Ranking college basketball's top 25 national champs: A very UCLA-heavy list
The Wizard of Westwood is stamped all over this top 25, with plenty of Kentucky, UNC mixed in
Trying to rank teams from different eras playing different styles and by different rules is difficult bordering on impossible. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try! So consider this my attempt at ranking college basketball’s 25 best national champions.
The list starts with No. 25, and works down to No. 1.
John Wooden is well-represented, as you’ll soon find out.
25. North Carolina (34-4)
The Tar Heels were the preseason No. 1 and lost four games by an average of only four points. They won their six NCAA Tournament games by an average of 21.2 points. Ty Lawson averaged 16.6 points and 6.6 assists. He had 21 points, six assists and eight steals in the 89-72 win that secured Roy Williams’ second national championship.
24. 1984 Georgetown (34-3)
Patrick Ewing averaged 16.4 points and 10 rebounds -- and led the Hoyas to the Big East regular-season title, Big East tournament title, and a win over Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars in the national championship game. Most thought this championship would be the first of back-to-back titles for John Thompson. But it wasn’t. The Hoyas were shockingly upset by Villanova in the 1985 title game.
23. 2005 North Carolina (34-4)
Matt Doherty recruited most of the roster Roy Williams guided to the national title after the Tar Heels dropped their opener to Santa Clara. Sean May averaged 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds. He went 10 of 11 in the title game and finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds in a 75-70 victory over Dee Brown, Deron Williams and the rest of an Illinois team that had started 29-0.
22. 1999 Connecticut (34-2)
Jim Calhoun and a staff of three assistants who all went on to be Division I head coaches led UConn to its first national championship. The Huskies started 19-0, then got blown out at home by Syracuse, then basically rolled from there. UConn beat Duke 77-74 in the title game. Richard Hamilton averaged 21.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
21. 1978 Kentucky (30-2)
Jack Givens didn’t quite record a Bill Walton-type performance. But he came close. The senior guard finished with 41 points on 27 shots in a 94-88 win over Duke that secured Joe B. Hall’s only national championship. He’s one of five UK coaches with an NCAA Tournament title on his resume. The others are Adolph Rupp, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and John Calipari.
20. 1964 UCLA (30-0)
This was John Wooden’s 16th season at UCLA and his first national championship. The Bruins famously used a zone press, designed by assistant Jerry Norman, to compensate for a lack of size, and it worked. Gail Goodrich averaged 21.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. But Walt Hazzard was named the National Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He averaged 18.6 points and 4.7 rebounds.
19. 1962 Cincinnati (29-2)
Ed Jucker, for the second straight year, coached the Bearcats past Ohio State in the national title game. He needed overtime in 1961. But not this time. Cincinnati won 71-59 as Paul Hogue was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. He averaged 16.8 points and 12.4 rebounds and later was selected second overall in the 1962 NBA Draft.
18. 1971 UCLA (29-1)
The only loss came at Notre Dame. The Bruins responded by beating UC Santa Barbara in the subsequent game, starting their historic 88-game winning streak. Sidney Wicks averaged a 15.5 points and 12.8 rebounds. He was named the National Player of the Year.
17. 1966 Texas Western (28-1)
Texas Western (now known as Texas-El Paso, or UTEP) was famously the first team to start five African-Americans and win a national title. Perhaps you’ve read the book or watched the movie. The Miners beat an all-white Kentucky team in the national championship game. And the entire team was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
16. 2008 Kansas (37-3)
The Jayhawks finished with an adjusted efficiency margin of 34.39, the highest of any national champion in the KenPom era that dates to 2002. They were the rare No. 1 seed to beat a fellow No. 1 seed in the national semifinal and final. First, Kansas destroyed North Carolina. What followed was Jim Nantz’s “Chalmers for the tie” call that preceded Mario Chalmers’ overtime-forcing 3-pointer that allowed Bill Self’s team to beat Memphis for the championship. Seven players on the roster went on to play in the NBA.
15. 1969 UCLA (29-1)
This is the last of the Lew Alcindor teams -- one that started 25-0 before losing the regular-season finale to USC. The Bruins won their 29 games by an average of 20.9 points, and only one of their first 23 games was decided by single-digits. Alcindor was again the National Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, of course. He finished with 37 points and 20 rebounds in the national championship game -- a 92-72 victory over Purdue that gave John Wooden a title at the expense of his alma mater. Wooden graduated from Purdue in 1932.
14. 1955 San Francisco (28-1)
This USF team was not as good as the team that went undefeated the following season. But it was still great and led by the same Bill Russell-K.C. Jones duo -- two future Hall of Famers. Russell averaged 21.4 points and 20.5 rebounds and won his first of two National Player of the Year awards. The Dons won 75 percent of their NCAA Tournament games by double-digits.
13. 1960 Ohio State (25-3)
This team, coached by Hall of Famer Fred Taylor, remains the only Ohio State men’s basketball team to win a national championship. It featured two future Naismith Hall of Famers in Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek -- and a reserve forward named Bob Knight. The Buckeyes won their four NCAA Tournament games by an average of 19.5 points and beat California 75-55 for the title.
12. 2012 Kentucky (38-2)
John Calipari’s only national championship team lost twice by a total of eight points, the first of which came on a Christian Watford buzzer-beater at Indiana. UK went 16-0 in the SEC, won the league by six games and basically cruised to a national title. The Wildcats’ first four wins in the NCAA Tournament were by double-digits. Then they beat Louisville and Kansas by eight points each. Seven players from the roster went on to play in the NBA -- most notably Anthony Davis. The 6-foot-11 forward was the consensus National Player of the Year after averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks. He’s now considered one of the world’s top players.
