Ranking the Top Programs of the 21st Century: The Top Ten

#10 Louisville Cardinals

Record: 469-188 (.714)
Regular Season Champions: 4
Conference Tournament Champions: 6
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 14
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 4.5
Sweet 16 Appearances: 7
Elite Eight Appearances: 6
Final Four Appearances: 3
National Title Game Appearances: 1
National Titles: 1
Rating Score: 132.42

The Louisville Cardinals are all over the place and with the NCAA and FBI investigation it could really be debated if they truly deserve to be considered in the top 10. Much of Louisville’s success has come under Rick Pitino when he led the Cardinals to nine straight NCAA tournaments from 2007-2015. In those nine years the Cardinals reached two Elite Eights, a Final Four and won a National Title. However every single win that the Cardinals had from 2011-2015 has been vacated which includes their trip to the Final Four in 2012 and their NCAA Championship in 2013. So can the Louisville Cardinals really be considered one of the best programs of the 21st century? Well, the answer is yes. Based on overall results before any vacated wins the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the country. While playing in the Conference USA, Big East, and ACC the Cardinals took home four regular season championships and six conference tournament championships. They have been to a total of 14 NCAA tournaments. Yes maybe the team can be considered cheaters and yes the team did seem to find their most success in the years where their cheating was at its height of the program, but one thing that still occurred is that the team won games. One thing that can never be denied even if they are taken away is that the Louisville Cardinals battled and won game after game to get where they have been. Even in the downfall of the program the Cardinals are still a name that everyone knows and now with the hire of Chris Mack the Cardinals are going to be a team that everyone knows of. Hopefully this time it will be for better reasons.

 

#9 Villanova Wildcats

Record: 460-191 (.707)
Regular Season Champions: 5
Conference Tournament Champions: 3
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 13
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 4.38
Sweet 16 Appearances: 6
Elite Eight Appearances: 4
Final Four Appearances: 3
National Title Game Appearances: 2
National Titles: 2
Rating Score: 154.39

It’s hard to deny the Villanova Wildcats a place in the top ten as they just quietly and consistently move higher and higher up these rankings. The Wildcats wasn’t much of anybody at the start of the century in the Big East or in the country. Starting with the 1999-2000 season the Wildcats missed five straight NCAA tournaments. They only complied a record of 90-72 (.555) while going 37-43 (462) in Big East play. This type of play hardly merits consideration for the number nine spot in these rankings let alone even cracking into the top 100. Villanova however found their answer when they hired Jay Wright and stuck with him after three hard seasons to start his career with Villanova. Since that moment the Wildcats under the leadership of Jay Wright have went 370-119 (.757) and 170-76 (.691) in Big East play. They have been to 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 14 years and have won two NCAA Championships. The Wildcats are in midst of four straight 30-win seasons as well as racking up a total of five Big East regular season championships. Villanova is making the new Big East a power conference whether the fans like it or not and the Wildcats aren’t going away anytime soon as Wright keeps reloading with high major talent and a group of athletes who aren’t afraid to do the dirty work to bring home a victory.

 

#8 Connecticut Huskies

Record: 429-203 (.679)
Regular Season Champions: 3
Conference Tournament Champions: 4 
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 12
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 4.17
Sweet 16 Appearances: 8
Elite Eight Appearances: 6
Final Four Appearances: 4
National Title Game Appearances: 3
National Titles: 3
Rating Score: 187.01

The Connecticut Huskies have truly been one of those up and down teams and yet still are know and considered as a possible blue blood in college basketball. They come in with the least amount of NCAA tournament appearances out of all of the top 10 teams and have only been able to string a streak together of five straight trips to the NCAA tournament from 2002-2006. However, the Huskies know when to play hard and make things happen when it becomes March. UConn is tied for the lead with the most NCAA championships in the century with three and they have made the Elite Eight half of the time they actually make the NCAA tournament. Jim Calhoun built this program from basically nothing and kept a consistent pace as he only missed out on eight trips to the Big Dance in his 26 years as head coach at Connecticut. Unfortunately, after Calhoun’s departure the Huskies hasn’t been the same. Kevin Ollie brought home an NCAA Title in 2014 but that is all he was able to accomplish and many still aren’t entirely sure how the team was able to do it. Now the Huskies will turn to Dan Hurley to bring back the Huskies to where they once were under Calhoun. As a member of the AAC and not the Big East it may be a challenge but with quality programs still ready to battle in the AAC Hurley and company will surely be up to the challenge.

