The best National Championship teams of the past 20 seasons: 2002-2021

September 7th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Today, I decided to tackle another ambitious project, as we’re still knee-deep in the off-season.  I wanted to use statistical data to get a read on who the best National Championship teams have been in men’s college basketball in recent history.  Therefore, I decided to look back at the past 20 seasons using Sports Reference and KenPom to assess the past champions of the previous 19 NCAA Tournaments that have gone on from 2002-2021.

I used 10 statistical categories to assess the past 19 National Championship teams, including this year’s Baylor team to make this assessment.  These categories I used to rank these teams included: 1) Win Percentage, 2) In-Conference Win Percentage, 3) Team Net Rating (Offensive Rating Minus Defensive Rating, using kenpom.com), 4) Total Number of Future NBA Players on their Roster, 5) Point Margin, 6) Average Seed Beaten, 7) Point Margin of NCAA Tournament Wins, 8) Total Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament, 9) Number of Future All-Stars on The Team’s Roster, and 10) All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament.

It was a little tricky to include Baylor, because their players have not played in the NBA yet, so for rookies that were in the 2021 draft, if they had guaranteed contracts and were drafted, they were classified as NBA players.  Therefore, Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler would count under this specific criteria.  For every other year, they had to have played at least one regular season game in the NBA.  Also, the 2020 season did not count in this sample, because there was no 2020 NCAA Tournament or NCAA champion for that year.

There were a lot of really good teams, with the strongest team being the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats, but there were also a lot of other strong contenders to be the champion of champions in recent modern history in the 2007 Florida Gators, the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels, and the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks, and the 2015 Duke Blue Devils. 

So how did they all fare?  Some of these teams did very well as expected, while others ended up ranking unexpectedly low.  This will all be great debate and fodder for the future, for sure, and this list could change in the future, especially if some of the more recent players end up becoming future All-Stars and greats of the NBA.  Without further ado, using these 10 categories to rank all of the past 19 championship teams, here is a ranking of the champion of champions in the past 20 seasons of college basketball, from 2002-2021.

Anthony Davis and John Calipari’s 2012 Kentucky Wildcats’ team is the best college basketball team and champion to have played in the past 20 college basketball seasons.
(Photo:
Richard Mackson/US Presswire, via ESPN)
  1. The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats

Win-Loss Record: 38-2 (.950), In-Conference: 16-0 (1.000), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +25.1, Number of Future NBA Players: 7, Avg. Point Margin: 16.8, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.2, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 11.8, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 16, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 1, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Anthony Davis
Future NBA Players: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer

The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats were a loaded basketball team that was centered around defensive ace and future Los Angeles Lakers and NBA superstar big man, Anthony Davis, as he helped anchor the middle by providing a tremendous interior presence for them on both ends of the floor.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was their very athletic, versatile fill-in-the-blanks player that did virtually everything for their team, and he and Davis teamed up to provide shutdown defense.  Terrence Jones provided strong scoring, defense, and energy, as he was their third best player on the team. 

Sharpshooters, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller also bolstered their offensive attack by providing strong shooting and offensive skills for them.  Their starting point guard, Marquis Teague was a speedy playmaking point guard that threw swift, accurate lob passes, and he like Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist seemed to have a ton of potential.  In addition, they also had future NBA big man, Kyle Wiltjer in reserve as another shooter off the bench.

Led by head coach John Calipari, the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats breezed through the regular season, and they ran into a big showdown in the Sweet 16 against Victor Oladipo’s Indiana Hoosiers, in which Kentucky ended up winning by double-digits.  The Wildcats didn’t exactly blow teams away deeper into the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and the other teams on this list were closer to them than expected.  Still, it was the Wildcats’ dominance and strong season play from the beginning to the finish combined with having a deep and very talented team led by one of the best players in the NBA today in AD make them the best team to have won a National Championship in the past 20 seasons.

