Ranks 16 Best Teams of All-Time — Let the Debate Begin

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

With an upcoming four-part show coming on the CBS Sports Network that will highlight the 16 greatest teams in college basketball history, the guys at decided to put together their own lists for fans to see. You can see their full ballots laid out here, as voted by Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander, and Jeff Borzello. The show is still a month away from broadcasting, but the discussion has already begun. To make things easier for you, we’ll give a rundown of the consensus rankings they chose, along with some trend analysis about their selections.

See above for a readable spreadsheet of the CBS rankings. By consensus, the guys rated the 1968 and 1973 UCLA teams as the two greatest teams ever. Hard to go wrong there, as both teams were National Champions as part of the Bruins’ streak of seven consecutive titles. The ’73 team went undefeated in Bill Walton’s junior year, while the ’68 team lost just one game in Lew Alcindor’s junior year, a game midway through the regular season against Houston at the AstroDome in which Alcindor was recovering from an injury. The Bruins got their revenge that season by blowing out Houston in the Final Four by over 30 points en route to the title.

The next five teams on the CBS consensus list are the only other five teams to be ranked by all four writers. The teams, in rank order, are the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats, 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels, 1956 San Francisco Dons, and 1992 Duke Blue Devils. All five teams are noteworthy in different ways, including the first-ever undefeated season (USF), the last undefeated team (IU), Dean Smith’s first title in Michael Jordan’s freshman year (UNC), and a back-to-back title team that won the “Greatest Game Ever Played” that season (Duke). But above all of those teams are the ’96 Wildcats, a championship squad that harbored nine (!) eventual NBA players.

From there, the CBS ballots get quite interesting with no other team landing on all four ballots. Jeff Goodman refused to include any non-champions on his list, which is why the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels did not make the consensus cut. That team still averaged eighth in the rankings, a squad that was the defending National Champion and also the last team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. But Greg Anthony, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and company lost in the Final Four that year and became disqualified, it seems, based on Goodman’s criteria.

While Goodman did not recognize non-champs, Jeff Borzello ranked no modern teams. Every other voter had the 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels and 2007 Florida Gators on their ballots, but Borzello did not include a single team more recent than the ’96 Wildcats on his list. That diminished both teams’ rankings, as well as the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks that Gary Parrish actually had as his sixth best team. The only other teams to be ranked in three out of four ballots were the 1984 Georgetown Hoyas led by Patrick Ewing, which only Parrish left off the ballot, and the 1974 NC State Wolfpack, which Matt Norlander did not include.

Overall, it’s tough to tell what, if any, biases were on these ballots. We’ve mentioned Goodman’s passing on non-champions and Borzello’s non-recognition of modern teams, but both criteria can be understood. The compiled lists look pretty solid, and from here the fun part is going to be the ensuing debates over which teams got jobbed and which are overrated. You’ll also want to reference RTC’s Modern Era Championship Bracket, which pitted the greatest teams since 1985 against one another. But we are going to soon update that post to include the entire gamut of NCAA history. Look for our own list of the Top 16 teams in history in the near future, which we will certainly present before the CBS show airs on March 19. Until then, let the debate begin!

EJacoby (198 Posts)

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3 responses to “ Ranks 16 Best Teams of All-Time — Let the Debate Begin”

  1. EJacoby says:

    Personally I’d consider throwing 2005 Illinois in the discussion…. They were 29-1 in the reg season with one loss on a buzzer beater at Ohio State on the final game of regular season. Never lost again until the National Title game against North Carolina, a team which came in as the 9th greatest team ever.

    37-2, three future pros including Deron Williams, awesome team

    Also, perhaps a Michigan Fab Five team could get in here

  2. Jimbob says:

    And where are the 97 Jayhawks on this list? Seriously here, one of the best teams of the past 15 years misses this list but 05 UNC makes it? please.

  3. Its sad to see UCLA has fallen so far from greatness, and teams like UNC and Michigan State have been able to spread out their success.

    Where is George Mason!?

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