Best Division I Men’s Basketball Teams of the Last 20 Years

Penn State's players gather at mid-court before a basketball game
When trying to determine what makes a team “great” there is no single or simple answer. In college basketball, like so many other sports, there can be more to a team’s success and “greatness” than their regular season record and how many championships they’ve won.

Some teams like Jim Valvano’s 1982-83 University of North Carolina teams, were good teams that had a great streak at the right time. However, there are other teams that featured some of the most incredible talent in the game and never hit that hot streak.

Take the 1996-97 University of Kansas team for example, who had all the pieces of a championship squad, but in the end never managed to put together a championship title.

1999-00 Michigan State

While they might not have had the super-star qualities of Michigan State’s first national champions, the team from 2000 were incredibly talented players that played exquisite and exciting basketball. Tom Izzo’s team placed top in their conference with a record of 32-7 overall and 13-3 in conference play as a part of the Big Ten. They finished the season with a .813 winning percentage, which set the tone for how they would perform as the No. 2 seed going into the Big Ten Tournament. The 1999-2000 Michigan State team defeated Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois to bring home the championship title for the second year in a row – which secured them an automatic bid to the Division I men’s basketball tournament in March.

As the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region they were set up well to make a deep run in the March tournament, and they did exactly that. They defeated Valparaiso and Utah in the opening rounds of the competition to advance to the round of 16 where they faced off against Syracuse and Iowa State. The team took both of these games and advanced to the round of 4, where they played against their Big Ten rivals for the tournament Wisconsin and beat them to advance to the championship game. MSU defeated Florida in the final game to bring home their second National Championship, and Tom Izzo’s first.

2000-01 Duke

Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski potrait at Rio 2016 Olympic Games
There was no defense that could properly contain the offensive prowess of the 2000-01 Duke team. Mike Krzyzewski’s 21st season as head coach was one that he, or anyone, will not soon forget. Krzyzewski was ranked No. 1 as a coach, the team were ranked No. 1 in the AP Polls, and finished the regular season with a record of 35-4 overall and 13-3 in conference play. Duke started the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed coming out of the regular season. They met Maryland for the third time this season in the semifinal game which finished with a tight score of 84-82. Nate James came up clutch to secure the win for Duke by scoring a buzzer-beater with 1.3 seconds left on the clock. They went on to thrash UNC in the conference championship game 79-53 and earned themselves a No. 1 seed in the East region for the Division I men’s basketball tournament in March.

Duke were strong out of the gate in the March tournament winning their first game against Monmouth 95-52. This would set the tone for their tournament run, as no team could come close to defeating them. They played Missouri in the second round winning 94-81, then they played UCLA in the round of 16 and won 76-63. In the round of 8 teams they played against USC and beat them 76-63 and went on to the round of 4 where they met with Maryland and beat them 95-84. The championship final in 2001 was against the rank 5 Arizona University team and in the closest game of the tournament for Duke, with a difference of 10 points, Duke took home the win and the championship title by beating Arizona 82-72.

2003-04 UConn

UCONN Locker Room featuring Wolf Mascot
The 2003-04 University of Connecticut team in Division I men’s college basketball were coached by Jim Calhoun in his 18th season as head coach for UConn. Their regular season was a decent performance from the team which included some massive wins, some with score differences up to 50 points. That wasn’t the only massive difference between the teams, as the UConn team’s forwards were all 6’10’’ or taller, which helped them block a record of 315 shots in that year. They managed to finish their regular season with a record of 33-6 overall and 12-4 in conference play in the Big East. The team went into the Big East conference tournament as the No. 2 seed. They faced off against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals and managed to defeat them 66-58, they went on to face Villanova and won with a more convincing score of 84-67. The final game for the conference tournament championship was against Pittsburgh, and UConn managed to come through with the win 61-58, securing their 6th Big East conference title.

The team made quick work of their opposition in the Division I men’s basketball tournament in March in 2004. They played Vermont in the first round and won 70-53, then they went on to play DePaul and beat them 72-55, the tournament was off to a promising start. In the round of 16 UConn played Vanderbilt and beat them 73-53, and in the round of 8 they beat Alabama 87-71 to go on to the semifinals to face Duke. Duke proved to be more of a challenge, as UConn only managed to take the win by 1 point finishing 79-78. The championship match put UConn against Georgia Tech, who had knocked them out of the National Invitation Tournament in the preseason, so revenge was up for grabs as well as the championship title. The team put up a great game, managing to take the win 82-73 and claimed the title of champion.

2006-07 University of Florida

Al Horford and other University of Florida Basketball team members display Championship trophy
Billy Donovan’s squad boasted some big names, such as Lee Humphrey and two-time all-star Al Horford. After winning the March Division I basketball tournament in 2006, and losing none of their starters to the NBA, the 2007 Florida team was looking incredibly strong. They managed to go 35-5 overall and 13-3 in conference play in their regular season, finishing No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference. They took on Georgia in round 2 of the SEC Championship and won 74-57. Round 3

The Florida team were heavy favorites going into the Division I men’s basketball tournament in March and faced Jackson State in the first round, beating them 112-69 – a dominating performance that set the tone for their games to come. Perdue were the next victims that would fall, and Florida finished with a score of 74-67. In the round of 16 Butler would be the next to fall, with Florida taking the win 65-57, and then in the quarter finals Florida beat Oregon 85-77 to move on to the semifinals where they would face UCLA. Even the No. 2 seed UCLA were no match for this team and the final score was 76-66. The only thing that stood between them and their second consecutive championship title was the No. 1 overall seed Ohio State. Florida managed to beat Ohio State 84-75 and brought the second ever national championship title home.

These aren’t the only great teams from the last 20 years to have performed incredibly well and played exquisite basketball in the March Division I basketball tournament, and there will be another as we head into the tournament in 2020.

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