College basketball is an interesting tale. This is due to the factor that the best college player may not even make it to the NBA in any given season. Take Michael Jordan for instance, the fourth best player on his championship team. With the game being played with more tactics focusing on team stardom rather than individuals, different players can bring something to the table that won’t cut it at the next level. This era has also been defined by the one and done rule, where the talented freshman will likely leave after their first season to go and try to fulfill their NBA potential. This had made winning back-to-back championships almost impossible, and add a level of uncertainty to every season. In this list, we break the best teams of the 2000’s era of the game.
10. Syracuse Orangemen (2002-03)
Although they may have struggled a little bit during the season, Carmelo Anthony‘s tournament run defied all odds and secured legendary status for coach Jim Boeheim and this group. They were the giant killers, or better yet, the Big 12 killers. In their tournament run, they took down number one seed Oklahoma, who was ranked third for the majority of the year. Then they took down Texas, who was a top three ranked team all season long. And finally, in one of the most thrilling finals of all time, Carmelo Anthony and the Orangemen defeated Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawk, the number one team in the country, by a score of 81-78. Big man Hakim Warrick made a game-saving block on what appeared to be an open look from three for Kansas guard Michael Lee. Carmelo Anthonys’ 22 points a night along with his 10 rebounds a game were so dazzling he himself deserved the spot on this list.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini (2004-05)
The only team to make this list that didn’t win a championship, the Fighting Illini were one win away from being eight spots higher on this list. Coached by Bruce Weber and led by star point guard Deron Willians, along with his supporting cast that featured big-time scorers in Dee Brown and Luther Head, this Illinois team was dominant. With a record of 37-2 and being recognized as the number one team in the country until being defeated by UNC in the national title, this was one of the most cohesive groups to ever take the floor together. The only other blemish on the record was a loss to Ohio State in the season finale, where they lost 65-64 in a thrilling game in Columbus. The other loss, as previously mentioned, came at the hands of the Tar Heels in a great final that saw the Tar Heels win 75-70 in what was considered a huge upset. However, the accolades cannot be ignored. Bruce Weber took home Coach of the year, Williams and Head were consensus second-team All-Americans, while Brown received consensus first-team All-American honors. Not to mention big man James Augustine being awarded Big 10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
8. Villanova Wildcats (2017-18)
A recency bias, no. An ultra-talented team, yes. Coach Wright’s second group to win the championship, led by star point guard Jalen Brunson, with a supporting cast featuring an NBA player almost everywhere you look, this year’s Wildcats were more than worthy of making this list. Role players like Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, and Donte Divicenzo are a rarity at this level, and the work this group put it in will not be forgotten. With that said, the main reason they make this list is that after losing to integral parts of their previous championship team in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, everyone else decided to elevate their game, making them truly unstoppable. While this is a compliment to the players, it is rather targeted to Coach Wright and the unbelievable system he has working for him in Philadelphia. When considering accolades, Brunson took home the John R. Wooden player of the year while Bridges won the Julius Erving award as he was recognized as the best small forward. As individuals these guys were great but as a unit, no one could compete with them.
7. Kansas Jayhawks (2007-08)
Standing alone as coach Bill Self’s only national title winner, the Jayhawks safely find themselves on the list. With four scorers all averaging over 11 points in lead guard Mario Chalmers, swingman Brandon Rush, and big men Darell Arthur and Darnell Jenkins, this group shined together, and no one was bigger than the team. Not until “the shot” where Mario Chalmers hit a game-tying three as time expired in the national final against a heavily favorite Memphis Tigers team, led by superstar point guard Derrick Rose. This was, in fact, the real Derrick Rose, the one that played like Russell Westbrook, only more efficiently and without the turnovers. Coached by John Calipari, the Tigers were a fixture to win the title that season. Thanks to the incredible shot by Chalmers, that idea became a fallacy. En route to their title, the Jayhawks went 37-3. The first of those losses came against in-state rival Kansas State at Kansas State where they lost by nine. The second came against number 11 ranked Texas in Austin, where the Jayhawks lost 72-69. The final loss came against Oklahoma State in Stillwater where they dropped a one-point game to the Cowboys. With all of the losses coming on the road and within 10 points, this team should have been the favorites to win it all, and sadly the experts had it all wrong that year.
