Ranking College Basketball's National Champions Since 1985

New national champion Villanova adds its names to the annals of March Madness

With its 79-62 win over Michigan to cap the 2017-18 college basketball season, Villanova claimed its second national championship in three campaigns, and the program's third title since 1985.

 

That 1985 Villanova championship marks an important moment in college basketball history, as it ushered in the era of March Madness. Before 1985, the NCAA Tournament was just 48 teams — that's 16 fewer than the field was expanded to, and 20 less than the selection committee invites today.

 

The current format of the NCAA Tournament has truly given March its Madness. And in the past 34 seasons of college basketball's modern era, championships of all kinds have emerged from the field to lift the hardware. From dominant powerhouse to underdogs, the NCAA Tournament provides teams championship opportunities that are unparalleled anywhere in sports.

 

1. 1992 Duke

Record: 34-2, 14-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 71-51

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Repeat championships in college basketball are rare, particularly in the modern era. Since the legendary John Wooden's retirement more than 40 years ago, marking the end of the UCLA dynasty, there have been just two repeat champions. The first was Krzyzewski's 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils.

 

Coming off its unforgettable upset of UNLV en route to the 1991 national championship, Duke returned virtually every key piece for an encore. Bobby Hurley solidified his place among college basketball's all-time great point guards that season, while Christian Laettner (above, right) gained a reputation as one of the sport's most prominent heels.

 

2. 1996 Kentucky

Record: 34-2, 16-0 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Syracuse, 76-67

Head Coach: Rick Pitino

Arguably the best team in Kentucky's illustrious history, the 1995-96 Wildcats blasted opponents by an average of 22 points per game. The bevy of talent on Pitino's roster included Antoine Walker and Tony Delk, both of whom went on to lengthy NBA careers, as well as Nazr Mohammed and Ron Mercer in complementary roles.

 

In an interesting, coincidental twist, Kentucky's road to the championship included a semifinal win over current Wildcats coach John Calipari's UMass squad.

 

3. 2001 Duke

Record: 35-4, 13-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Arizona, 82-72

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Krzyzewski hitting big on the recruiting trail isn't exactly breaking news, but the collection of talent he had come through Cameron Indoor Stadium in the late 1990s into the early 2000s was otherworldly. Consider the 2000-01 championship team, which featured future well-tenured NBA players Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer. Duke also had NBA lottery pick Jay Williams running the point for a team that beat excellent Maryland and Arizona squads in the Final Four. 

 

4. 2012 Kentucky

Record: 38-2, 16-0 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Kansas, 67-59

Head Coach: John Calipari

Calipari accomplished a rare feat in 2011 when his Kentucky squad reached the Final Four. However, his first career championship evaded him. It wasn't until the 2011-12 season that Calipari finally joined that most exclusive of coaching clubs with a national championship.

 

Marcus Camby was excellent for Calipari at UMass, and Derrick Rose was outstanding in Memphis' near-miss to end the 2008 Final Four, but no Calipari-coached team ever had a superstar take over in the Tournament quite like Anthony Davis in '12. 

 

5. 1990 UNLV

Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big West

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 103-73

Head Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

Las Vegas offered no more exciting show than the Runnin' Rebels back in the 1980s and early '90s. The 1990-91 team nearly ran the table in what would have been the most dominant performance by any basketball team since the height of the Wooden dynasty at UCLA. That team would also have been a surefire No. 1.

 

As it stands, the 1989-90 squad — featuring an incredible starting five of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Butler, Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony — was still one of the best in the modern era. The Runnin' Rebels blasted their competition through the NCAA Tournament, including a pair of blowouts in the Final Four and a record-setting offensive outpouring against Loyola Marymount in the Elite Eight.

 

6. 1999 UConn

Record: 34-2, 16-2 Big East

Championship Game: Defeated Duke, 77-74

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

Connecticut basketball claims four national championships, all won since 1999. The first started a trend of sorts for future Huskies titles, with stellar guard play setting the tone through the Tournament.

 

Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin powered Connecticut on a run that culminated with a huge upset against a loaded Duke team.

 

7. 1995 UCLA

Record: 31-2, 16-2 Pac-10

Championship Game: Beat Arkansas, 89-78

Head Coach: Jim Harrick

The most decorated program in college basketball history won its last championship (and only with a coach other than John Wooden at the helm) in 1995. Ed O'Bannon earned National Player of the Year in an outstanding senior campaign, but the depth of the 1994-95 shined through in the Tournament.

