Best Men’s College Basketball Teams Of All-Time: Top 5 NCAA Lineups, According To Experts

One thing is true of Americans, we love the NCAA basketball tournament. For three weeks every March, we’re glued to our TVs watching in anticipation. We fill out brackets, place wagers, and take pure joy in watching college athletes compete at the highest level. With all of the love for college basketball, we might find ourselves reminiscing about the best men’s college basketball teams of all time. 

Before we dig in, consider the impact that the NCAA tournament has on our society every year. A recent poll of 2,000 Americans finds that nearly 40 percent of respondents will call out sick during the NCAA tournament. A whopping 37 percent of respondents say they’ll call out sick or simply skip work without an excuse just to watch the NCAA tournament come March. 

Employers, if that doesn’t get your dander up, then perhaps nothing will. Speaking of the toll the NCAA tournament takes on industries, another study reveals that businesses stand to lose nearly $14 billion due to employees not being as productive come NCAA tournament time. The study found that the average employee spends approximately six hours watching the tournament each year. 

This drop-off in productivity might not seem substantial, but it all adds up. The same study found that more than half of employees are willing to miss a deadline at work in favor of watching their favorite team play in the NCAA tournament. That certainly gives a new meaning to the term March Madness. 

Aside from productivity during the height of b-ball season, StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports aficionado websites to bring you the best men’s college basketball teams of all time. As always, please feel free to share your favorite teams with us in the comments section below! 

The List: Best Men’s College Basketball Teams, Per Experts

1. 1972 UCLA Bruins

Hands down, the experts agree, that the 1972 UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team is the best men’s college basketball team of all time. The ‘72 Bruins were undefeated straight through the regular season and the NCAA tournament. 

“UCLA was so dominant in 1971-72 that it defeated opponents by an average of 30.3 ppg. Sophomore center Bill Walton (21.1 ppg, 15.5 rpg) won every Player of the Year award out there, and senior guard Henry Bibby (15.7 ppg) and smooth sophomore forward Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes (13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) were strong pieces of the juggernaut,” explains SB Nation

And did we mention the ‘72 Bruins absolutely dominated the NCAA tournament that year, too. “After a 32-point victory over Weber State to start the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins defeated No. 5 Long Beach State by 16 points, No. 4 Louisville by 19 points, and No. 10 Florida State by five points. It was their 45th straight win and sixth straight NCAA championship under Wooden,” adds At The Buzzer

The Bruins’ 45 straight victories dated back to the previous season and the 1971 NCAA tournament. Six straight championships is a lot in any sport, but in a sport riddled with upset losses such as men’s college basketball, the Bruins’ feat is something we’re likely not ever going to see again.  

“The 1972 UCLA Bruins were the greatest team of All-Time. They finished the season with a 30-0 record, had the best player in the land, a guy named Bill Walton, and won by an average of 32 points. No team has had a higher margin of victory,” explains Men’s Journal.

2. 1976 Indiana Hoosiers

The next team on the list of the best men’s college basketball teams of all time is the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers led by coach Bobby Knight. Whether you agree or disagree with Knight’s on-court antics, you can’t take away the fact that his teams came ready to play. The ‘76 Hoosiers are the only team that really challenged the ‘72 Bruins for the top spot on the list.  

“It’s been over 45 years since the Indiana Hoosiers took home the NCAA national championship title and solidified their spot as the last team to go undefeated for an entire season, with a spotless 32-0 record. That’s right — no other team has achieved a perfect season since the Hoosiers did in 1976, making this team a true icon of college basketball,” writes Fanatics

Being the last team to go undefeated says a lot, especially since Indiana had to go up against the vaunted UCLA Bruins dynasty. “Hall of fame Coach Bob Knight led this team on a warpath against the favored Bruins, who had previously won their 10th national title, halting UCLA’s iron grip on college basketball. They beat UCLA in the semifinals, advancing to the finals,” adds Fanatics

Indiana had to beat UCLA on their way to a national championship opportunity, something that stands out in the minds of men’s college basketball historians. Still, Indiana had to win their championship matchup with Michigan. 

“In the Championship game, the Hoosiers lost star Bobby Wilkerson early in the game. Still, they pulled away in the second half to beat Michigan easily on their way to a National Championship,” writes The Grueling Truth“No doubt a lot of the teams below Indiana on this list were more talented than the Hoosiers, but this was a perfect team that Coach Knight had built. Each player was brought in to fill a role, and every man on this team did just that.”

The success of the Indiana Hoosiers started much earlier than the NCAA tournament, though. “Bob Knight’s Hoosiers gained strength as the season went on. After a 77-68 overtime win over Kentucky early in the year, Indiana rolled through the Big Ten into the postseason,” writes Fanbuzz

3. 1992 Duke Blue Devils

As we come out of the storied ’70s, new schools and new teams began to emerge as contenders for the best men’s college basketball teams of all time. The conversation around the emergence of smaller schools as basketball powerhouses starts with one team – the 1992 Duke Blue Devils and coach Mike Krzyzewski.  

