Duke? UNC? UConn? Ranking the best NCAA national champs over the past 20 years

Duke? UNC? UConn? Ranking the best NCAA national champs over the past 20 years

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Image: AP

Selection Sunday will be the first time we’ve been able to fill out a bracket in two years. A lot has changed since then, especially in college basketball, as it’s been as upside down as the rest of the world is. Juniors and seniors are the biggest draws this season, as only a few freshmen like Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs have been able to lead their programs to true prominence.

But before the real games get started and we take part in the first NCAA Tournament that will be played during a global pandemic, let’s take a moment to reflect on the teams from the past. We ranked the last 20 champions that have cut down the nets and had “One Shining Moment.”

Saginaw Native. Morehouse Man. Syracuse (Newhouse) Alum. 2019 & 2020 NABJ Award Winner. 2016 PABJ Journalist of the Year. I only eat my wings lemon-peppered. And I like brown liquor & brown women.

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20. 2014 UConn

20. 2014 UConn

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Standing in the shadow of his former coach – Jim Calhoun – Kevin Ollie was trying to bring a fourth title home to Storrs, Connecticut. In his way was John Calipari and Kentucky and the newest edition of the Fab Five, as the Wildcats were starting five freshmen (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle, and Dakari Johnson) in an attempt to what Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King couldn’t do in 1992. Shabazz Napier was able to do his best Kemba Walker impersonation as the senior led all scorers with 22 points as the Huskies won their second title in four years.

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19. 2011 UConn

19. 2011 UConn

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Cardiac Kemba.

 

 

To win a national title in 2011, UConn would need to climb an unclimbable mountain. That’s when Kemba Walker tied up his Timberlands and got to work. The Huskies needed to win five games in five days at the Big East Tournament just to get into the field, so they did. After that, they disposed of Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona, and Kentucky before they took care of Butler in the worst national championship game of all time. The final score was 53-41, as Butler shot a horrid 18.8 percent from the field, while UConn was able to connect on 9.1 percent of their 3-pointers. It was brutal to watch, but a win is a win.

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18. 2019 Virginia

18. 2019 Virginia

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In case you forgot, Virginia is still the reigning champ. A season after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed – shout out to UMBC – and becoming the laughingstock of the sport, the Cavaliers were the last ones laughing when they cut the nets down in Minneapolis. UVA was down late, and I mean really late, in their last three games, and still found ways to win – which is what champions do.

 

 

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17. 2008 Kansas

17. 2008 Kansas

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Basketball is a game about makes and misses, and in 2008, Memphis missed when they needed to make, while Kansas made when we all thought they’d miss. When Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose went 1-of-5 from the free throw line down the stretch, it left the door open for Mario Chalmers to hit game-tying 3-pointer – after the Jayhawks had only made two 3s at that point – with 2.1 seconds left sending the game into overtime. Kansas pulled away in the extra period winning by seven, making them one of the most improbable champs of the decade, while Memphis’ fans are still haunted by the 38-2 team that couldn’t seal the deal.

 

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16. 2017 North Carolina

16. 2017 North Carolina

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A year after Carolina lived through the ultimate heartbreaker when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beater in the national championship game, the Tar Heels made sure to finish the deal. Carolina squeaked by Kentucky in the Elite Eight when Luke Maye knocked down a jumper with 0.3 seconds left. They survived against Oregon by one point in the Final Four and took down Gonzaga in the finals in another close one as they won by six points. The Tar Heels played it close that entire tournament as they almost lost to Arkansas in the first round, as they rallied behind a second-half comeback to win.

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15. 2000 Michigan State

15. 2000 Michigan State

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It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always gritty. The only reason Tom Izzo has a ring and the Big Ten has won a title in the last 21 years is because some dudes from Flint, Michigan decided to play ball in East Lansing, Michigan. With Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell all hailing from Flint and playing together since elementary school, it was the perfect formula to beat a loaded Florida team that featured four future NBA players and a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans.

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14. 2003 Syracuse

14. 2003 Syracuse

Illustration for article titled Duke? UNC? UConn? Ranking the best NCAA national champs over the past 20 years
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Back when players still had the option of skipping school or enrolling in college, three freshmen showed up and showed out in the ‘03 title game for the Cuse, giving Jim Boeheim his only national championship ring. The combination of Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Billy Edelin scored 50 of the Orange’s 81 points in their three-point win over Kansas. Melo was the game’s leading scorer as he introduced himself to the world.

 

 

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13. 2016 Villanova

13. 2016 Villanova

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Buzzer beaters in championship games rarely happen. It’s just too dramatic of a thing to happen. Well, it was until Kris Jenkins decided to tear the hearts out of North Carolina when he let it fly from deep. Jenkins’ shot was so memorable that it made people forget that UNC’s Marcus Paige had just hit a double-clutch 3-pointer seconds earlier to tie the game.

 

 

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12. 2002 Maryland

12. 2002 Maryland

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After blowing a 20-plus point halftime lead to Duke in the Final Four the year before, Maryland was hellbent on winning a title, as the Terps cruised to a 32-4 record that season. Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Byron Mouton, Chris Wilcox, and Lonny Baxter got Gary Williams a ring, as Maryland knocked off Indiana in the finals. It’s the last time either program has made it to the Elite Eight or further.

