The Greatest College Basketball Programs in History

1. University of Kentucky Wildcats – This is a no brainer in my opinion.  If talking about the HISTORY of college basketball, you have to look at the entire existence of the sport.  Not the last 25 years.  Not the most dominating 10 year stretch in the sport.  The ENTIRE history.  When doing so, it is a no brainer that the University of Kentucky Wildcats are the greatest program in college basketball history.  Lets take a quick look at UK’s resume:

A. The all time winningest college program in history in both terms of overall wins (2089) and winning percentage (.763)

B. The only school with multiple NCAA (7) and NIT (2) titles with the NIT titles coming during an era where the NIT tournament was actually a big deal because only conference champions were allowed into the NCAA tournament.

C. They are 1st in overall appearances in the NCAA tournament (52), Sweet 16 appearances (39), Elite Eight appearances (34) and wins in the tournament (110)

D. Their 7 national titles (8 if they win on Monday night) rank 2nd all time to UCLA and their 15 appearances in the Final Four tie them with Duke for 3rd all time

E. Their national titles are spread out: 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996 and 1998. That means that they have won in 4 different decades (5 if they win Monday) showing that they have a long running history of greatness.

F. 47 SEC regular season conference championships and 28 SEC conference tournament championships

G. The most All-Americans in history (85), the most NBA draft picks in history (100) and was the 1st school to ever have 5 players drafted in the 1st round of the same NBA draft (2010)

As you can see, University of Kentucky has the best players, the most wins and the best track record of consistency over the history of college basketball.


2. University of North Carolina Tar Heels – Thanks to ESPN, most casual fans would assume that if UNC was not the greatest program in college basketball history, then it would be the team that I have listed at #4.  There is no denying that UNC belongs on the list and that they belong very high on that list.  However, no amount of ESPN hype and focus can give the Tar Heels a better resume than Kentucky for the top spot.  Let’s take a look:

A. UNC is 3rd all time in wins (2065) and 2nd in all time winning percentage (.738) so Kentucky has them beat in both of those categories

B. UNC is tied for 3rd all time with 5 national championships (although they claim a title in 1924 before national champions were crowned…but UK has one of those Helms titles too so you can say it is 8 to 6 instead of 7 to 5) so Kentucky has them beat there as well (and can increase the gap by winning on Monday)

C. UNC is 1st all time with 18 Final Four appearances but have less appearances in title games (9) than Kentucky (11).

There’s no denying that it is close BUT Kentucky has more wins, more titles, a higher winning percentage, more NBA draft picks, better success in Final Fours when they get there and the only thing that UNC has done better than Kentucky is making more Final Fours overall.  Sorry Chapel Hill, you’ll have to settle for not winning…like you usually do when making it to the Final Four!

3. Kansas Jayhawks – Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk.  Kansas has a long and powerful history in college basketball since the inventor of the game, James Naismath, was their first coach (and as fate would have it, the only coach in the school’s history with a losing record!).  I’m sure Kansas fans could put forth an argument for why their school should be #1 on this list but it would just fall short.  Definitely Top 5 and anyone saying otherwise is mistaken but just not quite #1.  Let’s look at the resume:


A. Second all time in overall wins (2070) and Third all time in overall winning percentage (.720) so behind UK in both but ahead of UNC in one and just behind in another so a wash with UNC.

B. The most winning seasons in history (93) and the most regular season conference titles in history (55) so they have the longevity and consistency needed to be on the list.  While these are great stats, they don’t make up for being being UK and UNC on the points made in A.

C. 4th all time in Final Four appearances with 14 and tied for 4th with 9 title game appearances.  Great historically but just behind Kentucky and UNC.

D. 3 National Championships.  Surprising low for a team with these credentials IMO.  I would expect more than 3 titles for a team with 14 trips to the Final Four.  Of course, they can add #4 on Monday night (If you want to count the fictional Helms titles from before actual champions were crowned, they have 5)

While Kansas can be credited with inventing the game and having more winning seasons than anyone, UK still has more.  UK and UNC have a higher winning percentage, more Final Fours and more championships.  Don’t fret Kansas.  As Rick Pitino said last night after his Cardinals lost to Kentucky, “there is no shame in getting the bronze medal.”


4.  Duke Blue Devils – Despite ESPN’s man crush on the “Dookies” and making everyone believe that the be all and end all of college basketball is on Tobacco Road with UNC and Duke, there are better college programs out there.  However, if this was a list of the greatest college basketball programs of the last 25 years, even this Duke hater would have to grit my teeth and agree that they are #1 on that list.  The last 25 years does not make for “history of college basketball” however.  Let’s see why Duke falls short:

A. They are 4th on the all time wins list with 1970 and have a .703 overall winning percentage.  It will take the Blue Devils a while to catch up with the top 3 on this list even with as dominating as they have been the last quarter century.

B. They have 15 Final Four appearances – 11 of those since 1986, 1st one in 1963 so while tied with UK for 3rd all time, they don’t reach the 40s and 50s like the teams ahead of them.  Again, we are talking about longevity and consistency and Duke was just a little later to the dance than the others.

C. Four national titles – not as many as UK or UNC and Kansas has a chance to tie them on Monday.

D. No team has had a run as successful over the course of 25 years as Duke did from 1986 – 2011.  11 Final Fours. 4 titles. 12 Elite Eights.  20 Sweet Sixteens.  Incredible.

I think Duke can make a strong case for passing Kansas on this list especially if Kansas loses on Monday but I’m going to put Kansas ahead of them because they have been doing it longer.  Theme of the day: longevity and consistency over a miraculous run that isn’t stretched out over as much time.


5. UCLA Bruins – Here was the toughest choice for me.  The UCLA Bruins.  How much weight to give titles?  How much weight to give the most impressive run in college basketball history and 1 mini run achieved by multiple teams in the past?  Obviously titles matter.  It’s the most important thing in a singular season.  However, in history, would you rather be a franchise that dominated a 12 year stretch and then have relatively nothing to show for the other 70 years of your existence or would you rather have less titles and a run of 80 years of being one of the best year in and year out?  I think I would rather have the latter and that is why I put the Bruins at #5 on my list.  Lets look at the resume:

A. The most national titles in history with 11, including 10 titles in 12 years with a run of 7 years in a row.

B. 17 official trips to the Final Four for 2nd best behind UNC (technically 18 trips…the 1980 appearance has been vacated by the NCAA)

Now for the case against them being ranked #1.

C. Overall, they only have 1720 wins as a program.  In other words, Kentucky would have to go winless for the next 10 years with UCLA winning 30 games a year during that time in order for UCLA to pass them.

D. 13 of those Final Fours came in a 15 year span. They then had a span of 3 years in a row 2006 – 2008.  So as a UCLA fan, you have gotten all your success bunched into a relatively small amount of time considering the entire history of college basketball.

E. Almost all of those Final Fours and National Championships came when the tournament field was MUCH smaller than it is now and only conference champions were allowed in to the tournament.  How many would they have won those years if the field was as big as it was today?  Would they have won 7 years in a row with the 24/7 media attention and all the hype surrounding March Madness?  Basketball was shown on tape delay for the most part back during UCLA’s run.  No pressure when hardly anyone is watching.


No one can take that 15 year run away from UCLA but I also refuse to place them higher on this list than the other programs that have had sustained excellence over the long haul.  This may be the only time I ever say this in my life but Winning (championships) isn’t everything!


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