The 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels had a dominant run in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, and they had a strong rotation that ran well together.
(Photo:
Paul Sancya/Associated Press, via USA Today Sports)

2. The 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels

Win-Loss Record: 34-4 (.895), In-Conference: 13-3 (.813), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +22.0, Number of Future NBA Players: 7, Avg. Point Margin: 17.8, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 5.8, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 20.2, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 12, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 2

Best Future NBA Player: Danny Green
Future NBA Players: Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Tyler Hansbrough, Larry Drew II

The 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels were a deep and well-balanced team that had a very good rotation that would enable them to steamroll past their opponents.  They had a speedy playmaking point guard in Ty Lawson to lead their attack, and Tyler Hansbrough was a very reliable, go-to scorer down low in the post. 

They also had sharpshooters in Danny Green and Wayne Ellington that could really knock down shots, and other big men such as Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, and Tyler Zeller would provide some post play and interior defense in supporting roles.  While none of the 2009 Tar Heels ended up making NBA All-Star teams, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington have gone on to enjoy having lengthy NBA careers, and Lawson and Hansbrough also had some solid moments in the NBA.  The 2009 Tar Heels were able to defeat Blake Griffin’s Oklahoma squad in the Elite Eight, and they also defeated a Michigan State team that featured then-freshman forward, Draymond Green in the title game.

The 2007 Florida Gators were one of the best teams in college basketball history, and the quartet of Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green helped lead them to win the 2007 National Championship, which was the season after they won the title in 2006.
(Photo:
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images, via Gators Wire – USA Today)

3. The 2007 Florida Gators

Win-Loss Record: 35-5 (.875), In-Conference: 13-3 (.813), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +25.3, Number of Future NBA Players: 6, Avg. Point Margin: 17.2, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.0, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 14.2, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 12, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 2, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 2

Best Future NBA Player: Al Horford
Future NBA Players: Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Marreese Speights, Taurean Green, and Chris Richard

The 2007 Florida Gators are one of the most formidable teams in college basketball history.  They had previously won the title in 2006 and were on a quest to defend it the very next year.  Florida had three really good players in defensive ace, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, who provided strong scoring and interior play, and Corey Brewer, a very tall and athletic playmaking point forward whose versatility and all-around skills really helped this team. They also had a couple of sharpshooters in Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey, and Green consistently showed that he could reliably run the team’s offense at the point.  Marreese Speights and Chris Richard also provided a scoring punch for this team off the bench.

Led by head coach Billy Donovan, the Gators were a strong, well-balanced team that were able to rack up wins.  They ran into Russell Westbrook’s UCLA team in the Final Four, as they defeated them by double digits, and they were able to defeat a very tough Ohio State team in the championship game that featured Mike Conley and the eventual 2007 first overall pick, Greg Oden.  The fact that the Gators managed to win two titles back-to-back is a very impressive feat, and a strong case could be made for them to be the best team to have won a National Championship in the past 20 seasons.

Mario Chalmers’ game-tying three at the end of regulation that would later propel Kansas into overtime and help them win the 2008 National Championship is one of the most memorable moments in college basketball history.
(Photo:
Thad Allender/KU Sports)

4. The 2008 Kansas Jayhawks

Win-Loss Record: 37-3 (.925), In-Conference: 13-3 (.813), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +27.1, Number of Future NBA Players: 7, Avg. Point Margin: 19.0, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 8.0, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 14.2, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 11, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 2

Best Future NBA Player: Mario Chalmers
Future NBA Players: Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich, Sasha Kaun, Sherron Collins, and Darnell Jackson

Mario Chalmers hit a game-tying three-point shot at the end of regulation to propel Kansas into overtime against Memphis in the 2008 National Championship game, as this is one of the most memorable shots in college basketball history. Kansas would later win the 2008 National Championship.
(Source: YouTube via March Madness)

The most memorable moment in the 21st century in college basketball was when Mario Chalmers raced up to heave a long three-pointer that miraculously went in to beat the buzzer at the end of regulation to send Kansas to overtime in the National Championship game against Memphis, which also earned Chalmers the endearing nickname, “Super Mario.”  Kansas would later win in overtime to win the 2008 championship that year.

Kansas had a very good team that played very well all year long. They had strong shooting from Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush, and they also received solid interior play from their big men in Arthur, Jackson, Kaun, and Aldrich.  They also received solid point guard play from their guards in Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson, and the Jayhawks really excelled on both ends of the floor.

