Ranking College Basketball's National Champions Since 1985

Baylor claimed its first men's basketball national title with with an impressive victory over previously undefeated Gonzaga

In what will go down as the most surreal NCAA Tournament in history, returning after a one-year layoff and played entirely in one state due to a global pandemic, the Baylor Bears men's basketball team claimed their first national championship. Baylor's combination of explosive and versatile offense with tenacious defense solidified the Bears as one of the all-time great college basketball champions.

 

In the pantheon of Final Four winners since 1985, when the field first expanded to 64 teams, this year's Baylor team ranks among some of the NCAA Tournament's very best.

 

1. 1992 Duke

Record: 34-2, 14-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 71-51

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Repeat championships since the expansion of the Tournament to 48 teams, say nothing of 64, 65 or 68, are rare. So rare, in fact, that nearly two decades elapsed before another program accomplished it.

 

With one of the sport's all-time great heels leading the way, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley at point guard, and the rising star of Grant Hill, the 1992 Blue Devils navigated a full season with a target on their backs and came out on top.

 

2. 1996 Kentucky

Record: 34-2, 16-0 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Syracuse, 76-67

Head Coach: Rick Pitino

A roster with a variety of NBA talent steamrolled its way through the regular season, winning by an average of 22 points per game. Tony Delk had an outstanding tournament, while Antoine Walker's March performance catapulted him into the pros.

 

Rick Pitino's squad went so deep, longtime NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed was a role player on the '95-96 Wildcats.

 

3. 2021 Baylor

Record: 8-2, 13-1 Big 12

Championship Game: Beat Gonzaga, 86-70

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Punctuating a national championship with a thoroughly dominant performance against a previously undefeated No. 1 isn't the kind of final statement most title winners get to make. The rout of Gonzaga was the perfect reflection of the Bears' March run overall, in which every game was won by at least nine points but all played out less competitively than the final scores indicate.

 

Were it not for a COVID-19 shutdown during conference play, it's not unrealistic to consider the 2021 Bears could have run the table in their own right. With the versatility of MaCio Teague and Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell demonstrating offensive and defensive games reminiscent of Gary Payton, Mark Vital's workmanlike play, and the spark (not to mention glorious mullet) of Matthew Mayer, Baylor proved itself one of the all-time balanced teams in NCAA Tournament history.

 

4. 2001 Duke

Record: 35-4, 13-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Arizona, 82-72

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Of Coach K's national championship-winning teams at Duke, the '92 squad was the best, but the '01 Blue Devils were the most collectively talented. Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Mike Dunleavy Jr. all enjoyed long NBA careers after leading Duke to the title, and Jay Williams finished his college career as one of the best point guards in modern times. Beating outstanding Maryland and Arizona teams in the Final Four solidified the strength of Krzyzewski's third championship team.

 

5. 1990 UNLV

Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big West

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 103-73

Head Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

The unforgettable starting five of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Butler, Anderson Hunt and Greg Anthony powered UNLV through one of the most dominant NCAA Tournament runs of all time. While the 1990-91 team came a historic upset away from playing for a repeat, which would have cemented the 1991 Runnin' Rebels as the greatest team of the modern era, the 1989-90 squad was still among the best of the era.

 

6. 2012 Kentucky

Record: 38-2, 16-0 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Kansas, 67-59

Head Coach: John Calipari

The national title that long eluded John Calipari finally came in 2012. Fitting enough given his hallmark recruiting style at Kentucky, the linchpin of the Wildcats' first national championship in 14 years was Anthony Davis. AD completed one of the greatest one-and-done seasons ever with 16 rebounds, six blocked shots and five assists in the National Championship Game, while Doron Lamb dropped in 22 points.

 

7. 1999 UConn

Record: 34-2, 16-2 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 77-74

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

Richard Hamilton delivered one of the most remarkable NCAA Tournament performances ever while leading UConn and legendary coach Jim Calhoun both to their first titles. Khalid El-Amin became a fan favorite for the Huskies in 1998-99, and the backcourt duo led the way in the defeat of a stacked Duke team in the National Championship Game.

 

8. 1995 UCLA

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

Championship Game: Beat Arkansas, 89-78

Head Coach: Jim Harrick

Ed O'Bannon etched his name into the annals of UCLA basketball history alongside such noteworthy Bruins as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sidney Wicks and Bill Walton with a 1994-95 season for the ages. His versatility set the foundation for an outstanding UCLA team that featured Tyus Edney at point guard (whose coast-to-coast layup in the Round of 32 kept the Bruins' title hopes alive) and George Zidek in the middle.

