College basketball uniforms have gotten so loud and ostentatious (see: Baylor) in recent years that we are nostalgic for a simpler time in college hoops when uniforms didn’t look like wrestling unitards and the designs were crisper and cleaner than those seen today. With that in mind, we count down the 30 greatest throwback uniforms in college basketball history.
— Compiled by Jim Weber, a veteran college sports journalist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Weber has written for CBS Sports Network, NBCSports.com, ESPN the Magazine and the college sports website he founded and sold, LostLettermen.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.
30. Loyola Marymount
You may be too young to remember it, but there was once a time when this small school in Los Angeles was the toast of college basketball. Led by Bo Kimble and inspired by the in-season death of Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount scored at an NBA level and made it all the way to the 1990 Elite Eight in these beauties.
Princeton’s victory over defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament is still the greatest win in school history. And the uniforms Princeton wore that day were just as glorious as the upset itself.
We preferred when Memphis was called “Memphis State” and the Tigers’ uniforms had gray lettering as seen here by a young Penny Hardaway in the early 1990s.
(Photo courtesy of theshoegame.com)
Like Kansas and Louisville, adidas teamed with Wisconsin for 2016’s Black History Month with these 1970s throwbacks. The stomping Badger on the side of the shorts really makes these special.
26. Kansas (Part 1)
We also loved the Jayhawks’ 2016 Black History Month throwbacks to the 1950s. The cream uniforms are especially sublime.
25. Michigan (Part 1)
While not as fabulous as the Fab Five uniforms that succeeded these, the giant block “M” uniforms that Glen Rice & company wore during the 1989 national title season were beautiful in their own right. We just wish those shorts were about twice as long.
Texas’ current uniforms with the Western font look like they belong in the OK Corral. We much preferred the Longhorns’ look when T.J. Ford led UT to the 2003 Final Four with burnt orange jerseys that really popped and shorts that were instant classics.
Back when Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson was dominating college basketball, the Boilermakers had one of the best uniforms in hoops with the giant swirl shorts that were peak 1990s.
22. Indiana State
The 1979 season will always be remembered as the year Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NCAA title game, but few recall just how gorgeous the Sycamores’ baby blue uniforms whose “I” in “Indiana” was the outline of the Hoosier State. May we never forget.
‘Nova is still one of the best-dressed teams in college basketball but things are taken up another notch when the defending national champions wear these 1980s throwbacks with the baby blue trim and wildcat logo storming through the “V” on the shorts.
20. Syracuse (Part 1)
Syracuse’s “Creamsicle” uniforms when the Orangemen marched to the 1996 championship game aren’t even the best in school history but they are still among the best in college basketball history. The crew neck and trim was a thing of beauty and the “S” logo on the shorts is a fabulous reminder of the old Big East.
Unlike Utah’s current bland unis, the Utes’ uniforms back in the glory days of the 1990s had a really cool, Native American feel to them — highlighted by the school’s drum and feather logo around the “U” in Utah.
For starters, we love when the school was called “Texas Western” instead of “UTEP.” Throw in the nostalgia of the 1966 team that won the national title with five black starters and the beautiful trim and the result is goosebumps all over.
The 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were the bad boys of college hoops, trampling over Duke with a 103-73 in the national title game that year, and iconic outcasts that celebrities like Tupac Shakur fell in love with.
16. Wake Forest
Tim Duncan and fashion don’t normally go in the same sentence but boy did the Demon Deacons look sharp when he played in Winston-Salem in the 1990s and the school’s “old gold” and black colors were so perfectly intertwined.
While Michigan and the Fab Five might get all the credit for making baggy shorts fashionable, Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman and company took things even further with their fashionable unis in which they won the 1994 national title.
The Minutemen took the college basketball world by storm in 1996 when two young phenoms — Marcus Camby and his head coach, John Calipari — led UMass to the Final Four. And UMass did it in style with uniforms featuring a massive script “U” that gave them a colonial feel.
13. Michigan State
Michigan State is a school that seems to tinker with its uniforms on a yearly basis. We’re not sure why, as the Spartans’ best look is clearly from the team’s 1979 national title-winning team featuring Magic Johnson. The simplicity of the script “State” is perfection.
Illinois always keep tinkering when its basketball uniforms when nothing will top a uni from its past. In Illinois’ case, it’s the crisp uniforms that the “Flyin’ Illini” donned on their way to the 1989 Final Four.
(Photo courtesy of uniformcritics.com)
In general, what adidas has done with Louisville’s uniforms is a traveshamockery (i.e. Cummerbund shorts, sleeved jerseys). But the one giant exception is the 1980s black throwbacks with simplistic font and the dunking cardinal on the shorts.
10. Ohio State
Ohio State will never be mistaken for a basketball school but there was a special group in 1992 led by Jim Jackson and Chris Jent that nearly made the Final Four and is forever adored in Columbus. OSU still breaks out the beloved gray uniforms from that season on special occasions, but not nearly enough for our liking.
9. Syracuse (Part 2)
Syracuse basketball is a shell of itself this season, both in terms of wins and fashion. Syracuse never looked better than in the 1980s when the ‘Cuse donned the beautiful script “Syracuse” unis worn by players like Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly.
The Wildcats really went off the deep end this season with the current gradient unis fading from blue to red. It’s a tragedy Arizona is no longer wearing its traditional jerseys and iconic “CATS” shorts adorned by the 1997 national title team.
7. Kansas (Part 2)
There are still fans mad that the Jayhawks’ uniforms have Trajan font on them — and we don’t blame ‘em. Kansas looked so much better in Circus font unis like in the late 1990s and early 2000s — and things won’t be quite right in Lawrence until this glitch is corrected.
The Bruins’ uniforms are arguably the best in college basketball and have remained almost completely unchanged over the years. But we think UCLA has never looked better than in 1965 when they won the national title in these beauties.
You don’t see many awesome pre-World War II sports uniforms but the Ducks’ 1939 look is an exception. Oregon won the very first NCAA tournament in a set of uniforms that were as sweet as they were unique.
There was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Bearcats were the most intimidating team in college basketball — and arguably the most fashionable. Kenyon Martin and Steve Logan donning “Jordan Brand” uniforms with thick shoulders and thick bars down the sides was a sight to behold.
A dark cloud currently hangs over a Georgetown basketball program that now struggles to make the NCAA Tournament and wears underwhelming uniforms. We miss the days of Allen Iverson, thick gray uniforms and the school’s original Kente cloth design.
2. Michigan (Part 2)
Now that Michigan is a Nike school again, its uniforms resemble those famously worn by the Fab Five in the early 1990s. But we preferred Michigan’s unis when they were baggier, had a bigger block “M” on the shorts and were accompanied by black socks, black shoes and shaved heads.
1. North Carolina
The Tar Heels still have the best uniforms in college basketball but they aren’t quite as special as those in the 1990s when the material was mesh, the argyle pattern on the sides was cleaner and the trim mixture of blue hues and white really made the whole thing pop just a little more.