College basketball owns the month of March (and oftentimes spills over into April). The extravaganza as we know it today really emerged in 1985, when the NCAA Tournament expanded from 48 teams to 64.
The 32 years since have provided hoop-heads with countless memorable moments. Tournament expansion gave rise to Cinderellas – those programs that come from nowhere to steal a win or two and become household names.
Beyond the addition of a play-in game in 2001, and expansion to 68 teams via the First Four in ‘11, the NCAA Tournament has remained largely the same since ‘85. Consider this is the modern era of the NCAA Tournament. This era has featured surprising champs and unforgettable Goliaths. Here is a ranking of all the teams that have cut down the nets since 1985.
1. 1992 Duke
Record: 34-2, 14-2 ACC
Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 71-51
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Repeating as national champions in college basketball is difficult. Duke proved it in 1991 when it denied UNLV, one of the most talented teams ever assembled, back-to-back titles. The Blue Devils' run through the 1991-92 campaign demonstrated it again. Duke became the first repeat champ since John Wooden's UCLA dynasty in the early half of the 1970s.
2. 1996 Kentucky
Record: 34-2, 16-0 SEC
Championship Game: Beat Syracuse, 76-67
Head Coach: Rick Pitino
Kentucky ripped through its schedule like a buzzsaw in 1995-96, blowing out opponents by an average of 22 points per game. The Wildcats avenged one of their two regular-season losses with a semifinal defeat of Marcus Camby's UMass Minutemen (coached by one John Calipari), then kept Syracuse at bay in the championship.
This Kentucky lineup featured veteran stars Antoine Walker, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty, as well as youngsters Nazr Mohammed, Ron Mercer and Wayne Turner.
3. 2001 Duke
Record: 35-4, 13-3 ACC
Championship Game: Beat Arizona, 82-72
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
The 2001 Duke roster was one of the most impressive collections of talent Coach K has had in Durham. Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy all enjoyed lengthy NBA careers after leading Duke, and point guard Jay Williams ranks as one of the best floor generals ever in college basketball.
4. 2012 Kentucky
Record: 38-2, 16-0 SEC
Championship Game: Beat Kansas, 67-59
Head Coach: John Calipari
John Calipari has coached plenty of great teams in his career, whether at UMass, Memphis or Kentucky. His lone national championship team blended the transcendent talent typical of Calipari teams with a cohesive style of play that made for a memorable championship run.
Frosh phenom Anthony Davis earned various player of the year awards as an equal parts scoring, rebounding and defensive threat. Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were lottery picks in the subsequent NBA draft.
5. 1990 UNLV
Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big West
Championship Game: Beat Duke, 103-73
Head Coach: Jerry Tarkanian
While the next season's UNLV team is perhaps better remembered for its overall talent – and for failing to win the championship – the 1989-90 Runnin' Rebels changed the complexion of college basketball.
Their blend of high-pressure defense and run-and-gun offense made UNLV one of the most exciting teams ever, led by the core of Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt. Center Moses Scurry provided the muscle. That group asserted its dominance with three different 30-point wins in the Tournament, including the title game.
6. 1999 UConn
Record: 34-2, 16-2 Big East
Championship Game: Defeated Duke, 77-74
Head Coach: Jim Calhoun
An irony of Connecticut's first national championship is just how much of an underdog it was heading into the title game against Duke. A Blue Devil roster stacked with talent, like Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Trajan Langdon stormed into the championship at 37-1. They then hit a roadblock from Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin and the rest of the Huskies.
7. 1995 UCLA
Record: 31-2, 16-2 Pac-10
Championship Game: Beat Arkansas, 89-78
Head Coach: Jim Harrick
UCLA's sole national title season since John Wooden's retirement was dominating in a way the Wizard of Westwood could appreciate. Behind Wooden Award winner Ed O'Bannon, and featuring one of the all-time great college point guards, Tyus Edney, UCLA culminated its close-to-unblemished campaign with an impressive win over defending national champion Arkansas.
8. 2005 North Carolina
Record: 33-4, 14-2 ACC
Championship Game: Beat Illinois, 75-70
Head Coach: Roy Williams
Bruiser Sean May was a monster for North Carolina in 2004-05, averaging a double-double to pace what was arguably the best Tar Heel roster since Michael Jordan and James Worthy shared the hardwood. Freshman Marvin Williams was an NBA lottery pick, Raymond Felton's had a lengthy professional career, and players like Rashad McCants and Jawad Williams were collegiate standouts.
North Carolina beat an outstanding Illinois team to win the first national championship of Williams' illustrious career.
9. 2009 North Carolina
Record: 34-4, 13-3 ACC
Championship Game: Beat Michigan State, 89-72
Head Coach: Roy Williams
Tyler Hansbrough's 2008-09 season ranks among the most hyped in recent memory. He held off pursuing the NBA to stay in Chapel Hill for four seasons, and capped his remarkable career averaging nearly 21 points and nine rebounds per game. Teammate Ty Lawson was one of the best point guards in the nation that season, providing perimeter punch to go with Hansbrough's inside dominance.
10. 2007 Florida
Record: 35-5, 13-3 SEC
Championship Game: Beat Ohio State, 84-75
Head Coach: Billy Donovan
Florida joined 1991 and ‘92 Duke as the only repeat champion in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament – which, despite the difficulty of repeating, felt like a formality. When Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer all spurned the NBA draft for a year, the Gators entered the 2006-07 season with what was clearly the nation's best roster.
They endured a late-February slump, which keeps the Gators from ranking higher on this list, but UF flipped the switch into Terminator-mode once the NCAA Tournament arrived. Like its football team three months earlier, Florida ended its title run with a win over Ohio State in the championship.
11. 2008 Kansas
Record: 37-3, 13-3 Big 12
Championship Game: Beat Memphis, 75-68 (OT)
Head Coach: Bill Self
Mario Chalmers' game-tying jumper endures as one of the most iconic moments in NCAA Tournament history, and gave Kansas its first title in 20 years. The 2007-08 KU roster was one of the deepest in recent memory, with Chalmers, Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush and Darnell Jackson all playing prominent roles.
Kansas emerged from the only Final Four featuring a quartet of No. 1 seeds, culminating by beating Memphis in the title game. The Derrick Rose-led Tigers mauled opponents leading up to the thrilling finale, which fit the Jayhawks' March; Kansas escaped in the Elite Eight against a Davidson team captained by one Steph Curry.
12. 1994 Arkansas
Record: 31-3, 14-2 SEC
Championship Game: Beat Duke, 76-72
Head Coach: Nolan Richardson
Arkansas' 40 Minutes of Hell reached college basketball heaven in 1994 when Scotty Thurman drained a late-game jumper to down Grant Hill and Duke. The Razorbacks knocked on the door before, employing head coach Nolan Richardson's signature full-court press, reaching a Final Four in 1990. Low-post bruiser Corliss Williamson helped Arkansas kick down that door.