Top 10 Universities with the Strongest Basketball Programs

A game ball sits on court the day prior to the start of the 2016 National Collegiate Men's Basketball Tournament
The National Collegiate Division 1 has 200 college basketball teams based across the US. From this group, 68 teams are selected for the knockout tournament. This ensures that the best college basketball teams have an opportunity to battle it out for the championship title.

The tournament has been running since 1939, and over this period of time, some teams have proven themselves to be the top National Collegiate basketball programs in the US. If it were down to the fans, each team would claim to be the best.

The March College Basketball Tournament brings out the passion in almost all basketball fans, and the madness can lead to team biases. This is part of the reason why sports betting fans find it difficult to build accurate brackets. Thankfully, the stats help us to decipher who truly has the best college basketball programs.

The main factors to look out for are titles won, last four teams round made, impressive alumni, and how the team has fared over the last decade to the present day. Weighing all of these together helps to show not only who has the best history, but also who is currently strongest. Here are the top 10 universities with the strongest basketball programs.

10: Villanova

Villanova has been a consistently good basketball team throughout the history of the March College Basketball Tournament. They might not have the successes to boot, but certainly have a glowing reputation as one of the best college basketball programs.

Villanova has been one of the best teams in recent years. They have won three championships, in 1985, 2016 and 2018. The university looks like it has finally found its championship winning edge with the recent titles.

Villanova has had some excellent alumni in Kerry Kittles, Chris Ford, Wali Jones and Paul Arizin. Arizin is an NBA Hall of Famer and has been heralded as one of the 50 greatest all-time players.

This season, Villanova are sitting third in the Big East. They will certainly make the March College Basketball Tournament after the teams are selected on the allocated Sunday. Having missed out on the last four teams round last season, they will want to bounce back this March.

9: Indiana University Bloomington

For younger college basketball fans, you might be surprised that Indiana University Bloomington have made the top 10. After all, they have only made the last four teams, once, in the last twenty years. Up until the early 1990s, Indiana was an ever present force in college basketball. Indiana might have been misfiring recently, but looking back over the history of the tournament will help to appreciate how big a program Indiana is.

Impressively, Indiana has won five National Collegiate titles. These came in 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987. These five titles put Indiana joint fourth overall for most National Collegiate titles in the tournament’s history.

They have also been in eight rounds of the last four teams. These came in 1940, 1953, 1973, 1976, 1981, 1987, 1992 and 2002. When looking at these dates, you can see their dominance in the 1970s and 1980s.

Unsurprisingly, Indiana has produced some truly great players. Walt Bellamy, George McInnis, Isiah Thomas, and recently Victor Oladipo, are all excellent players. Isiah Thomas is perhaps the most acclaimed player, winning two NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990.

Indiana University Bloomington fans will be hoping for a return to form in the coming years. This season, they still have an outside chance of being seeded when teams are selected on Sunday, March 15th. If so, it might produce the cup run needed to re-invigorate the giant.

8: Ohio State

Ohio State may have only made the last four teams round, twice in the last two decades, but historically there are very few teams who match their record. Ohio State was strong in the 1940s and 1960s, but crucially they struggled to turn the dominance into championships.

Ohio State has only won one National Collegiate championship. This came in 1960. That being said, they have also been losing finalists four times, in 1939, 1961, 1962, and recently in 2007. The fact that they made three finals in a row, from 1960-1963 shows their dominance.

Ohio State is also one of only seven teams to have appeared in 10 or more last four teams’ rounds. This is in spite of the fact that the 1999 last four teams appearance was vacated over their recruitment practices. This puts them sixth, overall, for last four teams appearances.

There have been some notable players who played for Ohio State, including John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas, D’Angelo Russel and Mike Conley Jr.

This season, Ohio State is midtable in a tough Big Ten conference. Despite this, they are still on course for seeding on Sunday, March 15th. Though, they might not be in many March College Basketball Tournament picks, just yet.

7: University of Louisville

University of Louisville guard Peyton Siva dribbling basketball
University of Louisville is certainly one of the best college basketball teams, but have made headlines for the wrong reasons at times. They’ve had two, last four teams, appearances (2012 and 2013) and one title (2013) vacated due to offering illegal benefits.

On the court, Louisville has one of the greatest National Collegiate rivalries with Kentucky. At the moment, Kentucky has had more success, but the quality on the court is undoubted. It is one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball.

In terms of overall success, University of Louisville has won two titles, in 1980 and 1986, and appeared in eight last four teams’ rounds. For this reason, Louisville is heralded to have one of the best college programs.

