"Top 15 College Basketball Teams of All-Time"

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The Top 15 Best College Basketball Teams of All Time

We set out to use Stellar College Basketball Computer Game to simulate games among the best college basketball teams of all-time and determine which are the absolute best on an objective basis.  To do this we collected from various sources lists of what experts consider to be the best teams.  Once we had a list of 50 teams, we simulated multiple seasons where each team played a grueling 49-game schedule against the other top teams of all-time.  We averaged the results and determined which teams are truly the "best of the best."

There were a number of road blocks we faced in comparing teams over six decades.  The average players from yesteryear could not compete today.  In 1951, the average team shot approximately 33 percent from the field.  Today, if there was no three-point line, the average team would shoot 50 percent.  Players are much bigger, stronger and more athletic than they were in yesteryear.  By the same token, superstars like Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell would still be good players today, but would probably not dominate the game like they did in the 1950s.  Chamberlain averaged 30 points and 19 rebounds per game in 1957.  It is highly unlikely he would do that today.  To “level the playing field,” Stellar College Basketball brings offensive and defensive field goal percentages of past teams up to today’s levels.  Thus, a player who shot 33 percent in 1951, would be deemed to shoot 50 percent (without taking into account three-pointers). 

There was no three-pointer prior to 1987, so we don’t know for sure how well players on pre-1987 teams would shoot the three.  On the other hand, there are post-1987 teams that are great BECAUSE of their ability to shoot the three.   We elected to make estimates as to how well pre-1987 teams would shoot the three-pointer based on averages by position today and whether the player had a reputation as a good long range shooter. 
Prior to 1979, statisticians did not keep track of blocks or steals.  Prior to 1976, statisticians did not keep track of turnovers.  Prior to 1969, statisticians did not keep track of assists.  All of these statistics had to be estimated for players who played prior to the dates indicated. 

Before we could get started objectively determining which teams were the "best of the best," we had to figure out which teams we were even going to consider.  There are over 300 Division I college basketball teams and many have played 100 seasons or more.  We couldn't very well have 30,000 teams all play each other.  It would take a lifetime just to compile the statistics, much less simulate the games. 

We decided to start by taking a look at the top basketball team lists published by the experts.  As it turns out, there are surprisingly few lists of the greatest college basketball teams of all-time.  We looked at every team on every list. 

For example, ESPN.com’s top 10 were:
1. 1968 UCLA, 2. 1996 Kentucky, 3. 1976 Indiana, 4. 1972 UCLA, 5. 1992 Duke, 6. 1982 North Carolina, 7. 1974 NC State, 8. 1956 San Francisco, 9. 1957 North Carolina, and 10. 1960 Ohio State, with honorable mentions to 1990 UNLV and 1954 Kentucky.

ESPN’s College Basketball Encyclopedia’s top 15 were:
1. 1973 UCLA, 2. 1976 Indiana, 3. 1968 UCLA, 4. 1956 San Francisco, 5. 1967 UCLA, 6. 1982 North Carolina, 7. 1992 Duke, 8. 1990 UNLV, 9. 1974 NC State, 10. 1996 Kentucky, 11. 1969 UCLA, 12. 1957 North Carolina, 13. 1948 Kentucky, 14. 2001 Duke, and 15. 1954 Kentucky.

Billy Packer’s top 25 in his book College Basketball’s 25 Greatest Teams were:
1. 1967-69 UCLA, 2. 1976 Indiana, 3. 1972-73 UCLA, 4. 1955-56 San Francisco,  5. 1954 Kentucky, 6. 1960-62 Ohio State, 7. 1947-49 Kentucky, 8. 1961-62 Cincinnati, 9. 1974 NC State, 10. 1979 Michigan State,11. 1968 Houston, 12. 1964 UCLA, 13. 1988 Oklahoma, 14. 1957 North Carolina, 15. 1950 CCNY, 16. 1960 Cincinnati, 17. 1984-85 Georgetown, 18. 1982 North Carolina, 19. 1953 Indiana, 20. 1986 Louisville, 21. 1957 Kansas, 22. 1945-46 Oklahoma A&M, 23. 1983 Houston, 24. 1953 Seton Hall, 25. 1974 Maryland.