 

9. 2018 Villanova

Record: 36-4, 14-4 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 79-62

Head Coach: Jay Wright

The most talented team of Jay Wright's illustrious tenure featured national Player of the Year Jalen Brunson leading the point, and the ultra-talented Mikal Bridges doing his thing. With two solid NBA players on the rotation, the 2017-18 Wildcats combined pro ability with the disciplined, tough-minded style that has long been a Villanova hallmark.

 

And that was all before Donte DiVincenzo delivered a breakthrough National Championship Game that served as the springboard to his own impressive NBA career.

 

10. 2005 North Carolina

Record: 33-4, 14-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Illinois, 75-70

Head Coach: Roy Williams

Until Baylor-Gonzaga in 2021, the 2005 Final Four matchup between North Carolina and Illinois was the tournament's last to feature the top-two overall seeds. Sean May's performance throughout the tournament solidified him as a Tar Heels legend, but the 2004-05 team was loaded with Raymond Felton, Rashaad McCants and talented Marvin Williams coming off the bench.

 

11. 2009 North Carolina

Record: 34-4, 13-3 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Michigan State, 89-72

Head Coach: Roy Williams

Other North Carolina teams were arguably better, but the level of talent on the 2008-09 Tar Heels is dizzying. Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough were two of the best college hoopers of the 2000s, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green continue long NBA careers today, and Carolina was so deep, Ed Davis came off the bench.

 

12. 2007 Florida

Record: 35-5, 13-3 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Ohio State, 84-75

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

There have only been two repeat champions since the John Wooden era because it's an exceptionally difficult goal to reach. Fortunately for Florida, it had a special group in its run to two straight.

 

Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey made up one of the most unselfish starting fives ever, and the Gators brought future NBA talent Mo Speights off the bench as a freshman.

 

13. 2019 Virginia

Record: 35-3, 16-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Texas Tech, 85-77 (OT)

Head Coach: Tony Bennett

Coming off the historically unfortunate upset to No. 16 seed UMBC, Virginia came into 2018-19 with much to prove. The most talented lineup Tony Bennett has ever had in his impressive coaching career combined the aggressive defensive style that has long been the hallmark of the Bennett family with athleticism unique to that squad. De'Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are all in the NBA now.

 

14. 2008 Kansas

Record: 37-3, 13-3 Big 12

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

Head Coach: Bill Self

Mario Chalmers' memorable 3-pointer to send the National Championship Game to overtime is the immortalized moment from Kansas' outstanding 2007-08. The Jayhawks were outstanding all season, but solidified themselves by winning the first-ever Final Four to send all No. 1 seeds to the national semifinals. Claiming the program's first national championship since 1988 put a fitting exclamation point on the campaign.

 

15. 1994 Arkansas

Record: 31-3, 14-2 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 76-72

Head Coach: Nolan Richardson

Nolan Richardson joined the late, great John Thompson as only the second Black head coach to win the Div. I National Championship, 10 years after the Hoyas' historic title. Richardson is as important to the game for his implementation of 40 Minutes of Hell, an appropriately named style of play that combined explosive offense with turnover-generating, pressure defense. Arkansas' outstanding run in the late '80s into the '90s peaked with Corliss Williamson and Final Four hero Scotty Thurman leading the Razorbacks to their first, and still only, title.

 

16. 1987 Indiana

Record: 30-4, 15-3 Big Ten

Championship Game: Beat Syracuse, 74-73

Head Coach: Bob Knight

Keith Smart's corner jumper late in the 1987 title game scored Indiana its third national title in just 11 years... and last in the 34 years since. The '87 Hoosiers featured Steve Alford, an underrated college talent who poured in 22 points per game, and tough interior presence Dean Garrett.

 

17. 1993 North Carolina

Record: 34-4, 14-2 ACC

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 77-71

Head Coach: Dean Smith

In one of the best title games of the '90s, Donald Williams, George Lynch and Eric Montross outdueled Michigan's Fab Five to win Dean Smith the last championship of his Hall of Fame career. North Carolina's successful navigation through the tournament field provided a fitting conclusion to a season in which the Tar Heels emerged from an especially deep ACC, which that year included two-time defending champion Duke and a Florida State team with Sam Cassell, Bob Sura and Charlie Ward.

