.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • First round: 85-61 over (16) Portland State
  • Round of 32: 75-56 over (8) UNLV
  • Sweet 16: 72-57 over (12) Villanova
  • Elite Eight: 59-57 over (10) Davidson
  • Final Four: 84-66 over (1) North Carolina
  • National Championship: 75-68 over (1) Memphis

Chalmers drained an iconic tournament shot to send the national title 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.

9. 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack (26-10)

This team won when it mattered most. Going into the ACC Tournament, NC State had little margin for error to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolfpack took down Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Virginia to earn the conference’s automatic bid. So began the greatest Cinderella run in tournament history.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • First round: 69-67 over (11) Pepperdine
  • Round of 32: 71-70 over (6) UNLV
  • Sweet 16: 75-56 over (10) Utah
  • Elite Eight: 63-62 over (1) Virginia
  • Final Four: 67-60 over (4) Georgia
  • National Championship: 54-52 over (1) Houston

The run included four victories within two points and Lorenzo Charles’ legendary put-back dunk to take down Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and the Houston Cougars.

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8. 2011 UConn Huskies (32-9)

The Huskies were inconsistent at the end of the regular season, dropping four of their last five. Then started one of the greatest runs in recent memory.

Led by Kemba Walker, UConn won five games in five days to win the Big East Tournament and took that momentum into the Big Dance.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • First round: 81-62 over (14) Bucknell
  • Round of 32: 69-58 over (6) Cincinnati
  • Sweet 16: 74-67 over (2) San Diego State
  • Elite Eight: 65-63 over (5) Arizona
  • Final Four: 56-55 over (4) Kentucky
  • National Championship: 53-41 over (8) Butler

7. 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels (32-2)

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The team that put Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Sam Perkins on the map. Dean Smith’s Tar Heels got hot in February and never looked back.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • Second round: 52-50 over (9) James Madison
  • Sweet 16: 74-69 over (4) Alabama
  • Elite Eight: 70-60 over (3) Villanova
  • Final Four: 68-63 over (6) Houston
  • National Championship: 63-62 over (1) Georgetown

Jordan hit the game-winning shot over the Hoyas zone anchored by Patrick Ewing to capture Smith’s first title. Now-retired UNC head coach Roy Williams was an assistant.

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6. 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (35-5)

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. UNLV breezed through the Big West Tournament and earned a one-seed in the West Region.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • First round: 102-72 over (16) Arkansas Little-Rock
  • Round of 32: 76-65 over (8) Ohio State
  • Sweet 16: 69-67 over (12) Ball State
  • Elite Eight: 131-101 over (11) Loyola Marymount
  • Final Four: 90-81 over (4) Georgia Tech
  • National Championship: 103-73 over (3) Duke

5. 1992 Duke Blue Devils (34-2)

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.

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NCAA Tournament Results:

  • First round: 82-56 over (16) Campbell
  • Round of 32: 75-62 over (9) Iowa
  • Sweet 16: 81-69 over (4) Seton Hall
  • Elite Eight: 104-103 over (2) Kentucky
  • Final Four: 81-78 over (2) Indiana
  • National Championship: 71-51 over (6) Michigan

In perhaps the greatest college basketball game of all time, National Player of the Year Christian Laettner hit a turnaround jumper at the buzzer in overtime for the Elite Eight win over the Kentucky Wildcats. The Blue Devils went on to dismantle the Michigan Wolverines’ Fab Five to defend its title.

Duke became the first repeat champions since UCLA in 1972-73.

4. 1956 San Francisco Dons  (29-0)

A young Bill Russell carried the Dons to a perfect 25-0 record heading into the March Madness. Even without star K.C. Jones, USF was never really challenged for the crown.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • Regional Semifinals: 72-61 over UCLA
  • Elite Eight: 92-77 over Utah
  • Final Four: 86-68 over SMU
  • National Championship: 83-71 over Iowa

3. 1979 Michigan State Spartans (26-6)

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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.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • Round of 32: 95-64 over (10) Lamar
  • Sweet 16: 87-71 over (3) LSU
  • Elite Eight: 80-68 over (1) Notre Dame
  • Final Four: 101-67 over (9) Penn
  • National Championship: 75-64 over Indiana State

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.

2. 1976 Indiana Hoosiers (32-0)

Bob Knight’s Hoosiers gained strength as the season went on. After a 77-68 overtime win over Kentucky early in the year, Indiana rolled through the Big Ten into the postseason.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • Round of 32: 90-70 over St. John’s
  • Sweet 16: 74-69 over Alabama
  • Elite Eight: 65-56 over Marquette
  • Final Four: 65-51 over UCLA
  • National Championship: 86-68 over Michigan

It was the storied program’s first Final Four appearance in three years. The 1976 Hoosiers are the most recent undefeated national champion.

1. 1973 UCLA Bruins (30-0)

To describe John Wooden’s 1972-73 UCLA Bruins is simple: unbeatable. Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, Larry Farmer, and Larry Hollyfield each averaged over 10 points per game.

NCAA Tournament Results:

  • Sweet 16: 98-81 over Arizona State
  • Elite Eight: 54-39 over San Francisco
  • Final Four: 70-59 over Indiana
  • National Championship: 87-66 over Memphis State

In the 1973 national championship game, Walton scored 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds. 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 10 in a 12-year stretch, and is widely regarded as the greatest coach of all time.

This post was originally published on February 19, 2020.

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Joe Grobeck About the author:
Joe is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and lives in Austin, Texas. He believes Ndaumkong Suh should've won the 2009 Heisman and is an avid basketball fan.
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