The best college basketball teams of the decade is a debate that can take forever to hash out, depending on how you define best. When people think of best their first thought is probably always going to be championships. Although that is a great indicator, should that be the only measuring stick to judge the quality of a team and the lasting impression it left on a decade?
When considering an elite program, there should be many factors taken into account, from wins to teams capturing the hearts of fans through adversity, and everything in-between. That said, here at Dime I created a list of the top 10 NCAA basketball teams of the past decade. So sit back and try doing your best Dick Vitale impersonation, because it’s about to go down, baby!
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10. St. Joseph’s – 2003-2004
St. Joseph’s legendary run in the 2003-2004 season was one of the most memorable moments in college basketball. This team was led by two NBA-level guards in Jameer Nelson, who later became the National Player of the Year, and Delonte West. Led by two elite guards, St. Joseph’s went 27-0 during the regular season and made it to the Elite Eight. This team was definitely a team to remember, finishing the regular season with the nation’s No. 1 ranking and eventually being named by Sports Illustrated as the best single-season team of the decade. This team was a part of one of the greatest second half comebacks in college basketball history.
They’d go on to lose in the final seconds to Oklahoma State in a regional final, but even before both Nelson and West became first-round picks, the Hawks’ legacy was secured.
9. Duke – 2003-2004
Led by the leadership of Chris Duhon and Luol Deng, this Duke team returned to the Final Four for the 10th time in 19 years. Deng emerged as the team’s best defender, and J.J. Redick became the squad’s biggest scorer, dropping in nearly 16 points a game as the Blue Devils went 31-6. Despite making it to the Final Four, they would lose to the eventual national champs from UConn by one point after blowing a late lead. Even though they lost, this one of the best teams Mike Krzyzewski had in the last 10 years, with future NBA players like Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph and Daniel Ewing to go along with the aforementioned names.
8. UConn – 2003-2004
This Connecticut Huskies team had one of the biggest frontlines to date with Emeka Okafor, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva. They were dominant, deep and super talented, and had experience to boot. Okafor was, without a doubt, the best big man in college basketball, and one of the most dominant of the past decade.
Although, the interior was great this team really went to the next level when outside shooter Ben Gordon exploded in postseason play. Ben Gordon averaged 18.5 points a game and handed out 4.5 assist a night, but saved his best moments for the biggest games, scoring 21 in the championship game and putting up at least 29 three times in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Okafor, the defensive menace, broke the school record in blocks with 441.
7. Memphis – 2007-2008
This was arguably the best team we saw this decade that did not win a championship. The first few years that John Calipari introduced his dribble-drive motion offense, it didn’t quite measure up. But once he got the right players, led by future No. 1 pick Derrick Rose and All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts, they catapulted to the national stage. While on their road to the NCAA Tournament, they broke the record for most wins in a single season, previously held by the Fighting Illni at 38. This team was just free throws away from cementing their history in books, and despite not winning a championship they are still considered one of the best.
Yes, their wins were later vacated, but the team did go 38-2 and started off 26-0. They lost a game at Tennessee, which was ranked No. 2 at the time, and later blew the national championship to the Jayhawks after leading by nine with barely two minutes to go.
6. Illinois – 2004-2005
Do the names Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head, Roger Powell Jr. and James Augustine ring a bell? If so, you remember the 2005 Fighting Illini. Similar to Memphis, they nearly went undefeated and yet lost the national championship. This team tied the record for the most wins one season that year with 37, a record that was later broken by Memphis (and subsequently vacated) and then Kentucky. Led by the three-pronged perimeter attack of Williams, Head and Brown, they lost just one game all year before the championship: a one-point loss at Ohio State. Their 15-point comeback against Arizona in the NCAA Tournament was arguably one of the best tournament performances of all time and it reflected their never-say-die attitude. Their season culminated in a loss to North Carolina, which wasn’t too shabby of a team, either. Despite that loss, you couldn’t make this list with the ’05 Illini.