Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but greatness is something everyone can see and agree upon. In the world of college basketball, it manifests itself in national championships, tournament victories, and record-setting runs. We think you’ll agree that the five NCAA teams below are greatness personified.
5. 1981-82 North Carolina Tar Heels
Just how good were the 1981-82 Tar Heels? Michael Jordan was their third leading scorer. His Airness played second banana that season to future NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy and longtime NBA vet Sam Perkins. Together they held teams to a scant 55.4 points per game and cruised to a 32-2 record and an ACC championship. Jordan’s defining moment in 1982 came during the national championship against Georgetown, when he hit the game-winning jumper with 18 seconds remaining to help earn coach Dean Smith his first title. North Carolina went 56-11 during the remainder of Jordan’s tenure in Chapel Hill, but didn’t win another national championship until 1993.
4. 1955-56 San Francisco Dons
The Dons weren’t just good in 1955-56. They were untouchable. San Francisco blew out teams by an outrageous 20 points per game en route to a 29-0 season and the program’s second straight NCAA championship. Leading the way was Bill Russell, who averaged 20.6 points and 21 rebounds per game and played the kind of smothering defense that made opposing players question their life decisions. The 6-foot-9 center went on to to enjoy a spectacular career in the NBA, where he won 11 championships in 13 seasons.
3. 1990-91 Duke Blue Devils
Unlike other teams on our list, the 1990-91 Blue Devils didn’t post a perfect season. Their 32-7 record looks almost pedestrian in comparison to some of the legendary programs we’ve included. However, no other team in the last 30 years has boasted more talent from top to bottom. Coach K’s squad featured five future NBA players, led by the All-American trio of Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. The three players seemed to communicate by telekinesis, always knowing precisely where to find each other for an easy hoop. Duke outscored opponents by 14.3 points per game that season and went on to capture their first of two straight NCAA championships with an emphatic 72-65 victory over Kansas.
2. 1989-90 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Watch any one of UNLV’s games from the 1989-90 season, and you’ll swear you’re watching an NBA team. Jerry Tarkanian’s squad was loaded with physical specimens like Larry Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound wrecking ball who put the “power” back into power forward, and Stacey Augmon, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound ball hawk, whose arms seemingly wrapped around the entire arena. They were joined in the Rebels’ starting five by future NBA point guard Greg Anthony, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Anderson Hunt, and David Butler, a 6-foot-10 behemoth whose bone-rattling picks sent players running into their momma’s arms. UNLV averaged 93.5 points per game that season and torched Duke by a record-setting 30 points in the national championship to earn the program’s first—and only—title.
1. 1966-67 UCLA Bruins
You could choose any number of UCLA squads from the 1960s and 70s for this spot, but we’re going to select John Wooden’s sublime team from the 1966-67 season. Led by spindly center Lew Alcindor (AKA Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), UCLA went undefeated in the regular season and won all four of its tournament games by 15 points or more. “The Tower from Power” was so dominant in the paint that the NCAA banned dunking the following year, in an effort to level the playing field. Their Grinchy attempt to stamp out joy didn’t work, however, as Alcindor powered the Bruins to a pair of national championships over the next two seasons, before he embarked for the NBA.