The 2008 Jayhawks’ team didn’t end up churning out any future NBA All-Stars, but this team featured seven future NBA players.  They were able to defeat future NBA superstar, Stephen Curry’s Davidson team in the Elite Eight, and they were able to get a thrilling overtime win over Derrick Rose’s Memphis team in the National Championship game that also featured talented players such as Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, and Antonio Anderson.

The 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels were a strong, well-balanced squad that managed to reel off wins over Kyle Lowry’s Villanova team and Deron Williams’ Illinois team in the 2005 NCAA Tournament to win the title that year.
(Photo:
Elsa/Getty Images, via The New York Times)

5. The 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels

Win-Loss Record: 33-4 (.892), In-Conference: 14-2 (.875), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +22.9, Number of Future NBA Players: 6, Avg. Point Margin: 17.7, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 7.0, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 13.8, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 16, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 2

Best Future NBA Player: Raymond Felton
Future NBA Players: Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams, and David Noel

The 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels were a solid, all-around team that was bolstered by the strong guard play of Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, and they also had a strong interior presence in Sean May, who would provide great low post scoring for them.  They were a very good team from top to bottom, and the Tar Heels were able to defeat Kyle Lowry’s Villanova team in the Sweet 16, as well as Deron Williams’ Illinois team in the title game to win the National Championship.

6. The 2015 Duke Blue Devils

Win-Loss Record: 35-4 (.897), In-Conference: 15-3 (.833), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +23.1, Number of Future NBA Players: 8, Avg. Point Margin: 15.1, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.5, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 15.5, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 14, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Tyus Jones
Future NBA Players: Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, Semi Ojeleye, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee

The 2015 Duke Blue Devils were considered to be the second best team to have played in the past ten NCAA tournaments, and they were a formidable team that boasted having a ton of upside.  Jahlil Okafor provided a tremendous interior presence and he was a strong low post scorer that was a candidate to go number one overall for much of the season, and he was unstoppable in one-on-one play.  Justise Winslow was a very athletic, versatile fill-in-the-blanks player that also would go in the top ten of the 2015 draft.

Tyus Jones provided very good point guard play, and he was terrific in the National Championship game, as he made floater after floater in his team’s win over Wisconsin.  Grayson Allen provided tremendous scoring and athleticism late in the season for Duke, and they also received solid performances from their supporting players.  Neither Okafor nor Winslow have played nearly as well as they had in college.  Still, they were a dominant duo in college basketball, and this Duke team was able to get a double-digit victory over Domantas Sabonis’ Gonzaga team in the Elite Eight.

7. The 2016 Villanova Wildcats

Win-Loss Record: 35-5 (.875), In-Conference: 16-2 (.889), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +21.7, Number of Future NBA Players: 6, Avg. Point Margin: 14.4, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 4.8, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 20.7, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 14, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 0

Best Future NBA Player: Mikal Bridges
Future NBA Players: Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu

Villanova’s Kris Jenkins receives a pinpoint pass from Ryan Arcidiacono, and Kris Jenkins makes a game-winning three-pointer to help Villanova win the 2016 National Championship.
(Source: YouTube via March Madness)

Villanova was a very well-coached team, as they were led by head coach Jay Wright, and they had a group of good, high IQ basketball players from top to bottom that helped them win the National Championship that year.  Josh Hart was their team’s leading scorer, they also received strong point guard play from Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson, and Daniel Ochefu was their rim protector that helped anchor the paint.  Arcidiacono really turned in a strong championship game performance, and his strong, steady play helped lead him to have an NBA career shortly afterwards.

Mikal Bridges was a very athletic, up and comer that has since gone on to have the best NBA career out of all of the Villanova players on this team.  Kris Jenkins was able to hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer to help them clinch the National Championship win over North Carolina in a moment that became one of the most memorable moments in college basketball history.

8. The 2010 Duke Blue Devils

Win-Loss Record: 35-5 (.875), In-Conference: 13-3 (.813), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +24.0, Number of Future NBA Players: 7, Avg. Point Margin: 16.0, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.3, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 14.5, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 12, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Mason Plumlee
Future NBA Players: Mason Plumlee, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, Miles Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Nolan Smith, and Andre Dawkins

One of the least memorable Duke championship teams (this one) in their college basketball history was actually still a very good team in recent modern history.  Most people remember their legends, such as Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, J.J. Redick, Trajan Langdon, Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Elton Brand, Kyrie Irving, Jahlil Okafor, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, and countless others that played for Coach K over the years.

