The 10 best men’s college basketball national champions from 1990-1999

The 10 best men’s college basketball national champions from 1990-1999

Jerry Tarkanian
Jerry Tarkanian
Photo: AP

If you lived through the ‘90s then you understand just how important and historic that decade was. And if you didn’t, someone who did has probably tried to explain it to you over, and over, and over again.

But what made ‘90s college basketball so special is that some of the best teams and players from that era didn’t win national titles. 1991 UNLV was on a 45-game winning streak and couldn’t pull off back-to-back titles. The Fab Five never won anything, literally. And those stacked ‘98 North Carolina and ‘99 Duke teams were never able to cut down the nets.

This was also a decade that featured names like Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, God Shammgod, Felipe Lopez, Glenn Robinson, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Shaq, Chris Jackson, Ray Allen, Elton Brand, Kenyon Martin, John Wallace, Alonzo Mourning, Penny Hardaway, Paul Pierce, Calbert Cheaney, and Tim Duncan, and none of them ever had “One Shining Moment.”

With the NCAA Tournament starting next week, here’s a look at the best teams that won titles during an epic decade.

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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10. Kentucky, 1998

10. Kentucky, 1998

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Photo: AP

At the time, ‘98 Kentucky was making history as it meant that Tubby Smith was joining John Thompson (Georgetown) and Nolan Richardson (Arkansas) as the only Black coaches to win national titles. After Rick Pitino led the Cats to a title in ‘96 and a title game appearance the following season, Smith’s ‘98 squad brought a second title to Lexington in three years, as Kentucky finished the season on a 13-game winning streak.

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9. North Carolina, 1993

9. North Carolina, 1993

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Photo: AP

Even with the likes of George Lynch, Donald Williams, and Eric Montross on that squad, that Carolina team is most often remembered for what they were instead of who they are, as they were the team that stopped the Fab Five from winning a national title, and the second – and last – of Dean Smith’s championship-winning teams.

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8. UCLA, 1995

8. UCLA, 1995

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Photo: AP

Twenty-six years ago, the college basketball program with the most national championships (11) of all-time won their last title to date, and a lot of it had to do with Tyus Edney. Down one to Missouri in the second round, Edney went the length of the floor with 4.8 seconds left and saved the Bruins’ season with a game-winning layup.

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7. Arkansas, 1994

7. Arkansas, 1994

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Photo: AP

You know it’s real when the president shows up to the national title game, as Bill Clinton – the state’s former governor – was on hand to watch the Razorbacks take down Duke. That night, the entire country was introduced to “40 minutes of hell” which was the intense and iconic full-court press that Arkansas ran every game, all game.

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6. Arizona, 1997

6. Arizona, 1997

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Photo: AP

When you look back at their journey, it’s still crazy that Arizona won it all that year given the path they had to take. Zona is still the only team that’s beaten three No. 1 seeds in the tourney on their way to a title. They knocked off Kansas in the Sweet 16, North Carolina in the Final Four, and Kentucky in the title game in a Wildcats vs. Wildcats battle. Oh yeah, a freshman named Mike Bibby also debuted Penny Hardaway’s famed Air Foamposites during that run.

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5. Duke, 1992

5. Duke, 1992

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Photo: AP

If 1991 Duke is remembered for dethroning UNLV, then 1992 Duke is thought of as the team that crushed the Fab Five. It’s also the same year that Christian Laettner hit “The Shot” against Kentucky in the Elite Eight. You might have seen it a few times over the years. That two-year run is what turned Duke into “Duke,” and people have been loving or hating them ever since.

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4. UConn, 1998

4. UConn, 1998

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Photo: AP

UConn and Duke were the only teams that were ranked No. 1 the entire 1998-1999 season, which is why it made so much sense for them to meet in the national title game. The Huskies came into the game as huge underdogs as that Duke team is arguably the best team that Duke has ever had, and maybe the best of that entire decade. Richard Hamilton led the way, while Jim Calhoun’s defensive strategy frustrated Duke all night. So, for all those that are wondering why UConn is so high on this list – besides the fact that they were really good – it’s because they beat one of the best teams in the sport’s history on the sport’s biggest stage.

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3. Kentucky, 1996

3. Kentucky, 1996

Illustration for article titled The 10 best men’s college basketball national champions from 1990-1999
Photo: AP

Nine and two. The first number is how many NBA players that Kentucky team featured, which was a ton for that era. And the second number is how many losses that team suffered that season, as they fell to an outstanding UMass team that featured Marcus Camby and was coached by a young John Calipari, and Erick Dampier’s Mississippi State squad in the SEC Tournament. The Cats won by a margin of 21.5 points per game during the tournament that season, as it wound up being the first leg of a run in which they played in three consecutive national championship games.

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2. Duke, 1991

2. Duke, 1991

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Photo: AP

I once heard a rumor that after UNLV demolished Duke by 30 in the 1990 national championship game, that Coach K referenced the beating to his team every day during the offseason, as they added a guy named Grant Hill to their roster. True or untrue, it worked. UNLV and Duke faced off in a rematch in the 1991 Final Four, and the Dukies stopped Vegas’ 45-game winning streak, as the Blue Devils won their first of back-to-back titles.

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Photo: AP
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1. UNLV, 1990

1. UNLV, 1990

Juggernaut. It’s the only way to describe the Runnin’ Rebels from that era. After a 35-5 season, Larry Johnson, Anderson Hunt, Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony led “Vegas” to their only national title. Back then, UNLV looked like a team full of grown men playing against kids, as it just felt like everyone on their starting lineup was old enough to be married with children. The Rebels punctuated their historic season by beating Duke in the championship game by 30. It got ugly.

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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.