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11. 2010 Duke

11. 2010 Duke

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Sexy they were not, but efficiency rarely is. A year before Kyrie Irving got there and Seth Curry was eligible to play, and a year after they had been blown out by Villanova in the tournament, Duke finally won another national championship after a nine-year drought. The unlikeliest Duke team to ever cut down the nets still stands as the last one whose starting lineup only featured juniors and seniors.

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10. 2009 North Carolina

10. 2009 North Carolina

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Roy Williams’ second championship team in Chapel Hill was led by Tyler Hansbrough and was so good that three-time NBA champion Danny Green was the fourth option on that team. The Tar Heels destroyed Michigan State in the title game that year by 17, and it wasn’t even that close. North Carolina won that title in Detroit while bullying the home state Spartans along the way.

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9. 2013 Louisville (Vacated)

9. 2013 Louisville (Vacated)

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Technically, this team “didn’t win it all,” as the NCAA made them vacate the championship due to the fallout from the sex scandal investigation, as the NCAA always seems to come sniffing around places that Rick Pitino has spent time coaching. But, since we all saw what that Louisville team did, it’s hard to act like they aren’t champions after beating Michigan in the Georgia Dome that year. And after Kevin Ware broke his leg against Duke in the Elite Eight, the Cardinals had extra motivation to cut down the nets, and they did, no matter what the NCAA says.

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8. 2007 Florida

8. 2007 Florida

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 With the same starting lineup returning from their 2006 championship team, Billy Donovan’s squad followed the same blueprint. The 17 and 11-game winnings streaks the 2006 team went on were copycatted by the 2007 team that won 17 and 10-straight in two different streaks that season. The Gators are the last team to go back-to-back.

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7. 2018 Villanova

7. 2018 Villanova

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Two years after Jay Wright won his first title at Nova, the Wildcats came back and got another one. Featuring six players that averaged double figures, Nova cruised to a 36-4 record that season. From the Sweet Sixteen on, Villanova won by 12 points (Texas Tech), 16 points (Kansas), and 17 points (Michigan) in the championship game. Oh, and their sixth man (Donte DiVincenzo) came off the bench to drop 31 in the finale.

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6. 2015 Duke

6. 2015 Duke

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Throughout college basketball history we’d seen freshmen lead their teams to the promised land, but we’d never seen four of them have such a huge impact on their team’s championship run. Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen got it done. However, the thing that college basketball purists still discuss with that Final Four is that we never got to see that Duke team faceoff against Kentucky in the championship game – as they fell to Wisconsin in the semifinals – that was led by freshmen and sophomores in the ultimate “one-and-done” battle.

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5. 2006 Florida

5. 2006 Florida

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After starting the season on a 17-game winning streak, Florida finished the season with a streak of 11 consecutive wins. They won by an average margin of 16 points per game in the tournament, and oddly enough, scored 73 points in each of their last two games of the season, defeating George Mason 73-58 in the Final Four and routing UCLA 73-57 in the title game.

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4. 2004 UConn

4. 2004 UConn

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Five years after Jim Calhoun beat Duke to give UConn its first national title, he won his second by taking down the Blue Devils again in the 2004 Final Four. The Huskies were deep that season and were led by Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, a talented freshman in Charlie Villanueva. After stumbling to Syracuse in their regular-season finale, UConn won nine straight to collect their second title in five years.

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3. 2012 Kentucky

3. 2012 Kentucky

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A game-winning buzzer-beater in Bloomington against Indiana and a stumble in the SEC Tournament Championship Game against Vanderbilt are what kept this team from going 40-0. Equipped with seven NBA players on their roster, Kentucky was loaded that year that Anthony Davis was the national player of the year – as a freshman – and took the fourth-most shots on that team. They were so, so good.

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2. 2005 North Carolina

2. 2005 North Carolina

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The Tar Heels were so good that year that the most talented player on the roster was a freshman named Marvin Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, and he didn’t even start. Williams is still the highest draft pick Carolina has produced since then, and he came off the bench. The combination of Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Sean May, Rashad McCants, and the frosh sensation gave Roy Williams his first championship at Carolina in only his second season at his alma mater.

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1. 2001 Duke

1. 2001 Duke

Illustration for article titled Duke? UNC? UConn? Ranking the best NCAA national champs over the past 20 years
Image: AP

That Duke team was loaded with guys who could get buckets, as they were the second-highest scoring team in the nation (90.7) that season. With a starting lineup that included future No. 2 (Jay Williams), No. 3 (Mike Dunleavy Jr.), and No. 6 (Shane Battier) overall picks in the NBA Draft, including a two-time All-Star and gold medal Olympian in Carlos Boozer, the Blue Devils were loaded.

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Saginaw Native. Morehouse Man. Syracuse (Newhouse) Alum. 2019 & 2020 NABJ Award Winner. 2016 PABJ Journalist of the Year. I only eat my wings lemon-peppered. And I like brown liquor & brown women.