 

#7 Michigan State Spartans

Record: 486-184 (.725)
Regular Season Champions: 6
Conference Tournament Champions: 4
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 19
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 5.11
Sweet 16 Appearances: 11
Elite Eight Appearances: 8
Final Four Appearances: 6
National Title Game Appearances: 2
National Titles: 1
Rating Score: 188.96

Anyone could make an argument that the Michigan State Spartans are the most consistent program in the country and have a valid reason and facts to stand behind. While many may not agree the facts are still there and deserved to be listened to. First is Tom Izzo. Izzo has been with the Spartans since 1995 and has made the Spartans a powerhouse. With a mind of making one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, Michigan State challenges themselves every year yet still find a way to stay atop of the Big Ten. Second, the Spartans hold the third longest active NCAA tournament streak at 21 only sitting behind Kansas and Duke. They are also one of only four teams that haven’t missed an NCAA tournament within the century. Thirdly, Michigan State is wildly successful once they do make the NCAA tournament. They have made a total of six Final Fours since the year 2000 which is the most of any team. They have only lost in the the round of 64 five times and once winning the first round game have only failed to reach the Sweet 16 three other times. One blemish can be stated when it comes to the Spartans and that is that they have a very difficult time finishing the job. With their six Final Four trips the Spartans have only made it to a National Title game twice. They did win it in 2000 but it has been a long time coming for Izzo and the Spartans to bring home another one.

#6 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Record: 535-118 (.819)
Regular Season Champions: 17
Conference Tournament Champions: 15
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 19
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 6.25
Sweet 16 Appearances: 8
Elite Eight Appearances: 2
Final Four Appearances: 1
National Title Game Appearances: 1
National Titles: 0
Rating Score: 190.49

Consistency only continues when you talk about the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are a true mid-major program that is considered one of the true destination ticket for recruits. Gonzaga is currently in the middle of 21 consecutive 20-win seasons and have only lost more than ten games in a season three times during that span. When you add in the fact the the Zags have won 17 WCC regular season championships and 15 WCC tournament championships you can certainly say that no one out west has been putting up a fight with the Bulldogs. Gonzaga hired Mark Few in 1999 and he has yet to not make it to an NCAA tournament as their head coach. One thing that Gonzaga has struggled with is the fact that they haven’t been the most successful in the Big Dance. The Bulldogs started as they lovely cinderella that would make a run to the Sweet 16 but even as they earned higher respect and higher seeds in the NCAA tournament they still couldn’t make it past that hump to move on past the Sweet 16. Twice the Bulldogs have been lucky enough to advance when they made it to the Elite Eight in 2015 and then broke through in 2017 with a trip to the NCAA championship game where they lost to North Carolina. Gonzaga is a program that is just starting to figure things out in the tournament and aren’t going anywhere on this list anytime soon. With the new NET the Zags may stand a good chance for more favorable seeding as they move on to look for their first NCAA Championship in school history.

 

#5 Florida Gators

Record: 487-182 (.728)
Regular Season Champions: 7
Conference Tournament Champions: 4
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 15
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 4.07
Sweet 16 Appearances: 8
Elite Eight Appearances: 7
Final Four Appearances: 4
National Title Game Appearances: 3
National Titles: 2
Rating Score: 204.92

The Florida Gators have been one of the toughest programs to take down in the SEC and in the NCAA. The Gators sit near the top of the list with two National Championships. On top of that, in a power conference the Gators have been able to bring in a total of 11 SEC championships. Add that in with being the only other team to win back to back NCAA titles since Duke accomplished it in 1991 and 1992 and the Florida Gators mean business. The Gators haven’t been as consistent as other programs this high on the list as they have missed out on four tournaments in the last 19 seasons but when making the NCAA tournament they make the most of their time there. When the Gators are fortunate enough to make the Sweet 16 it seems there is a good chance for them to move on to the Final Four as they have advanced to the Final Four in four of their eight trips to the Sweet 16. Billy Donavan was with the team when they won all three of their NCAA Championships and Mike White hopes he too can bring home another one to Gainesville sometime soon.

 

#4 Kentucky Wildcats

Record: 515-161 (.762)
Regular Season Champions: 11
Conference Tournament Champions: 9
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 17
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 4.00
Sweet 16 Appearances: 12
Elite Eight Appearances: 9
Final Four Appearances: 4
National Title Game Appearances: 2
National Titles: 1
Rating Score: 215.22

Two SEC teams in the top 5 really says a lot for a conference that takes back seat to football. However, Kentucky joins Florida and has even done slightly better to take pass them on this list. In fact within the 21st century Kentucky leads the head to head series going 27-18 against the Gators. Besides taking them down head to head Kentucky also boasts a more consistent program overall as they have made 17 of the 19 possible tournament in the century. John Calipari has taken Kentucky to new heights recently with his superb and stellar recruiting strategies and with a young team has found ways to win. However, the Wildcats do tend to struggle in March as they are unable to stay consistent year after year. Before Calipari, Tubby Smith was keeping the rich tradition of Kentucky basketball alive and and taking the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament but couldn’t seem to make it past the Sweet 16. Calipari now has been to eight NCAA tournaments with Kentucky and has made it to the Elite Eight in five of those appearances. With their National Championship in 2012 the Wildcats were back to a place they hadn’t been in over a decade. Kentucky is striving for its next big moment and won’t take anything for granted as they hope to achieve that championship sooner rather than later.

