I can’t blame anyone for not being as caught up on college basketball news with all that’s been going on in the sports world right now. The NFL labor ruling has Roger Goodell and the owners on edge, and the draft kind of snuck up on all of us and will take place Thursday through Saturday. The NBA playoffs have been incredible (the Grizzlies dominating the Spurs!). The NHL playoffs have been awesome too. Nevertheless, here are some quick hitters from college basketball:
Murph wrote a piece about the 2011 UConn team being a bad national champion, maybe the worst ever. That got me thinking about who the best national championship teams are and which ones leave you scratching your head. No I’m not going to rank every champ in college basketball history, but I will rank the Naismith Trophy winners since 2000. Here we go:
1. 2001 Duke
Yes, it pains me to put Duke at the top of this list, but this team was simply stacked. It will always be a sad yet rarely talked about shame that we didn’t get to see what Jason Williams’ pro career would have been because he was an all-time great college player for Coach K. Besides Williams, that Duke team had two guys in Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer who would have been the best players on a lot of the teams that Duke beat that year.
2. 2006/2007 Florida
It was tough not to rank the Gators’ dynasty numero uno, but they don’t fall too far down the list. Not only did this two-year title winner have great talent, but they had guys who completely bought in and embraced their roles. Al Horford was the option #1 on the offensive end; Joakim Noah was an all-time great energy guy; Corey Brewer was the playmaker on the outside and guarded the other team’s best wing; Lee Humphries was the gunner; and Taurean Green was the floor leader and distributer. Defending a national championship is nearly impossible, and these guys did it.
3. 2009 North Carolina
I really appreciated the way this UNC team played the game. Ty Lawson was simply always the fastest man on the floor and he may have been UNC’s title team MVP, despite the fact that Tyler Hansborough got more pub. Speaking of Hansborough, it never hurts when your best player also doubles as your hardest worker on the court. Throw in Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, and a young Ed Davis, and you have a team that mixed extreme toughness with extreme talent. No wonder they didn’t win by less than twelve points in any game of the ’09 tournament.
4. 2004 Connecticut
The ’03-’04 Huskies team may have been hurt in these rankings by their playing in one of the most uninteresting national title games in history…well, until this year. But, this team was talented and deep. It was nearly impossible to score in the paint against the likes of Wooden Award winner Emeka Okafor and Charlie Villanueva, and their then-sophomore backups of Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong weren’t too shabby either. Ben Gordon could score with anyone, and Marcus Williams was a solid, steady point guard. This team had seven guys who would eventually be drafted, six of which were first round picks.
5. 2008 Kansas
Kansas played in one of the better national championship games we’ve had in the last decade or so, and a good case can likely be made for moving them up this list because of how deep they were. Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush, and Cole Aldrich all became first-round picks, and don’t forget about a young Sherron Collins and big bangers like Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson who provided invaluable toughness. Oh yeah, and beating a guy like Derrick Rose in the title game even though he was only a freshman at the time is no small feat.
6. 2003 Syracuse
Speaking of freshmen, Carmelo Anthony’s ’03 Syracuse team slides in at number six on this list. Anthony may have only been a first year player, but ‘Cuse fans were always confident that they had the best player on the court when their team took the floor that season. Anthony teamed with Gerry McNamara, who would later become a Big East Tournament legend, and Hakim Warrick. This team didn’t have the depth that some of the others on this list did, but a lot can be made up when you have a stud like Anthony on your squad.
7. 2002 Maryland
Gary Williams will eternally be grateful to guys like Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter and co. for getting him to his first Final Four in ’01 and then winning the whole thing the next year in ’02. This team didn’t quite have the star power of some of the teams ahead of them on this list, but they were truly a great college team. Dixon and Baxter were the headliners, but the Terps also trotted out guys like Chris Wilcox, who left a year too early but was one of the most athletic players in the country at the time, Steve Blake, the ultimate floor general, and glue guys like Byron Mouton and Tahj Holden. They didn’t play in a great championship game, defeating Jared Jeffries’ Indiana team, but a historic team in Maryland hoops history, nonetheless.
8. 2005 North Carolina
You’ll notice that most of the teams on this list were experienced teams with a good deal of depth. Not all, but most. The ’05 Carolina championship team was no different. Their trio of juniors–Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May–were the backbone of Roy Williams’ first championship squad at the Dean Dome, but don’t forget that senior Jawad Williams and junior David Noel were big-time contributors as well, especially on the defensive end. Oh yeah, and how about the number two overall pick of that year’s draft coming off the bench, in Marvin Williams. This Tar Heel squad beat a one-loss, Deron Williams-led Illinois team in the finals to cap off their great run.
9. 2000 Michigan State
Possibly the toughest team on this list, the 2000 Michigan State Spartans personified what college basketball used to be all about. There wasn’t a ton of star-power on this team, but they were a veteran team that would do anything to win. Mateen Cleaves will forever be a Spartan legend for his toughness throughout his career, but especially in the championship game where he played almost the whole second half on a sprained ankle and won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award. Morris Peterson teamed with Cleaves on the MSU team that proved to be able to play any kind of style, winning their Final Four game over Wisconsin, 51-41, and then ramping up the pace in the finals to beat Florida, 89-76.
10. 2010 Duke
Last year’s national champs come in towards the bottom of this list because of their lack of star-power, but this team won with balance and with guys who didn’t mind not being the go-to guy as long as Duke won. Sure, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Jon Scheyer were the players people will remember from this team, but it was the effort of role players like Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, and the Plumlee brothers off the bench, that really brought home the 2010 title for Coach K. A bit of a favorable draw didn’t hurt, either.
11. 2011 Connecticut
Murph, I don’t know about the worst champions ever, but you were certainly on the right track thinking that this past season’s UConn team had to have been the worst champs in recent memory. This team simply got hot at the right time in an admittedly down-year for college basketball. What Kemba Walker did to lead this team all the way was certainly an impressive feat, regardless of what the college basketball climate was, but let’s be honest, this team would have gotten crushed by nine of the ten other teams on this list, and possibly all ten. You can’t take much away from this year’s champs–they won the games down when they really mattered–but something tells me that this team is going to remain at the bottom of this list at least for the next few years.