This 2010 Duke team played in a fairly forgettable NCAA Tournament and championship game, but they faced off against a tough, Butler squad led by future Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations Brad Stevens (who was Butler’s head coach), and future NBA All-Star, Gordon Hayward, who dominated in that game.  Duke had a solid all-around team, and they were able to hold off Hayward and Stevens to win the National Championship that season.

9. The 2002 Maryland Terrapins

Win-Loss Record: 32-4 (.889), In-Conference: 15-1 (.938), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +18.9, Number of Future NBA Players: 4, Avg. Point Margin: 14.1, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.0, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 14.0, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 17, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 2

Best Future NBA Player: Steve Blake
Future NBA Players: Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon, and Lonny Baxter

No, this wasn’t the fun 1999 squad that featured future NBA star point guard Steve Francis, but this Maryland team was a solid squad, nonetheless.  They were a well-run team that just kept winning games, as they had strong interior play from Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox, and strong guard play from Steve Blake and Juan Dixon.  This Maryland team also managed to defeat Devin Harris’ Wisconsin team in the second round, and Caron Butler’s Connecticut team in the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA Tournament en route to eventually winning the title that year.

10. The 2021 Baylor Bears

Win-Loss Record: 28-2 (.933), In-Conference: 13-1 (.929), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +24.6, Number of Future NBA Players: 2*, Avg. Point Margin: 17.4, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.0, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 15.3, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 5*, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 0

Best Future NBA Player: Davion Mitchell*
Future NBA Players: Davion Mitchell* and Jared Butler*

This Baylor Bears’ team was a very good, well-run squad that featured strong guard play in Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, as they had two athletic guards that could really shoot, defend, and take care of the basketball.  MaCio Teague also was a sharpshooter that really shined in the National Championship game against Gonzaga, and they had a very deep and well-balanced roster that featured hard-nosed interior players and shooters up and down their roster.  Mark Vital was a hard-nosed, undersized interior player that would go after every loose ball and excelled as a rebounder and defender, and he is now a football player that is on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad.

In the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Baylor managed to defeat Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s Villanova squad in the Sweet 16, Moses Moody’s Arkansas team in the Elite Eight, Quentin Grimes’ Houston team in the Final Four, and they also blew out a really good Gonzaga team that featured two first round picks, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert, as well as a two-way contract player in Joel Ayayi, as well as other talented players that are still there in Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard.

11. The 2018 Villanova Wildcats

Win-Loss Record: 36-4 (.900), In-Conference: 14-4 (.778), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +23.4, Number of Future NBA Players: 5, Avg. Point Margin: 16.4, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.2, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 17.7, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 13, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 0

Best Future NBA Player: Mikal Bridges
Future NBA Players: Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Jalen Brunson, Eric Paschall, and Omari Spellman

This Villanova team was a very smart, well-run, and well-balanced team that executed its plays to perfection under head coach Jay Wright.  They had strong all-around play from future top ten pick Mikal Bridges, who emerged as the team’s best prospect and all-around player, and Jalen Brunson provided superb performances as the team’s starting point guard, as he was their on-court leader.

They also had solid frontcourt play from their big men, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, whose versatile scoring skills and sharpshooting prowess made it tough for opponents to guard them, especially as they were able to play off of Brunson and Bridges.  Donte DiVincenzo quietly was a solid role player all year long for them, and he was a very athletic swingman that suddenly emerged to score a whopping 31 points in the National Title game win over Michigan.

12. The 2013 Louisville Cardinals

Win-Loss Record: 35-5 (.875)*, In-Conference: 14-4 (.778)*, KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +23.5, Number of Future NBA Players: 4, Avg. Point Margin: 15.7, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 8.5, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 16.2, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 16, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 0

Best Future NBA Player: Montrezl Harrell
Future NBA Players: Montrezl Harrell, Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, and Peyton Siva

The 2013 Louisville Cardinals were secretly a formidable team that had a very good roster, and they were well coached by then head coach, Rick Pitino. Their guards, Russ Smith and Peyton Siva provided speedy, pesky defense as they really bothered opposing ball handlers, and they would force turnovers at will.  They also had a superb interior defender in Gorgui Dieng, who was a shot blocking machine, and the three of them together enabled Louisville to have a tremendous defensive unit on the court. 