 

#3 North Carolina Tar Heels

Record: 499-183 (.732)
Regular Season Champions: 9
Conference Tournament Champions: 3
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 16
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 3.00
Sweet 16 Appearances: 10
Elite Eight Appearances: 9
Final Four Appearances: 6
National Title Game Appearances: 4
National Titles: 3
Rating Score: 268.17

The North Carolina Tar Heels have an argument to be number one, however even with all of their accomplishments within this century the Tar Heels fall just short when it comes to the overall success of the program. The Tar Heels have a total of three National titles which ranks first since the 1999-2000 season. Only Duke and Connecticut can claim the same. The Tar Heels are tied for fifth with nine regular season championships all coming in the ACC. Kansas, Gonzaga, Davidson, and Belmont are the only other programs who can claim more. The Tar Heels can also claim three ACC tournament titles, but compared to their nine regular season championships its a hard pill to swallow. The Tar Heels have only missed out three NCAA tournaments this century, good enough for the sixth most, and only once since Roy Williams took over the program in 2003. Dean Smith took the North Carolina basketball program to new heights and besides a dip right after him with Matt Doherty the Tar Heels have always been and will probably always will be potential NCAA title contenders.

#2 Duke Blue Devils

Record: 558-124 (.818)
Regular Season Champions: 5
Conference Tournament Champions: 10
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 19
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 1.95
Sweet 16 Appearances: 14
Elite Eight Appearances: 6
Final Four Appearances: 4
National Title Game Appearances: 3
National Titles: 3
Rating Score: 276.14

The Duke Blue Devils have earned their right to take down their all time rival the North Carolina Tar Heels and jump right ahead of them in second on the list. Like the Tar Heels the Blue Devils can claim three National Championships. However the tables are reversed when it comes to ACC play. Duke has only come away with five regular season championships. Which overall isn’t terrible at all but falls a little short when comparing to their other counterparts. However when Mike Krzyzewski takes his Blue Devils into a do or die tournament watch out because the Blue Devils are hard to handle. They have a total of 10 ACC tournament titles and when making it to the National Championship game have yet to lose within this century. Duke has also spent every year within this century as a tournament team. They have earned a one seed on nine different occasions and have never been seeded lower than a six. Just like the Tar Heels the Blue Devils are always on the path to being national title contenders and that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon. Mike Krezyzewski has brought this program from nothing to the top and with him still sitting on the bench the Blue Devils will only continue to dominate.

 

#1 Kansas Jayhawks

Record: 560-125 (.818)
Regular Season Champions: 16
Conference Tournament Champions: 8
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 19
Average NCAA Tournament Seed: 2.25
Sweet 16 Appearances: 13
Elite Eight Appearances: 10
Final Four Appearances: 5
National Title Game Appearances: 3
National Titles: 1
Rating Score: 282.45

With every team accounted for, the number one program of the 21st century goes to the Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks have been a force to reckon with as a member out of the Big 12 and coming from a Missouri native it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve this top spot. Kansas has lacked in the National Spotlight as they were only able to claim the National Championship in 2008, but they have appeared in more Final Fours than Duke and the same amount of National Title games. As one of the few programs to have not missed an NCAA tournament in the 21st century the Jayhawks are still building and adding on to the Nations longest streak of 29 consecutive NCAA tournaments. The Jayhawks have are also in a current streak of 29 20-win seasons including 11 of the 19 seasons in the 21st century where they have won at least 30 games. With all of these accolades the Jayhawks still haven’t fully separated themselves from the ACC rivals, but if there is one area where the Jayhawks reign supreme it is in the Big 12. With a total of 16 Big 12 Regular Season Championships there is no program that can even come close to competing with the Jayhawks. Kansas has won an immaculate 14 straight only sharing the conference title five times. All have occurred in the Big 12, a power five conference, to which no team can match. Bill Self and even Roy Williams before him have guided Kansas along at the top, no team has accomplished the feat that the Jayhawks have, not even the UCLA dynasty under John Wooden, and it will take a long time for anyone to make a run for it. The Kansas Jayhawks are rightfully the top NCAA basketball program of the 21st century.

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