Where two or more teams had the same players (such as 1990 UNLV and 1991 UNLV or 1968 UCLA and 1969 UCLA), we elected to include the team we thought was best (e.g. 1991 UNLV, 1968 UCLA).  We decided not to include any team prior to 1950.  That gave us 27 teams. 

Next, we added 2007 Florida, since they won two NCAA Championships in a row.  We also added NCAA Champions who had gone to the Final Four two years in a row and were not already included, which included 1952 Kansas, 1954 LaSalle, 1960 California, 1975 UCLA, 1994 Arkansas, 2000 Michigan State, 2002 Maryland and 2009 North Carolina, and other teams that went to the Final Four at least two years in a row, which included 1965 Michigan, 1969 North Carolina, 1988 Duke, 1993 Michigan, 1998 North Carolina, 2002 Kansas, and 2008 UCLA.  That gave us 43 teams.

Finally, we added seven more teams that we call “the best of the rest:” 1971 Marquette, 1997 Kansas, 1999 Duke, 1999 Connecticut, 2005 Illinois, 2005 North Carolina, 2008 Memphis.  If there is a team you think should have been included in the 50 that wasn’t, shoot us an email at admin@stellarcollegebballgame.com and we’ll run the simulation and tell you how they would have done.

The top 15 teams were as follows:


    Rank   Team               Avg Wins  Avg Losses    Pct    Most Wins   Least Wins
      1   
91 UNLV               38.2     10.8       0.780      44           33
      2   
68 UCLA               37.8     11.2       0.771      42           36
      2   
72 UCLA               37.8     11.2       0.771      43           34
      4   
54 Kentucky           37.2     11.8       0.759      45           32
      5   
68 Houston            36.2     12.8       0.739      39           35
      6   
96 Kentucky           35.8     13.2       0.731      38           30
      7   
88 Oklahoma           34.8     14.2       0.710      38           31
      8   
56 San Francisco      34.2     14.8       0.698      38           30
      9   
99 Duke               33.6     15.4       0.686      35           31
     10   
60 Cincinnati         32.6     16.4       0.665      34           28
     11   
60 Ohio State         32.0     17.0       0.653      34           27
     12   
83 Houston            31.2     17.8       0.637      32           28
     13   
02 Kansas             29.0     20.0       0.592      31           27
     13   
09 North Carolina     29.0     20.0       0.592      32           24
     15   
97 Kansas             27.8     21.2       0.567      31           23
     HM   
53 Indiana            27.6     21.4       0.563      30           25
     HM   
74 NC State           27.6     21.4       0.563      32           24
     HM   
94 Arkansas           27.6     21.4       0.563      30           26

We included 1953 Indiana, 1974 NC State and 1994 Arkansas as honorable mention teams since they were only 0.2 wins away from making the top 15.  Click on any underlined team to see a detailed article about the team. 

What happened to 1976 Indiana, the last undefeated team, which is at the top of every all-time best team list?  Where is 1982 North Carolina, the team with Jordan, Worthy and Perkins?   How about 1992 Duke, which won back-to-back championships behind Christian Laetner?  A complete list of all 50 teams is below.

Although Indiana had a great season in 1976 and played a tough schedule, the Hoosiers barely squeaked by many of their opponents.  Had the Hoosiers played a grueling 49-game schedule against the best teams of all time, they would have lost as many as they won.
The 1982 North Carolina team is remembered as being much better than it was because Jordan, Worthy and Perkins all went on to such terrific NBA careers.  However, Michael Jordan was not yet His Airness in 1982.  He was just a freshman who took too many shots.  Perkins had yet to develop the outside shot that made him so tough to match up against in the NBA.  Against the greatest teams of all time, the 82 North Carolina team would have had a mediocre season at best.