They also received solid post play from Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan, and sharpshooting forward Luke Hancock was terrific in the National Championship to help them get the win over Michigan.  Harrell actually came off the bench for most of this season, but he ended up being Louisville’s best future NBA player from this team, and Louisville’s suffocating defense and solid group of players helped them get the title in 2013.

13. The 2006 Florida Gators

Win-Loss Record: 33-6 (.846), In-Conference: 10-6 (.625), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +21.3, Number of Future NBA Players: 5, Avg. Point Margin: 14.8, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 7.7, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 16.0, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 12, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 2, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 2

Best Future NBA Player: Al Horford
Future NBA Players: Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and Chris Richard

This run ultimately helped spark the emergence and the legend of the 2006-07 Florida Gators’ teams that were led by the quartet of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green, as those four would later end up in the NBA.  Noah was the excitable defensive ace and team leader, and he brought a spirit and a fervor that was unmatched and unparalleled by anyone else in college basketball.  His motor was running on very high all the time, and he, Horford, and Brewer teamed up to bring together a terrific defensive unit.

The Gators were also a well-run unit on offense, as they had sharpshooting from Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, and Lee Humphrey.  Corey Brewer was a very athletic point forward that did basically everything, and Al Horford was a very skilled big man that excelled as a low post scorer and defender on their team.  The 2006 and 2007 Gators had two future NBA All-Stars in Al Horford and Joakim Noah, and the 2006 Gators defeated a Roy Hibbert-led Georgetown squad in the Sweet 16, as well as a Kyle Lowry-led Villanova team in the Elite Eight. 

Unfortunately, we as fans were robbed of a potential Florida-Connecticut showdown in the Final Four (which could have been the college basketball matchup of the year), because Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams’ 2006 Connecticut team lost to George Mason the round before.  Still, this was a formidable Florida team that really earned their championship win, and they would later get another future NBA player by recruiting Marreese Speights to come to their team in the offseason.

14. The 2017 North Carolina Tar Heels

Win-Loss Record: 33-7 (.825), In-Conference: 14-4 (.778), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +17.7, Number of Future NBA Players: 4, Avg. Point Margin: 13.8, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 5.7, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 11.2, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 22, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Tony Bradley
Future NBA Players: Tony Bradley, Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, and Isaiah Hicks

Luke Maye’s game-winning, long two-point shot helped propel North Carolina to an Elite Eight win over Kentucky, and the 2017 North Carolina Tar Heels would later go on to win the 2017 National Championship.
(Source: YouTube via March Madness)

The Final Four in 2017 was quite fun to watch, but this 2017 Tar Heels’ team was a fairly forgettable championship winning team in retrospect.  This North Carolina team had a hard road to win that year, as they ended up facing off against 22 future NBA players in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and they were able to defeat a very tough Kentucky team in the Elite Eight that was led by future All-Star center, Bam Adebayo, and North Carolina won on a buzzer-beating two-point shot from then-unheralded sophomore forward, Luke Maye.

Justin Jackson was terrific in the NCAA Tournament, as he provided sharpshooting and strong defensive skills, and Joel Berry helped out by providing strong point guard play.  They also received strong performances from their big men, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley.  Theo Pinson also provided some playmaking and defensive skills.  On a team that had a lot of solid players, so far Tony Bradley has been having the best NBA career amongst players that have played for this team.

15. The 2019 Virginia Cavaliers

Win-Loss Record: 35-3 (.921), In-Conference: 16-2 (.889), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +24.8, Number of Future NBA Players: 4, Avg. Point Margin: 15.3, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 8.0, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 7.5, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 9, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 0

Best Future NBA Player: De’Andre Hunter
Future NBA Players: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and Mamadi Diakite

This may seem quite low for a team that won a lot of games in their season, but this Virginia team was a solid, steady team that proved that college basketball teams can win with a very methodical approach.  They had strong guard play from Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter excelled as a very athletic, all-around player, as he also was their team’s best perimeter defender.  Mamadi Diakite excelled as an interior defender, and he was their rim protector and defensive anchor down low.  Undoubtedly, many people were probably surprised that Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett‘s Duke team ended up losing to Michigan State in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, but this Virginia team proved its mettle by steadily winning games to win the title that year.

