The national championship clash between Kentucky and Kansas inevitably renewed discussion of which men's programs are the best in the college game.
Recall that both retired Maryland coach Gary Williams and Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton routinely refer to Duke and North Carolina as two of the top programs in the country. So, are Williams and Hamilton misguided? Just who should be counted among the game's elite?
Any reasonable reckoning includes UK, KU, DU, and UNC -- or, in a word, DUKUNC. After that, there's a gap before reaching the next ring of prominent programs, a group that arguably includes Connecticut, Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State, Syracuse, and UCLA.
The prowess of various schools extends beyond total victories, an inexact standard. Variations in league strength make for differences in the relative value of wins. For instance, Kentucky plays in the Southeastern Conference, which for decades assigned football assistant coaches to direct varsity basketball teams. Not so in the ACC, where Carolina and Duke spent the past 59 seasons.
Perhaps the fairest basis of comparison is NCAA competition, where the venues are more neutral than not, the competition is generally of high quality, and the rest between games is nearly uniform.
The lead in NCAA championships goes to UCLA with 11. However all but two of those titles came prior to 1975, when the tournament field expanded to accept multiple entrants from the same league. You wouldn't say the Bruins remain a force; they didn't even make the NCAAs in two of the past three seasons.
Indiana has five championships, tied for third-most with UNC. But the Hoosiers also are old news -- they haven't won a title since 1987. IU has only 10 trips to the regional finals, and just eight Final Four appearances, two since '87.
Nor can Syracuse be counted among the premier programs despite standing fifth in total victories. The Orange have made one fewer NCAA appearance than Duke, yet the Blue Devils have three more national titles, 11 more Final Four berths, 10 more advances to the regional finals, and 40 more tournament wins.
Neither Connecticut (three NCAA titles) nor Louisville (two) rank in the top 15 in program wins. Ohio State, which reached the 2012 Final Four, has been to the national semifinals more times than either of those schools, and only two fewer than the pair combined (11 vs. 13, counting Louisville's appearance this year). But the Buckeyes have a single NCAA championship and aren't among the top 30 schools in overall victories.
Michigan State has two NCAA titles, but fewer program wins than Ohio State, fewer Final Four appearances than OSU or Louisville, and fewer Final Four wins than Ohio State or Connecticut.
And none of those schools are in the same class as DUKUNC.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
|NOTE: UCLA's 1980 Final Four appearance was vacated.|
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