The 1992 Duke team was a great college team.  They had a great coach and solid players at every position.  The same group pulled off an amazing upset of the 1991 UNLV team in the NCAA Championship.  Had they played UNLV 49 more times, however, the Blue Devils would have lost the vast majority of the games.  Christian Laettner was a fine college center who created match up problems with his outside shot, but could he really defend against Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Akeem Olajuwan?
  
Here's a complete list of how all 50 teams fared:

Rank   Team              Avg Wins   Avg Losses    Pct    Most Wins   Least Wins
  01    91 UNLV             38.2       10.8       0.780       44          33
  02    68 UCLA             37.8       11.2       0.771       42          36
  02    72 UCLA             37.8       11.2       0.771       43          34
  04    54 Kentucky         37.2       11.8       0.759       45          32
  05    68 Houston          36.2       12.8       0.739       39          35
  06    96 Kentucky         35.8       13.2       0.731       38          30
  07    88 Oklahoma         34.8       14.2       0.710       38          31
  08    56 San Francisco    34.2       14.8       0.698       38          30
  09    99 Duke             33.6       15.4       0.686       35          31
  10    60 Cincinnati       32.6       16.4       0.665       34          28
  11    60 Ohio State       32.0       17.0       0.653       34          27
  12    83 Houston          31.2       17.8       0.637       32          28
  13    02 Kansas           29.0       20.0       0.592       31          27
  13    09 North Carolina   29.0       20.0       0.592       32          24
  15    97 Kansas           27.8       21.2       0.567       31          23
  16    53 Indiana          27.6       21.4       0.563       30          25
  16    74 NC State         27.6       21.4       0.563       32          24
  16    94 Arkansas         27.6       21.4       0.563       30          26
  19    02 Maryland         27.2       21.8       0.555       32          23
  20    01 Duke             26.1       22.9       0.533       30          24
  21    64 ULCA             25.9       23.1       0.529       32          24
  22    08 Memphis          25.5       23.5       0.520       27          23
  23    05 North Carolina   24.7       24.3       0.504       26          22
  24    76 Indiana          23.9       25.1       0.488       27          21
  25    65 Michigan         23.0       26.0       0.469       28          19
  26    62 Cincinnati       22.6       26.4       0.461       28          16
  27    07 Florida          22.1       26.9       0.451       24          19
  28    53 Seton Hall       21.8       27.2       0.445       24          18
  29    99 Connecticut      21.2       27.8       0.433       25          16
  30    74 Maryland         21.0       28.0       0.429       24          16
  31    92 Duke             20.6       28.4       0.420       25          14
  32    05 Illinois         19.8       29.2       0.404       22          15
  32    54 LaSalle          19.8       29.2       0.404       22          15
  32    93 Michigan         19.8       29.2       0.404       21          17
  35    52 Kansas           19.6       29.4       0.400       25          14
  36    57 North Carolina   19.6       29.4       0.400       23          16
  37    86 Louisville       19.2       29.8       0.392       24          13
  38    57 Kansas           18.6       30.4       0.380       21          15
  39    50 CCNY             18.4       30.6       0.376       22          13
  39    98 North Carolina   18.4       30.6       0.376       22          12
  41    84 Georgetown       17.3       31.7       0.353       22          13
  42    08 UCLA             17.1       31.9       0.349       23          13
  43    60 California       16.9       32.1       0.345       20          14
  44    79 Michigan St.     16.3       32.7       0.333       19          13
  45    00 Michigan St.     15.9       33.1       0.324       21          13
  46    75 UCLA             15.7       33.3       0.320       20          13
  47    82 North Carolina   15.2       33.8       0.310       18          10
  48    71 Marquette        14.8       34.2       0.302       18           9
  49    69 North Carolina   13.8       35.2       0.282       19          10
  50    88 Duke             13.2       35.8       0.269       18          10