16. The 2004 Connecticut Huskies

Win-Loss Record: 33-6 (.846), In-Conference: 12-4 (.750), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +20.7, Number of Future NBA Players: 6, Avg. Point Margin: 14.9, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.7, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 13.3, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 13, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Ben Gordon
Future NBA Players: Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, and Hilton Armstrong

It was a surprise that Connecticut came in as a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, considering that they had two of the best players in college basketball, a potential number one overall pick in defensive ace Emeka Okafor, and in super scoring guard Ben Gordon.

Connecticut was a very talented, well-run team that operated very well throughout the season.  Emeka Okafor really excelled as a low post scorer and rim protector, and Ben Gordon thrived as a sharpshooter that could score at will.  Charlie Villanueva was a very athletic, wildcard big man whose versatility could help create mismatches that would swing in his team’s favor, and Connecticut had solid team play throughout, as they were well coached and led by head coach Jim Calhoun.  This team was able to defeat Luol Deng’s Duke team in the Final Four en route to eventually winning the title in 2004.

17. The 2003 Syracuse Orange

Win-Loss Record: 30-5 (.857), In-Conference: 13-3 (.813), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +13.5, Number of Future NBA Players: 2, Avg. Point Margin: 10.0, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 5.7, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 9.0, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 13, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 1, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 0

Best Future NBA Player: Carmelo Anthony
Future NBA Players: Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick

Hakim Warrick made a game-saving block that helped the 2003 Syracuse Orange win the National Championship.
(Source: YouTube via AJ Foss)

This ranking here may seem awfully low for the 2003 Syracuse Orange, but that doesn’t take away from the accomplishments they’ve had to win the championship that year.  Freshman superstar forward, Carmelo Anthony was absolutely marvelous, as he dominated his opponents throughout the year, and his play was so strong that some people wanted to pick him over the ultra-athletic and mega-talented LeBron James in the 2003 draft.   (LeBron is now one of the greatest NBA players ever in NBA history, but Carmelo will probably also be a Hall of Famer one day.)

Syracuse didn’t blow out their opponents, and they had a tendency to eek out their wins instead, so that hurts their ranking here.  Still, Carmelo’s consistent dominant play, combined with Hakim Warrick’s strong defensive play and Gerry McNamara’s clutch and timely shooting enabled them to keep churning out tough wins.  Syracuse played against a really tough Kansas team, and Hakim Warrick’s block helped seal the win and get Syracuse the title in 2003.

18. The 2014 Connecticut Huskies

Win-Loss Record: 32-8 (.800), In-Conference: 12-6 (.667), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +12.7, Number of Future NBA Players: 2, Avg. Point Margin: 8.6, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 4.7, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 7.8, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 25, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 0, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Shabazz Napier
Future NBA Players: Shabazz Napier and Amida Brimah

The 2014 Connecticut Huskies may have been the least talented champion amongst the past 19 champions on this list, but they also arguably had the hardest road to win their championship.  They were the 7th seed in the East coming into the NCAA Tournament, and they ended up facing off against 25 future NBA players in that tournament, including future NBA All-Star, Julius Randle and Kentucky in the National Championship.  They faced off against multiple future NBA players in every round en route to winning the 2014 title.

Shabazz Napier was terrific in Connecticut’s championship run, and he was a terrific shot maker that scored at will, and he boosted his draft stock to where he ended up being a first round pick that was selected by the Miami Heat.  Freshman center, Amida Brimah was a shot-blocking force that provided stellar interior defense.  DeAndre Daniels was a very athletic forward that excelled as a shooter, scorer, and defender, as he created mismatches that would swing in his team’s favor, and Niels Giffey also excelled as a sharpshooting forward.  Ryan Boatright reliably ran the point, as he provided some scoring and strong defensive skills.  It was a bit of a surprise that neither Daniels nor Boatright have played a regular season game in the NBA, but Napier’s superb performances and head coach, Kevin Ollie’s strong coaching helped Connecticut get the championship that year.

