College basketball: 9 of the greatest teams of all time
The desire to see greatness is one reason why we watch sports. The following nine teams blessed college basketball fans with that greatness more than any others.
They are the cream of the crop and make up this list of the greatest teams in college basketball history.
Some made the cut because of their offense, some because of their defense. Some were carried by a few superstars while others relied on incredible depth. What they all have in common, though, is that they won, a lot.
Only national champions were considered for this list. We looked at their dominance during the regular season, total number of victories and performance in the postseason.
Here they are, listed chronologically.
1955-56 San Francisco
The 1956 Dons were the first team in history to finish an entire season undefeated. With Bill Russell, one of the greatest defenders in basketball history, as the team’s defensive anchor, San Francisco simply smothered opponents. They allowed a nation-best 52 points per game. K.C. Jones, the Dons’ second-best player, wasn’t allowed to play in the Big Dance because of an eligibility issue, but that didn’t stop them from rolling through the competition. With 26 points and 27 rebounds from Russell, San Francisco ultimately knocked off Iowa in the title game. The victory gave the Dons their second straight championship.
1956-57 North Carolina
The Tar Heels' first national championship came in 1957. Under coach Frank McGuire, UNC went 32-0, becoming the second team in history to finish a full season undefeated. The Tar Heels were stout on both sides of the ball, averaging 79.4 points and allowing just 65.8 points per game. Lennie Rosenbluth led this Tar Heels squad, posting an impressive 28 points per contest. He was ultimately named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year. Yet, even with Rosenbluth fouling out in the middle of the game, McGuire’s squad knocked off the Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas Jayhawks, 54-53, in a triple-overtime thriller for the title.
The first of a few UCLA teams to crack our list. The ’68 Bruins were led by Lew Alcindor, one of the the all-time greats. They went 29-1 and defeated North Carolina in the title game. The Bruins’ tournament run was about as good as it gets, as they beat their foes by more than 21 points per game. UCLA throttled Houston, who beat them earlier in the season in what was dubbed the “Game of the Century,” by 32 in the National Semifinal and easily handled UNC by 23 in the title game. Their margin of victory was even more absurd in the regular season: 26.2 points per game. Alcindor, who dominated opponents all year with his signature sky hook, was named USBWA College Player of the Year and a First Team All-American for his excellence that season. He averaged 26.2 points (61.3 percent shooting from the field) and 16.5 rebounds during the year.
The 1972 Bruins went 30-0 and posted an average margin victory of more than 30 points. The Bruins possessed the perfect balance of great offense and great defense; they averaged 94.6 points (ranked No. 3 in the country) and allowed just 64.3 points (No. 6). Bill Walton played the role of team leader, averaging 21.2 points (63.9 percent shooting from the field) and 15.5 rebounds per game. He took home Adolph Rupp honors and was named the USBWA and Naismith College Player of the Year. Walton and teammate Henry Bibby (15.7 PPG) were consensus First-Team All-American selections.
John Wooden’s seventh consecutive championship season was a special one. The Bruins went 30-0, punctuated by an 87-66 beat down of Memphis State in the title game. UCLA beat every team by double digits during its tournament run, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering its average margin of victory in the regular season was 22 points. The Bruins were again led by Walton, whose performance in the title game is the stuff of legends; he poured in 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting from the field. He also took home Naismith and USBWA College Player of the Year honors for his play in the regular season (20.4 PPG, 65.0 percent shooting and 16.9 RPG).
Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana squad is the last team in college basketball to finish an entire season undefeated. Led by Scott May and Kurt Benson, Indiana’s average margin of victory was 18 points. This team had it all with elite talents and skilled role players such as Tom Abernathy and Quinn Buckner. Fortunately for Knight, his players meshed perfectly together on both sides of the ball. The Hoosiers capped off their perfect season with a fitting 18-point victory over Michigan behind 26 points from May and 25 points from Benson. May took home Big Ten and National Player of the Year honors and Knight was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
This team was loaded. With 12 players that were ultimately drafted in the NBA on its roster, UNC went 30-2 and won Dean Smith his first championship. As a reflection of just how deep this team was: Michael Jordan – granted, he was a freshman – was the team’s third most important player. Led by James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Jordan, the Tar Heels took down supremely talented teams such as Villanova, Houston and Georgetown during its tournament run. A young Jordan knocked down the iconic game-winning shot with 17 seconds left in the title game against the Hoyas. MJ was named ACC Rookie of the Year while Worthy (first-team) and Perkins (second-team) were named All-Americans.
The 1991-92 Blue Devils gave college basketball its first back-to-back champion since UCLA’s seven straight titles in the '60s and '70s. With Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill as the team’s top three players, Duke routinely blew teams out of the gym (88 points per game) and went 34-2 in the regular season. They ultimately knocked off Michigan in the title game. Laettner, of course, knocked down one of the greatest shots in NCAA history during the team’s tournament run. His mid-range jumper as the buzzer sounded pushed Duke past Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Laettner won just about every major award for his play that season – he took home the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, Adolph Rupp Trophy, Oscar Robertson Trophy and was named AP Player of the Year. Coach K was also named the Naismith Coach of the Year.
Similar to UNC’s 1981-82 team, this Kentucky squad was absolutely stocked with elite basketball talent. Ten players on this unit ultimately played in the NBA. Behind a nearly unstoppable offense that averaged 91.4 points, the 1995-96 Wildcats went 34-2 en route to the championship. Rick Pitino’s squad put together one of the more impressive tournament runs in NCAA history, winning its six games by an average of 21 points. While this team relied on a number of contributors, Tony Delk and Antonio Walker were the engines that made the team go. Delk averaged a team-best 17.8 points and was named an All-American and SEC Player of the Year.