 

18. 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.

 

19. 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.

 

20. 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 disappointing Tournament finishes, but the 2015-16 Wildcats gave Villanova one more championship before the passing of legendary coach Rollie Massimino.

 

21. 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.

 

22. 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.

 

23. 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.

 

24. 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.

 

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.

 

25. 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 history 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.

 

26. 1998 Kentucky

Record: 35-4, 14-2 SEC

Championship Game: Beat Utah, 78-69

Head Coach: Tubby Smith

Tubby Smith's illustrious coaching career reached the ultimate milestone in 1998 when the Wildcats claimed their second title in three years. Unlike the previous title team, however, the 1997-98 Wildcats weren't loaded with NBA talent. March hero Wayne Turner was something of an iron man in his college career, and capped it leading a second-half comeback against an excellent Utah team.

 

27. 2013 Louisville

Record: 35-5, 14-4 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Michigan, 82-76

Head Coach: Rick Pitino

An outstanding team that would rank higher, if not for this championship being stricken from the record books. Still, the team that led to Rick Pitino getting an ill-fated tattoo featured a talented and deep lineup, evident in Luke Hancock's emergence as the national championship game hero. Russ Smith guided the Cardinals for much of the season, including out of some tumultuous times with a three-game losing streak during Big East Conference play.

 

28. 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.

 

29. 1989 Michigan

Record: 30-7, 12-6 Big Ten

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

Head Coach: Steve Fisher

Behind Glen Rice, whose 1989 NCAA Tournament might still be the single-best individual performance of the modern era, a Michigan team that underwent a coaching change literally right before the Big Dance navigated a tough field for the program's first (and still only) title.

 

Steve Fisher replaced Bill Freider just before the tournament, and a Wolverines team that included Loy Vaught and Terry Mills capped the championship run with an overtime win over Seton Hall.

 

30. 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.

 

31. 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).

 

32. 1986 Louisville

Record: 32-7, 10-2 Metro

Championship Game: Beat Duke, 72-69

Head Coach: Denny Crum

Hall of Famer Denny Crum claimed his second national championship of the 1980s in 1986, coming out on top of one of the memorable Final Four pools. LSU became the first No. 11 seed to reach the semifinal that year, and then-freshman Pervis Ellison gained March immortality as the big man with the moniker "Never Nervous Pervis" was named Most Outstanding Player after posting back-to-back double-doubles in the Final Four.

 

33. 1988 Kansas

Record: 27-11, 9-5 Big 8

Championship Game: Beat Oklahoma, 83-79

Head Coach: Larry Brown

At an unremarkable 21-11 heading into the NCAA Tournament, little was expected of the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks. But with Danny Manning stepping up for one of the most remarkable March performances ever, the unlikely No. 8 seed ran all the way to the title. Danny & The Miracles capped their championship win a stone's throw from campus with a defeat of an excellent Oklahoma bunch.

 

34. 2011 UConn

Record: 32-9, 9-9 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Butler, 53-41

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

In what could be fairly described as the greatest March of modern times, Kemba Walker was absolutely untouchable in leading Connecticut through an improbable Big East Tournament then parlaying that into a national title. UConn may have been a bubble team before Walker's unprecedented tear in the final month.

 

35. 2014 UConn

Record: 32-8, 12-6 American Athletic

Championship Game: Beat Kentucky, 60-54

Head Coach: Kevin Ollie

Shabazz Napier replicated Kemba Walker's remarkable March run just three years later, guiding an unlikely Connecticut team to its fourth championship in just 15 years. The 2014 National Championship Game is one of the most peculiar ever in that it featured two programs established as among the sport's best — Connecticut in the last 30 years, Kentucky all-time — but both were on Cinderella runs to the Final Four.

 

36. 1985 Villanova

Record: 25-10, 9-7 Big East

Championship Game: Beat Georgetown, 66-64

Head Coach: Rollie Massimino

That the first national champion of the 64-plus-team NCAA Tournament era was a team that arguably, if not likely wouldn't have been in the field just a year earlier set the perfect tone for the new age of March Madness. The Wildcats' near-perfect shooting performance in the title-game defeat of heavily favored Georgetown also established the 1985 squad as one of the most legendary in tournament history.

 

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

 

(Top photo courtesy of @BaylorMBB)

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