The very first NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament took place in 1939 when the University of Oregon defeated Ohio State 46-33 and unknowingly jumpstarted the beloved American tradition of college basketball. In its over-80-year history, the NCAA basketball tournament has hosted teams from all corners of the country, entertaining fans of all ages with impressive athleticism and nail-biting final buzzers. No matter who you root for, there’s no denying that certain teams have left a lasting impact on college basketball.
With impressive winning streaks, unbelievable turnovers, and endlessly entertaining athleticism, these 10 teams earned their titles as the most notable NCAA men’s basketball teams of all time.
10. NC State Wolfpack 1973-74
The 1974 NCAA men’s college basketball tournament had a lasting impact on the sport and its fans. The unassuming NC State Wolfpack defeated the UCLA Bruins for the national title, effectively ending their seven-year championship streak and stunning fans everywhere. Coach Norm Sloan had done an impressive job leading his team on a path to victory, with a 29-1 season record. Ironically enough, NC State’s only loss that season would be to the UCLA Bruins.
They ultimately beat the Bruins when it mattered most in a double-overtime game, winning the semifinal game 80-77 and progressing to the finals. Star player David Thompson scored 21 points in the final game, cinching the win for the Wolfpack and sending shockwaves throughout the sports community.
9. Kentucky Wildcats 2011-12
As the most recent team on the list, the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats are a perfect example of how teams loaded with talent can annihilate their competition. An astounding six players from this team went on to have careers playing in the NBA, including star player Anthony Davis and his teammates Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague. Led by coach John Calipari, the team maintained an impressive 30-1 performance in the regular season.
The Wildcats went on to win the entire NCAA tournament against the Kansas Jayhawks with a score of 67-59, making this Kentucky’s eighth championship title and capping off an unforgettable 38-2 season.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels 1956-57
The North Carolina Tar Heels has one of the richest histories in the world of college basketball, with their dominance in the sport going all the way back to their first NCAA tournament win in 1957. Coach Frank McGuire led the team through an impressive 31-0 season, although public opinion still favored the Kansas Jayhawks to take home the championship title. Senior forward Lennie Rosenbluth led the team in points, scoring an average of 28 points per game throughout the season.
The tournament came to a nail-biting finish when the Tar Heels ultimately defeated the Jayhawks in a triple-overtime game, winning 54-53 and marking an intense end to a perfect 32-0 season.
7. UCLA Bruins 1967-68
At last, the UCLA Bruins make the list, although it won’t be their only appearance. The 1967-68 team’s performance captivated basketball fans around the world, and they won their fourth NCAA championship title under coach John Wooden. The season’s most popular discourse surrounded UCLA’s highly publicized loss to the Houston Cougars, ending an unbelievable 47-game winning streak. Despite this loss, the Bruins came back stronger than ever, annihilating the Cougars 101-69 at the Final Four and winning the entire tournament against the North Carolina Tar Heels 78-55 with a nearly perfect season performance of 29-1.
6. Kentucky Wildcats 1995-96
The Kentucky Wildcats have been a consistent force throughout college basketball history, producing an impressive number of NBA players and taking home multiple national titles, including their win in 1996. An unprecedented nine players from the ’95-96 Wildcats lineup went on to play for the NBA, including Tony Delk, Derek Anderson, Mark Pope, and Antoine Walker. With such a strong roster, it’s no surprise that the Wildcats had one of the highest scoring averages in the country.
Coach Rick Pitino led the all-star team to victory against Syracuse 76-67, earning the program its sixth NCAA championship in a 34-2 season. In 2012, the Wildcats would prove to have another all-star team, which also introduced various players to the NBA.
5. UCLA Bruins 1966-67
Once again, the UCLA Bruins make the list of the top men’s basketball teams in NCAA history with their undefeated 1966-67 season. Head coach John Wooden led his team to victory, earning them the first of what would be seven consecutive national titles. At 7 feet and 2 inches tall, star player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, used his almighty stature and athletic abilities to average an impressive 29 points per game, while teammates Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackelford, and Mike Warren also contributed to the team’s success.
Ultimately, the Bruins took home the title against the Dayton Flyers, winning 79-64 and capping off a perfect 30-0 season. Oh, and if you think this is the last time you’ll be seeing the UCLA Bruins on this list, think again.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels 1981-82
It’s hard to capture in words how popular the 1981-82 Tar Heels were. They had Michael Jordan, for crying out loud, along with that year’s No. 1 draft pick, James Worthy. Despite being a freshman, Michael Jordan would clearly achieve greatness, as evidenced by his impressive gameplay. Hall of fame Coach Dean Smith earned his reputation as one of the best coaches of all time during this season, providing just the right strategy and leadership to bring his team to victory when it mattered most.
While they certainly had some close games throughout the season, the Tar Heels overcame the top-ranked Georgetown Hoyas in a nail-biting final game, winning the championship title 63-62, and capping off an iconic 32-2 season.
3. Duke Blue Devils 1991-92
There are certain teams that come to mind when you talk about college basketball, and the Duke Blue Devils are definitely one of them. The 1992 team, led by Coach Mike Krzyzewski, earned the distinction of being the first team to win the NCAA championship repeatedly since UCLA, solidifying their spot in college basketball history. They 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.
2. Indiana Hoosiers 1975-76
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. 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 where players Scott May, Quinn Buckner, and Kent Benson led the team to victory, with the Hoosiers beating Michigan 86-68.
1. UCLA Bruins 1971-72
If you know anything about college basketball, it’s probably no surprise that the top spot on this list goes to none other than the UCLA Bruins, specifically the 1971-72 team. The team effortlessly dominated opponents, beating them by an average of 30 points per game. Iconic head coach John Wooden led this team to a 30-0 record, culminating in an NCAA national championship and their eighth time winning the title in nine years.
Star player Bill Walton, who was just a sophomore, took home every Player of the Year award that season, showing just how respected his athletic prowess was. He worked alongside other notable teammates like Jamaal Wilkes and Henry Bibby to beat the Florida State Seminoles 81-76, providing the perfect end to an unforgettable season.
Support Your Favorite College Team With Apparel From Fanatics
Basketball continues to be one of the United States’ most enduring exports, with leagues all over the world. With such an impressive set of teams, it’s no wonder why college basketball has continued to entrance millions of fans stateside and around the globe for over 80 years. There’s nothing better than cheering on your favorite team, whether you’re doing so from the comfort of your couch or on the stands in your home arena, as they make their journey toward victory at the NCAA championships.
No matter where you cheer them on from, you can show your support for your college basketball team by wearing officially licensed sports apparel from Fanatics. Choose from a wide selection of jerseys, T-shirts, hoodies, hats, sports gear, and memorabilia to find the perfect gift for the sports-obsessed people in your life. Fanatics also carries sports gear and collectibles from other leagues, including the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL, so that every sports enthusiast can support their favorite teams in style.