 

The Bruins' two most memorable moments from that title run are Tyus Edney's coast-to-coast lay-in to beat Missouri in the Round of 32, and Toby Bailey's dunking exhibition in the national championship game.

 

8. 2018 Villanova

Record: 36-4, 14-4 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 79-62

Head Coach: Jay Wright

No dramatic finish necessary for Villanova's second national championship in three seasons: The Wildcats completed an impressive run to the 2018 crown with an emphatic defeat of Michigan. Villanova's championship capped an NCAA Tournament marked by historic upsets — ironically enough, considering it was arguably the best team in the nation throughout the season.

 

The 2018 Wildcats blended the discipline and physicality typical of a Wright-coached team with perhaps the most talented roster in program history. Jalen Brunson won National Player of the Year; Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges added NBA-caliber game; Eric Paschall brought an intimidating, interior force; and Donte DiVicenzo provided spark off the bench.

 

9. 2005 North Carolina

Record: 33-4, 14-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Illinois, 75-70

Head Coach: Roy Williams

It seems odd in 2018, but not long ago Williams was in an unfortunate club of great coaches who never won national championships. That dubious distinction ended with a win over a loaded Illinois bunch in the 2005 national title game. 

 

The 2004-05 Tar Heels were balanced, with Tournament Most Outstanding Player and old-school paint presence Sean May; explosive youngster Marvin Williams; and the savvy point-guard play of Raymond Felton. May later came back to contribute to another North Carolina championship as an assistant coach.

 

10. 2009 North Carolina

Record: 34-4, 13-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Michigan State, 89-72

Head Coach: Roy Williams

North Carolina's second national championship team under Williams bore uncanny similarities to the first. Both had outstanding point guards running the show, with Ty Lawson taking honors in 2009. Forward Tyler Hansbrough capped a four-year Tar Heels career in style, averaging 21 points per game.

 

11. 2007 Florida

Record: 35-5, 13-3 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Ohio State, 84-75

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Consider Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer — the core of Florida's 2006 national championship team — announcing their return to Gainesville the college basketball equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his home-run shot.

 

Florida was a clear favorite to win the 2007 national title, but precedent points to the difficulty of completing a repeat. The Gators bucked the trend with unselfish offensive play and tenacious defense.

 

12. 2008 Kansas

Record: 37-3, 13-3 Big 12

Championship Game: Beat Memphis, 75-68 (OT)

Head Coach: Bill Self

Twenty years after Danny Manning led an underdog Kansas team to a surprise national championship, Mario Chalmers (right) sank a late 3-pointer to force overtime and give the Jayhawks another perhaps surprising title.

 

Kansas winning in 2008 wasn't exactly a shock, mind you: The Jayhawks were one of four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, and featured a lineup that included Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush and Darnell Jackson. Of the four Final Four teams, however, Self's was the least star-studded.

 

13. 1994 Arkansas

Record: 31-3, 14-2 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 76-72

Head Coach: Nolan Richardson

With its aggressive press defense and run-and-gun offense, Arkansas ranked among the best programs in college basketball during the first half of the 1990s. The Razorbacks' finest moment in the 40 Minutes of Hell era came in 1994 when "Big Nasty" Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman led the Hogs to a national championship. The latter's deep 3-pointer in the national title game, with Arkansas' own President Bill Clinton watching, is one of the Final Four's enduring moments.

 

14. 1987 Indiana

Record: 30-4, 15-3 Big Ten

Championship Game: Beat Syracuse, 74-73

Head Coach: Bob Knight

Introduced in the American Basketball Association in the 1970s, the 3-pointer came to the NBA shortly after the league absorbed the remnants of the upstart ABA. College basketball adopted the 3-pointer in the 1986-87 season, and teams immediately integrated it into their championship plans.

 

Indiana reached the Final Four in New Orleans with Steve Alford burning the nets, and UNLV did likewise with Freddie Banks. However, it was a deep two-point jumper from guard Keith Smart that sealed the 1987 championship — the last title for basketball blue blood Indiana, and a championship won just one year after IU's infamous "season on the brink."

 

15. 1993 North Carolina

Record: 34-4, 14-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 77-71

Head Coach: Dean Smith

The 1993 national championship game is largely remembered for Chris Webber calling an ill-fated timeout. Before that gaffe, however, guard Donald Williams' long-range shooting helped North Carolina build a lead over the ballyhooed Fab Five.