19. The 2011 Connecticut Huskies

Win-Loss Record: 32-9 (.780), In-Conference: 9-9 (.500), KenPom’s Net Rating (Unadjusted): +11.2, Number of Future NBA Players: 3, Avg. Point Margin: 7.5, Avg. NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten: 6.5, Avg NCAA Tournament Point Margin: 10.3, Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 14, Number of Future NBA All-Stars: 1, Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament: 1

Best Future NBA Player: Kemba Walker
Future NBA Players: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, and Shabazz Napier

Future NBA superstar point guard, Kemba Walker helped Connecticut win in a game and career defining moment in which he made a step-back three to help UConn defeat Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big East Tournament.
(Source: YouTube via RiseberryBasketball)

The most memorable moment of the 2011 Connecticut Huskies’ season is Kemba Walker’s step-back three, game winner against Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament. One team had to end up ranking last on this list of champions, but there are no losers on this list, as every team that I ranked here won the National Championship in their year.  The 2011 Connecticut Huskies didn’t win nearly as many games prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament, and they had the most losses and in-conference losses amongst teams listed here.  They also didn’t blow out teams nearly as much as the others on this list.

Still, Kemba Walker had a terrific year in 2011, and he had a memorable buzzer-beater to help get a win against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.  He was a speedy, super scoring point guard that really elevated his play after initially coming in as a table setter, and he really proved to be a terrific top ten pick in the 2011 draft. 

Jeremy Lamb was a very athletic, versatile swingman that excelled as a shooter, scorer, and defender, and he showed immense upside as a prospect in addition to having played very well in his role.  Napier also excelled as a shooter and scorer in his role, and Alex Oriakhi excelled as the team’s defensive anchor and rim protector at center.  Most notably, Connecticut defeated Kawhi Leonard’s San Diego State team in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA Tournament en route to winning the championship that season.

Other Notes:

In looking at the past 19 NCAA champions in NCAA division I men’s college basketball, including this year, I decided to analyze which of them had the toughest road to win the National Championship amongst the teams that played from 2002-2021.

I basically used three metrics to assess this: 1) Average NCAA Tournament Seed Beaten, 2) Number of Future NBA Players Defeated in the NCAA Tournament, and 3) Number of Future All-Stars Defeated in the NCAA Tournament.  In analyzing this sample, I concluded that the 2014 Connecticut Huskies came away with the hardest road to win their championship. 

Their average NCAA tournament seeded team they beat was 4.7, they faced off against 25 future NBA players in the NCAA Tournament, and they faced a future NBA All-Star in current New York Knicks’ star forward, Julius Randle in the championship game.  Considering that the 2014 Connecticut Huskies came in as a 7 seed and played against a future NBA player in every round, they overcame large odds to win the National Championship that year, as they received tremendous performances from Shabazz Napier, and terrific coaching from then head coach, Kevin Ollie.

Overall, this was a fun study to do, and I used a data-driven approach to gauge at which of the men’s college basketball team was the absolute best team, and the champion of champions in the past 20 seasons, from 2002-2021.  You’ll notice there isn’t a 20th team, because the 2020 season did not produce a championship team, because that season was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. 

I wasn’t sure to include the 2021 Baylor Bears’ squad on this list, but I decided to include them, even though their players have yet to play a regular season game in the NBA, because the 2021-22 season hasn’t started yet, and it is still very early in their careers compared to others in recent years.  I also noted that Sports Reference had forgotten to mark down San Diego State’s former forward, J.J. O’Brien as a player that had played in the NBA, as his team had lost to the 2015 Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament.

To include more of these teams in the research, I used KenPom specifically for the Net Rating, because Sports Reference didn’t list Offensive Rating or Defensive Rating for the seasons from 2002 to 2009, but I went to Sports Reference for the other statistical categories. I also noted that Sports Reference and KenPom didn’t have the same Offensive Ratings or Defensive Ratings, which made it trickier to decide what to use in this study.

Anyways, hopefully you had fun reading this, and that this may be some food for thought.  You also can feel free to put together your own list, and see how that stacks up.  This was a fun study and look back into the past for me, and it sometimes surprised me with the results from the data.  Thanks for reading.

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