Over the years, the University of Louisville has produced great players. These star players include Darrel Griffith, Wes Unseld, Pervis Ellison, and recently Damion Lee and Montrezl Harrell.

This season, the University of Louisville looks set to top the Atlantic Coast conference. They could certainly have interesting March College Basketball Tournament odds to make it to the last four teams this year.


For many, UCLA is still one of the best college basketball teams, in-spite of them not making it to the last four teams in a decade. The main reason why so many revere UCLA is thanks to their dominance throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It is an era that is yet to be matched in college basketball. During this period, UCLA won ten National Collegiate championships. This has made them all time title leaders. The 11th championship in 1995 only served to strengthen this legacy.

UCLA has amassed 17 last four teams appearances (the 1980 appearance subsequently vacated). This included a resurgence in the 2000’s, when they appeared in three last four teams rounds.

UCLA alumni include some of the biggest names in basketball. Names like Bill Walton, Reggie Miller, the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and recently, Russell Westbrook.

This season, UCLA has ended the season in excellent form. They should be automatic qualifiers for the March College Basketball Tournament. If the bubble doesn’t burst, they could be one the more astute March College Basketball Tournament picks.

5: Michigan State

Statue of former basketball star Earvin Magic Johnson at Michigan State University
From number 6, the top National Collegiate basketball programs will seem more apparent. Michigan State has had an excellent past two decades. They might not have the successful earlier years, but are certainly one of the best college basketball programs.
Michigan State has won two championships, in 1979 and 2000. They have also been to 10 last four teams rounds. This makes them joint sixth overall for the last four teams appearances.

Michigan State alumni also draw from the biggest names in the NBA. These include Tom Izzo, Draymond Green and of course, Magic Johnson. Johnson was part of the 1979 championship winning team.

This season, Michigan State looks set for seeding on Sunday, March 15th. They currently sit second in the Big Ten conference. Having made it to the last four teams last season, they will certainly be in many March College Basketball Tournament picks.

4: Duke

Duke is well-recognized as one of the best college basketball teams. Their record really picked up from the 1990s and today, they are one of the biggest of any conference.

Duke has won five titles, in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015. This puts them fourth overall. They have also appeared in an impressive 16 last four teams’ rounds.

Duke alumni include the likes of Elton Brand, Jeff Mullins, Quin Cook, Zion Williamson and Christian Laettner. Cook has won an NBA title with the Warriors in 2018.

This season, Duke sits fourth in the Atlantic Coast conference, but will certainly be in the March College Basketball Tournament after teams are selected on Sunday, March 15th.

3: University of Kansas

The University of Kansas has been a great side throughout the National Collegiate tournament’s inception. As such, they fully deserve their reputation as one of the top National Collegiate basketball programs.

Kansas has won three titles, in 1952, 1988 and 2008. They have also been in 15 last four teams’ rounds. These appearances have been spread out from 1940 to 2018. This season, they look like they could add another title to their tally.

Kansas has had some excellent players wearing the jersey. These include Danny Manning, Clyde Lovellette, Frank Mason and the great Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain only played 48 games for Kansas before leaving for the Globetrotters.

Kansas are the March College Basketball Tournament odds on favorites to go all the way this year. If the off-field allegations come to a conclusion, it could be another great season for Kansas.

2: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Marvin Williams, a North Carolina men's basketball player
The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, narrowly, missed out on a top spot. They have been a consistent powerhouse in the tournament and have brought through some of the greatest players.

North Carolina has won six titles, in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017. They also boast an unbelievable 20 last four teams appearances. This is the most of any team in the National Collegiate tournament.

Their alumni is also one of the best and includes Tyler Hansbrough, James Worthy and all-time great Michael Jordan. This season, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill might not make it to the March College Basketball Tournament, which would be a shock to everyone. They will certainly bounce back next season.

1: University of Kentucky

Kentucky’s mix of success, knockout performances, player development and recent form makes them the best basketball program in the National Collegiate.

Kentucky has won 8 titles, placing them second overall behind UCLA. These titles came in 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012. They have also made a 17 last four teams, tied second overall, behind UNC Chapel Hill.

Their alumni also boasts one of the best current NBA players, Anthony Davis. Davis is joined by DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Jamal Mashburn as Kentucky players who dominated in the NBA.

This season, an early upset to Evansville might mean that Kentucky misses out on a No. 1 seed, on the Sunday, when selections take place. Make no mistake though, they are one of the favorites.

As the March College Basketball Tournament begins, the brackets will be completed. Sports betting fans will be nervously comparing their brackets, hoping they selected the best college basketball teams to progress towards the championship.