ESPN recently ranked this year’s Sweet 16 teams based on tradition. The list ranked teams by looking at their winning tradition in college basketball, using both recent and historical track records as a guide, specifically: NCAA tournament appearances, National championships, Final Fours, All-time program icon (player), All-time program icon (coach), and NBA players (all time, active rosters).
For some of these teams, the Sweet 16 is but a blip on the radar, while pursuing the ultimate prize: a national title. But for others, merely making it to the second weekend of the tournament is a significant feat.
It comes as no surprise that a team that is making only their second-ever Sweet 16 appearance would come in at No. 16. The Virginia Tech Hokies have now made it to the dance three straight seasons, which is the first time they’ve accomplished this in school history. In just their 11th NCAA Tournament appearance, the Hokies boast zero national championships, or even Final Fours.
As for Nos. 15-4, the rankings go as follows: Texas Tech Red Raiders, Auburn Tigers, Oregon Ducks, Florida State Seminoles, Tennessee Volunteers, LSU Tigers, Houston Cougars, Purdue Boilermakers, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Virginia Cavaliers, Michigan Wolverines, and Michigan State Spartans.
The reason I skipped through these teams is because there’s not much to see. Outside of Michigan and MSU, the rest of the group combines for just one national championship: Oregon...in 1939. Add in the Wolverines and Spartans and we come to a total of four titles. That’s half the number UK has alone and only one has come this century.
So, we will move on accordingly to the top three. The Duke Blue Devils come in at No. 3. Their success includes: 43 NCAA tournament appearances, five National championships (2015, 2010, 2001, 1992, 1991), and 16 Final Fours (seasons above, plus 2004, 1999, 1994, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1986, 1978, 1966, 1964, 1963). Their All-time program icon (player) is Christian Laettner and the All-time program icon (coach) is obviously Mike Krzyzewski. All in all, the Blue Devils have 81 NBA players all-time and current.
One thing to note about Duke is that the Blue Devils have reached the Final Four only twice in the past 14 years. Of course, they won the title in both years, but for a perennial title contender, that number seems small. That’s because they’ve been upset in the early rounds quite often (see South Carolina, Lehigh, and Mercer).
Coming in at No. 2 is the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC boasts 50 NCAA tournament appearances, six National championships (2017, 2009, 2005, 1993, 1982, 1957), and 20 Final Fours (seasons above, plus 2016, 2008, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1995, 1991, 1981, 1977, 1972, 1969, 1968, 1967, 1946). Their All-time program icon (player) is none other than Michael Jordan. And their All-time program icon (coach) is of course Dean Smith. The Tar Heels also have 94 total NBA players.
And finally, we get to the greatest college basketball program of all time. The Kentucky Wildcats rank No. 1. Their numbers are gaudy, including 59 NCAA tournament appearances, eight National championships (2012, 1998, 1996, 1978, 1958, 1951, 1949, 1948), and 17 Final Fours (seasons above, plus 2015, 2014, 2011, 1997, 1993, 1984, 1975, 1966, 1942). The All-time program icon (player) is Dan Issel, which is hard to disagree with. And the All-time program icon (coach) is the namesake of the home of Kentucky basketball, Adolph Rupp. Lastly, the Cats boast 111 NBA players all time.
If UK fails to reach the Final Four this season, the drought will reach four years after previously making four appearances in five seasons from 2010-11 to 2014-15. Let’s hope PJ Washington comes back healthy, so we can continue adding to that total.