 

North Carolina proved its mettle in a Final Four that also included a win over Kansas. The Tar Heels had the perfect balance with Eric Montross in the middle, and future NBA vet George Lynch leading the way.

 

16. 2002 Maryland

Record: 32-4, 15-1 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Indiana, 64-52

Head Coach: Gary Williams

Maryland etched its place in college basketball lore behind one of the greatest individual seasons in the modern era, provided by guard Juan Dixon. Dixon's outstanding 2001-02 set the pace for a talent-rich Terps roster that also included Chris Willcox and Lonnie Baxter.

 

17. 2015 Duke

Record: 35-4, 15-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Wisconsin, 68-63

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

The fifth national championship of Coach K's remarkable career deviated from the previous four, which were won with veteran-heavy lineups. The 2014-15 Blue Devils built around a talented young corps of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jone and Justise Winslow, with Grayson Allen emerging as a hero of the national championship game.

 

18. 2016 Villanova

Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big East

Championship Game: Beat North Carolina, 77-74

Head Coach: Jay Wright

The greatest championship game in NCAA Tournament history capped an excellent season for Villanova. Not only did Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beating 3-pointer snap a 31-year title drought and erase all doubt from several consecutive years of disappointment Tournament finishes, but the 2015-16 Wildcats gave Villanova one more championship before the passing of legendary coach Rollie Massimino.

 

19. 2004 UConn

Record: 33-6, 12-4 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Georgia Tech, 82-73

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

Guard play powered UConn to its 1999 national championship, and was paramount for the Huskies' two titles still to come. Even with Ben Gordon, though, the 2003-04 Connecticut Huskies were Emeka Okafor's team. Okafor dominated in an outstanding season that is one of the last such campaigns from a true, old-school center.

 

20. 2017 North Carolina

Record: 33-7, 14-4 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Gonzaga, 71-65

Head Coach: Roy Williams

One year after losing in heartbreak to Villanova, North Carolina returned with some of the same key players like Joel Berry II and Kennedy Meeks and rewrote its story. The Tar Heels rallied late in the 2017 national championship game to beat an outstanding Gonzaga team.

 

21. 1991 Duke

Record: 32-7, 11-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Kansas, 72-65

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

One of the most famous upsets in NCAA Tournament history, and certainly among Final Four contests, Duke's 1991 defeat of UNLV marked a seminal moment in college basketball. With that win, the Blue Devils took a big step toward becoming one of the sport's cornerstone programs.

 

22. 2003 Syracuse

Record: 30-5, 13-3 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Kansas, 81-78

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim

Hakim Warrick's block of a Kirk Heinrich would-be buzzer beater lives on in March Madness lore as one of the greatest plays in championship game history. Warrick and guard Gerry McNamara — a four-year starter and Syracuse fan favorite — were perfect complementary players around Carmelo Anthony (right).

 

Anthony's near-triple-double in the national championship win over Kansas cemented what one can argue is the greatest one-and-done season ever.

 

23. 1997 Arizona

Record: 25-9, 11-7 Pac-10

Championship Game: Beat Kentucky, 84-79 (OT)

Head Coach: Lute Olson

Though struggling at the end of the regular season with a 19-9 record and fifth-place finish in what was a loaded Pac-10, Arizona earns bonus points for becoming what is still the only team in NCAA Tournament to knock off three No. 1 seeds in the same postseason. The Wildcats bested Kansas in a Sweet 16 shocker, still regarded as one of the biggest upsets in recent March Madness history; topped North Carolina in the national semifinal; then toppled Kentucky in the championship to complete a blue-blood trifecta.

 

24. 1998 Kentucky

Record: 35-4, 14-2 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Utah, 78-69

Head Coach: Tubby Smith

Smith has an impressive coaching resume, joining Lon Kruger as one of only two coaches to lead five different programs to the NCAA Tournament. Smith accomplished the feat at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech. Unlike Kruger, Smith reached the mountain top with a national championship in 1998.

 

While title-winning Kentucky teams preceding the '98 squad featured NBA talent like Antoine Walker and Tony Delk, and later Anthony Davis leading a stacked kiddie corps, Smith's championship 'Cats were a cast of overachievers. Wayne Turner played the best basketball of his career in the national championship game, leading Kentucky over an upset-minded Utah bunch.

 

25. 2013 Louisville

Record: 35-5, 14-4 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 82-76

Head Coach: Rick Pitino

Entry redacted by the NCAA. Sorry, Cardinals.