“The Blue Devils became the first repeat champions since UCLA (1967-73), but their last-second win over Kentucky in the East regional final defined their season. Christian Laettner (21.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) led the way and hit the big shot against UK,” explains SB Nation

Laettner hit a last-second shot after receiving a near-full-court pass from Grant Hill. The play stands as arguably the single greatest play in NCAA tournament history. “Laettner hit the greatest shot in tournament history when he received a court length pass from Hill, dribbled once, pump faked and hit a turnaround game-winning shot with 2.1 seconds left to beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight,” explains Men’s Journal

From there, Duke went on to eventually beat Michigan for the title. Beating Michigan in the championship game was a big deal, too. Michigan was absolutely loaded with talent as their starting rotation was aptly named “The Fab Five.” 

“[Duke] beat Kentucky during the East regional final at the last moment, and it seems that almost losing their chances gave this team all the energy they needed to bring home the win when it mattered most. Players Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill led the team on their path to victory, first beating Indiana in the semifinals and later Michigan to earn the national title,” explains Fanatics

4. 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels

Coming in at fourth on the list is the 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels. Now, if you’re from North Carolina, you just say “Carolina” when referring to the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Of course, the same goes when you’re in South Carolina and referring to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. 

Yes, it can get confusing, and you need to keep track of what state you’re in when talking college hoops in the Carolinas. What’s not confusing is that the ‘82 North Carolina Tar Heels is one of the best college basketball teams to ever play. And if you’re a fan of the NBA, you’ve probably heard of a few of their star players. 

“It took a while, but it finally hit me how good the 1982 Tar Heels were. They had the GOAT, Michael Jordan. And the No. 1 pick in the ’82 Draft, James Worthy. And the No. 4 pick in the’84 Draft, Sam Perkins. Oh, and their coach was just Dean Smith. No wonder they went 32-2,” writes SB Nation

Although the Tar Heels didn’t have the most outstanding regular seasons, they had several “statement” wins that propelled them into the NCAA tournament. 

“The North Carolina Tar Heels started the 1981-82 season 13-0, including wins against No. 9 Tulsa, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 2 Virginia, and No. 12 NC State. Their win streak came to an end against unranked Wake Forest and they would later lose to No. 3 Virginia, bringing them to 16-2,” explains At The Buzzer

The Tar Heels went on to win the rest of their games after hitting the 16 to two mark – 16 straight victories to close out the championship season. Still, their key victories to finish out that season were all extremely close games.   

“This Carolina team finished 32-2 and won the National Championship over Georgetown, on a jumper by Michael Jordan. This team would be higher on the list had they dominated teams more handily during the tournament. They beat James Madison by one, Alabama by five, Villanova by 10, Houston by five and Georgetown by one,” explains Men’s Journal

5. 1996 Kentucky Wildcats 

Rounding out the list of the best men’s college basketball teams of all time is the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats. The ‘96 Wildcats were led by Rick Pitino and star player Antoine Walker who would go on to have an outstanding career as a pro in the NBA. However, don’t forget about the rest of that roster that featured NBA talent across the board. 

“The Kentucky Wildcats were arguably the deepest team in college basketball history. They had 5 first round draft picks in Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer and 4 other players who made in to the NBA. 9 players from one team in the NBA, that’s almost every player on the team,” explains Men’s Journal

“With such a strong roster, it’s no surprise that the Wildcats had one of the highest scoring averages in the country,” adds Fanatics

Nine players in the NBA is certainly nothing to scoff at, especially when you consider the way the ‘96 Wildcats dominated that season. “They began the season with a 96-84 victory over No. 15 Maryland, but followed that up with a disappointing 92-82 loss to No. 5 Massachusetts. That was the only loss they faced in the regular season, winning the next 25 games — 16 conference opponents and 3 ranked teams,” writes At The Buzzer

“Kentucky lost just two before the NCAA tournament and blasted through the first four rounds. Massachusetts “scared” UK in a 7-point Wildcat win, and Kentucky topped Syracuse by 9 to win it all,” adds SB nation

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  1. Where are the 1955 and 1956 U. of San Francisco Dons? 57-1 over 2 seasons, including a 56-0 won-loss stretch? Back-to-back NCAA titles, led by HOFers Bill Russell and KC Jones. But then again, Russell has always been under-valued in terms of “greatest ever lists.” I can hear it now: “Yeah, but he played at a time when…(pick your excuse).

    1. These are usually made up polls because of some person that has no clue. Where are the rest of the UCLA teams and like you said, Bill Russell’s teams. Any team with Russell and Alcindor would be in the top 5 since the other teams mentioned would be slaughtered if they would have played them.

  2. UCLA/ALCINDOR teams. Come on now! Who would win vs. The Walton team? All the others are behind these two! Anyone who knows basketball knows that! Not to mention the Wicks/ Rowe team. ALL 5 starters played in the NBA! All the others were definately good but not like these!!!

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