11. 1967 UCLA (30-0)
In his first season with the Bruins, Lew Alcindor averaged 29 points and 15.5 rebounds for a team that never lost. UCLA won each of its NCAA Tournament games by at least 15 points -- and beat Dayton 79-64 in the final. After the season, the NCAA banned the dunk, primarily because of Alcindor. So the future Hall of Famer simply developed a hook shot, and the rest, as they say, is history.
10. 1957 North Carolina (32-0)
This is the first of UNC’s five national champions. The Tar Heels became only the second team in history to finish undefeated. Lennie Rosenbluth was the star -- a 6-foot-5 forward who averaged 27.9 points and 8.6 rebounds while earning National Player of the Year honors. But he actually fouled out of the national championship game against Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks. Regardless, UNC won in triple-overtime, this after beating Michigan State the night before, also in triple overtime.
9. 1974 North Carolina State (30-1)
The Wolfpack ended UCLA’s streak of seven consecutive national championships -- thanks mostly to David Thompson, who scored a total of 49 points at the Final Four. He was a three-time ACC Player of the Year, a three-time consensus first-team Team All-American, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1975 NBA Draft and a four-time NBA All-Star. NC State lost once and played one of the best ACC Tournament games in history -- a thrilling 103-100 victory over Maryland that sent the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament. They beat UCLA in the national semifinals (avenging ther only loss, to UCLA, in the third game of the season) and Marquette in the title game.
8. 1992 Duke (34-2)
This team won the second of back-to-back national titles for the Blue Devils, started 17-0, was ranked No. 1 in the AP poll all season and only lost two games by a total of six points. They beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight on Christian Laettner’s back-to-the-basket, turnaround jumper which is widely regarded as one of the biggest shots in college basketball history. They then handled Indiana in the Final Four and pounded Michigan 71-51 in the national title game, which doubled as the first of two straight title-game losses for Michigan’s Fab Five.
7. 1996 Kentucky (34-2)
Ron Mercer was the No. 1 player in his high school class and a future top-10 pick of the NBA Draft -- and he didn’t even start for this Kentucky team. That’s how loaded the Wildcats were under Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. They had a total of six future first-round picks and 10 players who went on to play in the NBA. Kentucky averaged 91.4 points, lost only twice and won their six NCAA Tournament games by an average of more than 20 points. Tony Delk averaged a 17.8 points and Antoine Walker 15.2 for the Wildcats.
6. 1982 North Carolina (32-2)
The Tar Heels only twice, thanks to the presence of three future top-five NBA Draft picks -- most notably Michael Jordan. But Jordan wasn’t the most notable player on this UNC team. He averaged 13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and hit the title-winning shot against Georgetown. But James Worthy and Sam Perkins were North Carolina’s best players and All-Americans. Jordan and Worthy went on to combine for nine NBA titles. Both are in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
5. 1976 Indiana (32-0)
This team remains the last to go undefeated and won by an average of 17.3 points. They also completed a two-year run with a 63-1 record. The Hoosiers beat Michigan 86-68 in the national championship game after eliminating the reigning champion (UCLA) in the Final Four. Scott May finished with 26 points in the title game. He was the National Player of the Year. Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner also were consensus All-Americans.
4. 1973 UCLA (30-0)
This was Bill Walton’s senior year and the team that beat Memphis in the title game as the three-time National Player of the Year made 21 of 22 and finished with 44 points. His performance is widely considered to be the best individual performance in college basketball history. When it was over, the Bruins had extended their winning streak to 75 games (on their way to the record 88) and secured a seventh straight national title after winning every one of their NCAA Tournament games by double-digits. UCLA won its regular-season games by an average of 22 points. Walton averaged 20.4 points and 16.9 rebounds.
3. 1972 UCLA (30-0)
These Bruins finished undefeated, won by more than 30 points a game and averaged a college basketball-best 94.6 points. Bill Walton was the star, of course. He averaged 21.2 points and 15.5 rebounds. But Henry Bibby was also a first-team All-American. He averaged 15.7 points and was one of four future NBA first-round picks on the roster. How good was UCLA? So good that when the Bruins only beat Florida State 81-76 in the title game, Walton said he was “really embarrassed” by the subpar performance.
2. 1956 San Francisco (29-0)
These Dons, led by future Hall of Famers Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, were the first team to finish a season undefeated. They held opponents to just 52 points per game, won every game by at least 7 points and extended a winning streak started the previous season to 55. Jones wasn’t allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament, but it didn’t matter. San Francisco still beat Iowa easily in the national championship game, thanks to 26 points and 27 rebounds from Russell, who averaged 20 points and 21 rebounds on the season before going on to win 11 NBA titles and five MVP awards with the Boston Celtics.
1. 1968 UCLA (29-1)
John Wooden, before his death, strongly suggested he believed his best team was the 1968 team. And who am I to argue with the Wizard of Westwood? Lew Alcindor averaged 26.2 points and 16.5 rebounds for these Bruins, who avenged their only loss by beating the team responsible for it, Houston, 101-69, in the national semifinals. They then beat North Carolina 78-55 in the national title game and ended up winning their 29 games that season by an average of 26.2 points, same as Alcindor’s average. UCLA won its NCAA Tournament games by an average of 21 points.
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