 

26. 2000 Michigan State

Record: 32-7, 13-3 Big Ten

Championship Game: Beat Florida, 89-76

Head Coach: Tom Izzo

For all the Final Four runs in his illustrious career, Tom Izzo has just one national championship. It came in 2000, when Morris Peterson led the Spartans' corps of Flint, Michigan-raised "Flintstones" to championship glory.

 

Michigan State won in a Final Four that included a pair of No. 8 seeds, and concluded with a championship tilt against fifth-seeded Florida.

 

27. 1989 Michigan

Record: 30-7, 12-6 Big Ten

Championship Game: Beat Seton Hall, 80-79 (OT)

Head Coach: Steve Fisher

With Bill Frieder bolting Michigan for Arizona State at season's end, Bo Schembechler made the bold and unorthodox decision to cut ties early and install Fisher, the assistant coach, at the helm just before the 1989 NCAA Tournament.

 

The move paid dividends: Fisher led a roster featuring Loy Vaught, Terry Mills and Glen Rice to the title, culminating in an overtime win over Seton Hall.

 

28. 2010 Duke

Record: 35-5, 13-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Butler, 61-59

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

The fourth national championship of Krzyzewski's career might mark his best coaching job. Every other Duke team to win the crown featured future NBA players, including some All-Stars. When the Blue Devils heard "One Shining Moment" at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the best player on the court that night actually played for mid-major upstart Butler: That was Gordon Hayward, whose three-quarter-court heave nearly became the most shocking moment in Tournament history.

 

29. 2006 Florida

Record: 33-6, 10-6 SEC

Championship Game: Beat UCLA, 73-57

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Despite a downturn midway through the season, which dropped the at-one-time No. 1-ranked Gators down to a No. 3 seed on Selection Sunday, Florida rallied in time for the NCAA Tournament.

 

Joakim Noah winning Most Outstanding Player was a perfect snapshot of the defensively tenacious brand of basketball Florida employed on its way to the program's first national championship, after having reached a pair of Final Fours in the preceding 12 years (1994 and 2000).

 

30. 1986 Louisville

Record: 32-7, 10-2 Metro

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 72-69

Head Coach: Denny Crum

The 1986 NCAA Tournament ranks among the wildest since the field expanded to 64 teams, with a No. 11-seeded LSU joining Duke and Kansas in the Final Four. The Cardinals' second national championship in six years ended with freshman "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison winning Most Outstanding Player.

 

31. 1988 Kansas

Record: 27-11, 9-5 Big 8

Championship Game: Beat Oklahoma, 83-79

Head Coach: Larry Brown

The 11 losses a Danny Manning-led Kansas team carried into the NCAA Tournament remain the most ever for a national championship-winning team. They are not called "Danny and The Miracles" for nothing.

 

However, with Manning ripping off one of the single greatest individual performances in Tournament history, the Jayhawks — coached by legendary Larry Brown — beat an outstanding Oklahoma team in Kansas City (just 40 miles from KU's campus).

 

32. 2011 UConn

Record: 32-9, 9-9 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Butler, 53-41

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

In the first year of a 68-team NCAA Tournament, Connecticut needed a run in the preceding week's Big East Tournament to ensure its spot in the field. Like a champion at Iditarod, Kemba Walker played the role of lead husky to perfection.

 

Walker's transcendent performance throughout the month of March led UConn through the Big East Tournament, and then to hoist the hardware in Houston after beating Butler in one of the ugliest games in Tournament history.

 

33. 2014 UConn

Record: 32-8, 12-6 American Athletic

Championship Game: Beat Kentucky, 60-54

Head Coach: Kevin Ollie

Three years after Kemba Walker flipped a switch and carried UConn to the mountain top, Shabazz Napier made lightning strike twice. Napier powered the 2013-14 Huskies on a similar late-season surge to capture the program's fourth national championship in just 15 years.

 

34. 1985 Villanova

Record: 25-10, 9-7 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Georgetown, 66-64

Head Coach: Rollie Massimino

How fitting that the ultimate underdog won the first national champion crowned after the format of the NCAA Tournament changed to allow for more opportunities.

 

Villanova probably would not have made the field in 1984. In '85, however, Ed Pinckney and Co. capitalized on their opportunity — and the lack of a shot clock. Rollie Massimino used a slow-down style to neutralize the more athletic defending champions from Georgetown. Combined with a stellar shooting performance, the Wildcats set off March Madness in style with a surprise national championship.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Event Date: 
Monday, April 2, 2018 - 12:48

More Stories: