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National College Basketball Writers Rank the Teams

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You may remember that yesterday, ESPN came out with their rankings of the all-time college basketball programs. They came from Jeff Sagarin’s computer model and were interesting in their conclusions. Most importantly from our perspective, they had the Cats first, followed by the UCLA Wizards of Westwood. This led to much internet debate and conversation as to the methodology and selections:

ESPN
Kentucky
UCLA
Kansas
North Carolina
Indiana
Illinois
Duke

One early critic was Pat Forde of ESPN.comwho wrote a column in which he ranked them thusly:

UCLA
UNC
Kentucky
Indiana
Kansas
Duke
Louisville

Reading that list, I decided we needed more voices. Sagarin’s computer-based model left a bit to be desired for me and Forde’s piece was probably written by Tom Jurich, so I couldnt let that stand either. So I contacted all of the major college basketball voices on the national landscape (or at least the ones whose phone number I had) and asked for their conclusions. All non-ESPN folks returned my inquiry (the Worldwide Leader voices were mute). Here were their thoughts:

Jeff Goodman — Foxsports.com
UCLA
Kentucky
UNC
Indiana
Kansas
Duke
Louisville

Gregg Doyel — CBSSportsline.com
UCLA
UNC
Kentucky
Kansas
Duke
Indiana
Louisville

Mike Decourcy — Sporting News
Kentucky
UCLA
UNC
Indiana
Kansas
Duke
Louisville
Ohio State

Greg Anthony — CBS Sports Announcer:
UCLA
Kentucky
UNC
Indiana
Kansas
Duke
Louisville

Gary Parrish — CBS Sportsline.com
UCLA
UNC
Kentucky
Duke
Kansas
Indiana
Louisville

Parrish then went on to justify his picks:

I think we can all agree on the top six, and on the top three in some order. If you want to go strictly by the numbers, that’s easy to do. But the numbers have Temple ranked sixth in wins and Penn ranked ninth, and I don’t think anybody would have Temple or Penn anywhere close to the top 10 of all-time basketball programs, not even those stupid Sagarin rankings.

So I’m more interested in using my own brain. And I put more emphasis on the modern era than I do stuff that happened before my father was born. With that, I’ll tell you that I’d rank UCLA No. 1 based on its NCAA titles under John Wooden and the fact that it has been nationally relevant lately, too. The Bruins won the 1995 NCAA tournament; they’ve been to three of the past four Final Fours. So I’ll put UCLA at the top, then put — I’m bracing for the complaints — North Carolina at No. 2.

Simply put, UNC is the best program in the country now, and it’s been that way for a while. The Tar Heels aren’t far behind UK in all-time wins, and they’ve been consistently elite throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s (otherwise known as the modern era). Again, I don’t like Sagarin’s overall rankings, but his decade-to-decade rankings aren’t terrible. If you look at them, you’ll find that the Tar Heels are the only team to rank among the top three in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. They won titles in 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009. In other words, they’ve won two titles since Kentucky last won one, been to three Final Fours since Kentucky last made one. So that’s my rationale.

(PS — Make sure UK fans know I’ll make up for this tomorrow, when I announce the CBSSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year.)

So there you have it…the voices of the college basketball masses have spoken

Collecting all seven lists, we see this progression:

UCLA
Kentucky
UNC
Indiana
Kansas
Duke
Louisville

There you go. A couple of interesting things to me…first, no writer picked the Heels as the #1 overall program, a surprising decision to me since I actually think the debate should be between UNC and UK. Second, there are definitely tiers to this analysis. UK, UNC and UCLA are the distinct top three…then IU is generally considered #4, just ahead of Kansas and Duke, who battle it out for fifth. Louisville’s is everyone’s #7. It goes to show just how much consensus exists in the sport and what truly are the best of the best. Thanks to all who participated and gave me their picks. You guys are great.

Article written by Matt Jones