6. Uconn Huskies (2003-04)
Coached by the legendary Jim Calhoun and led by star big man Emeka Okafor, the Huskies come in at number six. Okafor played the role of Batman with his 17 points and 12 rebounds a game, while Ben Gordon was a perfect Robin putting up 19 points a game with his sharp-shooting from the outside. They had the perfect inside-outside combo, and Calhoun had these guys playing the game the right way. They were the pre-season number one ranked team, and the finished it that way, being the first team to do so since Rick Pitino and his “Untouchable” Kentucky team. The national championship game against Georgia Tech showcased exactly how Uconn was able to beat any opponent. Ben Gordon got hot in the first half hitting three three-pointers in the first 10 minutes as Okafor slowly started to take a hold of the game. This was the recipe that led them to a 33-6 record and was the first of three championships to come in the next 12 years.
5. Kentucky Wildcats (2011-12)
After putting together talented group after talented group, legendary head coach John Calipari finally won the bg one. With a dynamic freshman duo like no other with a superstar in Anthony Davis and the ultimate game-changer in Micahel Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats ended their terrific season the right way. While cruising to a 38-2 record, the Wildcats sealed the deal with a 67-59 win over Kansas in the national championship where their defensive greatness was on full display. One of those two losses came during the season to number two ranked Indiana who won it at the buzzer 73-72. Kentucky avenged this loss in the tournament with a beatdown of the Hoosiers that ended with a final score of 102-90. While Anthony Davis’s career has taken off in the NBA, putting him correctly in the top five conversations, injuries have slowed down Kidd-Gilchrist during his time in the league and we have yet to see the player who was the true leader of this Wildcats team.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels (2004-05)
After four years of coaching the Tar Heels, Roy Williams earned his first title with the team. A season in which everyone was playing in the shadow of the Fighting Illini, Williams had a special group, who quietly had a special year that ended with a bang. Led by star big man Sean May and Bob Cousy award winner Raymond Felton, the Tar Heels had a ridiculous amount of depth. This could be seen in the NBA draft preceding the tournament that featured four Tar Heels being selected in the lottery. Combo forward Marvin Williams was selected second overall, Felton went fifth, May 13th, and guard Rashaad McCants 14th. This unprecedented stat also speaks to how good that Illinois team was. It took four lottery picks to beat them.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels (2008-09)
As deep as that first group was, this Tar Heels team was even better. Led by one the best ever to suit up at the college level, Tyler Hansborough finally got his championship in his senior season. While he was certainly the star, this team featured a handful of great role players. That list includes Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, Ed Davis, and of course star guard Ty Lawson. This team played fast and was one of the most potent offenses the college game had ever witnessed. They were scoring 85 points a game on their way to a 34-4 record, which is almost unheard of at the slower paced college game. The tournament is where this team truly displayed their greatness winning each game by at least 12 points, including a dismantling of Michigan State 89-72 in the final.
2. Duke Blue Devils (2000-01)
Of all the championship teams coached by Mike Krzyzewski, this group stands tall amongst the rest. With star players including National player of the year Jason Williams and Defensive player of the year Shane Battier; this team was dominant on both sides of the ball. En route to their 35-4 and record and a national title, the Blue Devils had one game that stood out. During the regular season, Duke dropped a disappointing game against Maryland at home 91-80. When they faced the Terrapins again in the final four of the NCAA’s they trailed by 22 points in the first half, and returned in the second with a vengeance and defeated the Terrapins 95-84 flipping the script to the way it was originally supposed to be. In the national title, they took down number two ranked Arizona, who was the pre-season number one team. This team had it all, and will forever be remembered as one of Krzyzewski’s best units.
1. Florida Gators (2006-07)
Coming off of an unexpected championship run the previous season, coach Billy Donovan led the Gators to back-to-back championships. They are the only team to repeat in the 2000’s era and deserve to be the alpha dog of these great teams mentioned above. Donovan’s group was led by center Joakim Noah, who played with grit and toughness that went unmatched at the college level. His supporting cast featured Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford, and Marresse Speights. Individually, these guys are from the most talented to players to play the game, but as a group, their teamwork, heart, cohesiveness, and will to win was not matched in their two-year run. Similar to the Kansas team mentioned above, no one was ever bigger than the team, and that motto was embraced to fullest by these guys. In a national title against dominant freshman center, Greg Oden and his number one ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, the Gators did what they do best and found a way to neutralize Oden and win the game going away 84-75 capping off their back-to-back titles, the greatest accomplishment any team can say of the 2000’s era.