Who is the top basketball program since 1939?
KSR Special News

Posted Jul 29, 2008


ESPN recently performed a study of college basketball programs since the 1984-85 season, the first year the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams. Of course, since then the tournament has expanded to 65 teams, and before then the tournament was 53, or 48, or 32, or whatever. An enterprising Kansas fan decided to go back to the 1st NCAA tourney in 1939 and see who is the best of all-time. Guess who?

If you guessed the Kentucky Wildcats, of course, you would be correct.

"WhitBarrett," a self-described Kansas fan, decided to do ESPN one better. Taking six programs he believed were "generally" regarded as the elite of the group--Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and UCLA--he used the same methodology ESPN employed in crowning Duke # 1 since 1985. The methodology employed assigning points for "achievements" such as national titles, NCAA tournaments, big-win seasons, conference championships, and even a few "punitive," or negative factors such as probation reducing a team's total.

And the results were staggering.

By far and away the champion were the Kentucky Wildcats. With 1105 points, the Cats were almost 200 points stronger than the next-best program who came in at 926. The lineup was as follows:

1. Kentucky 1105
2. UCLA 926
3. North Carolina 892
4. Kansas 756
5. Duke 707
6. Indiana 526

For more on WhitBarrett's calculations, see his post on the KSR Basketball messageboard.

But wait--isn't the real reason Kentucky is # 1 because they played in a weak conference, and racked up all those wins?

Umm, no. That argument was made, but even a cursory glance--or a review of WhitBarrett's post on the Indiana board shows us that could not be further from the truth.

Taking the top four categories of the NCAA tournament alone (NCAA titles, finals, semifinals, and Elite 8's), Kentucky is--again--top dog in all of college basketball:
1. Kentucky 470
2. UCLA 430
3. North Carolina 375
4. Kansas 310
5. Duke 300
6. Indiana 205

Don't want to take his word for it? How about a Duke fan's rendition, bluecheez, who recalcuated the results for all teams omitting all conference-dependent achievements. Not so surprisingly, the results were the same--the Cats on top:

1. Kentucky 696
2. UCLA 613
3. North Carolina 609
4. Duke 468
5. Kansas 456
6. Indiana 347

While some may quibble over this number assigned to this achievement, or that number assigned to another, it is hard to objectively deny that Kentucky has been easily the most dominant college basketball program since the NCAA tournament began in 1939. KSR thanks our Kansas and Duke friends for the assistance, and ESPN for proposing the initial methodology, albeit a limited one of barely two decades.

On the whole, though, polls, "studies," and "methodologies" don't do much more than stir up a little interest, though, do they? Hey, it's the off-season, and that's what it's for.


Feel free to give your thoughts on the matter on the KSR message board, the finest community of college fans anywhere. Here are a few links to get you started:

Top programs since 1939

ESPN's top 50 programs since 1984-85

Name your Top 10 programs for next decade


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