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!
*** *** ***
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.
5. Kansas – 2007-08
For all of their talent — future NBA players Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush — this Jayhawks team was overlooked by Memphis and UNC all year. They won 37 games, lost only three and were a No. 1 seed in the tournament. But they barely slipped by Stephen Curry and Davidson to reach the Final Four, and so critics had their fuel, dismissing them as another overrated Kansas team, a school notorious for getting upset in the big games. So what happened? They absolutely blitzed UNC in the Final Four, winning by 18 in a game that was never even that close. Then they went on to shock Memphis. When this team was on, like they were in the national semifinal against the Heels, they were impressive. Think about this: Carolina was ranked No. 1 for much of the season and featured a team that would roll to a championship the following year… and they trailed Kansas 40-12 at one point in that game.
4. North Carolina – 2004-2005
This was one of the most special Tar Heel teams to ever play at Chapel Hill. This squad had a tremendous amount of talent and played to the high expectations placed on them. The team that ended the famous 2005 Fighting Illni winning streak included a load of superstar talent in Raymond Felton, Marvin Williams, Rashad McCants and Sean May, all of them first-round picks and all of them looking like future pro stars (at least while they were in college). They went 33-4 under Roy Williams, and completed a turnaround that started after the 2001â€“02 season, when the Tar Heels finished an embarrassing 8â€“20 under Matt Doherty.
3. Kentucky – 2011-2012
This national champion Kentucky team, led by John Calipari’s freshmen, ended a 14-year title absence in their program. Before this period, the last time Kentucky won a championship was in 1998 under Tubby Smith. This squad did not only have six players go to the draft, but it was also the first time in history that two players were taken as the first two picks in the NBA Draft (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). This was also the first time Calipari was under scrutiny for starting three freshmen in his lineup, despite those three (Davis, MKG and Marquis Teague) coming in as the top ranked players at their position. Kentucky’s 2012 team proved that freshmen can win through valiant effort, ferocious defense and buying into the system. The ‘Cats were tested over and over again in the tournament and yet came through every time, relying on huge contributions from “veterans” like Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones and the otherworldly abilities of 2012 National Player of the Year and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Anthony Davis. This team didn’t drop out of the top three in the rankings all season.
2. North Carolina – 2008-09
As good as UNC’s 2005 title-winning team was, they might’ve been even better in ’09, featuring a lineup that included the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Wayne Ellington, college monster Tyler Hansbrough, role players Danny Green and Ed Davis, and future NBA star Ty Lawson. They even had future NBA player Tyler Zeller as well, only he got injured and played in just 15 games. This team was literally unstoppable. A year after a shocking Final Four defeat against Kansas, all of the star players returned and the rest of college basketball felt their wrath as the Heels reeled off six straight wins to win the championship, winning those games by 43, 14, 21, 12, 14 and 17 points. They scored nearly 90 points per game on the season and finished 34-4.
1. Florida – 2006-2007
Without a shadow of doubt, this Florida Gator team is the best college basketball team of the decade. Even though they won the NCAA championship the year before, all five starters returned to repeat. Led by Al Horford, Corey Brewer and the heart and hustle of Joakim Noah, this team inserted dominance in every single game. The Gators went on to a 35-5 record, won their third SEC regular season title and outscored opponents by 17.5 points a game while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor.
This team had perhaps the best starting five we had seen in a while. Corey Brewer was an athletic forward who could lockdown and defend any position. Then you have floor general Taurean Green who held the group together, along with sharpshooter Lee Humphrey. Lastly, the most popular player on this Florida team was Joakim Noah. Noah was known for having huge heart and relentless passion, which was the driving force behind the team’s success. This Florida Gators team will go down with some of the greatest and most recognizable college basketball teams in history.
What was the best college team of the past decade?
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @DrewTheAbstract.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.