5 Most Storied College Basketball Programs
College basketball is one of those sports where if you’re good, you’re probably going to be good for a long time. There is a list of bluebloods in the sport that are seemingly in contention for the NCAA title year after year, and even new entries into the upper echelon like Gonzaga that went from being a one-time cinderella team to a top-level basketball team.
With that in mind, which programs have the most storied success throughout college basketball history? We have five in mind that rise above the rest as the most storied programs. Before we get into the list, some of the honorable mentions that just missed the cut include Indiana, Louisville, Villanova, UConn, and Syracuse.
There are college basketball fans that are in their 50s right now that haven’t seen a decade without Kansas making it to the Final Four. The Jayhawks are one of the most illustrious programs in college basketball and have consistently won their conference no matter what it is. They’ve called the Big 12 their home for many years, routinely taking home the regular season championship.
All in all, the Kansas Jayhawks rank third in terms of most NCAA Tournament appearances and won their first two national titles in the pre-tournament days. Since the tournament’s inception, Kansas has won four titles, with the first coming in 1952. They added championships in 1988, 2008, and 2022, moving them up to sixth all-time.
Many forget that prior to Mike Krzyzewski becoming the coach of the Duke Blue Devils that the team was in that “good, but not great” category. Once Coach K took over, though, Duke became a powerhouse program that hasn’t looked back. Duke had reached the Final Four several times before Coach K, but they became regulars starting in the late 1980s.
The Blue Devils have won the NCAA Tournament five times, all of which have come since 1991, the year after Duke finished as the country’s runner-up for the fourth time. Duke is fifth all-time in terms of NCAA Tournament appearances and has won their conference more than two dozen times during the regular season. In a conference as prestigious as the ACC, that’s quite the accomplishment. Duke has also routinely put players into the NBA, with more than two dozen on pro rosters during the 2022-23 NBA season alone.
3. North Carolina
We go from one North Carolina school to its biggest rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC is the home for legendary players like James Worthy, Vince Carter, and, of course, Michael Jordan. The Tar Heels were coached by Dean Smith for more than 35 years, and after some hiccups, had the great Roy Williams at the helm for nearly two decades.
Throughout UNC history, the program has made more NCAA Tournament appearances than any other team besides one that we’ll get to in just a moment. The school has made 12 appearances in the NCAA Championship, winning six titles in the process, which is good enough for third all-time.
The Kentucky Wildcats are one of the original bluebloods of college basketball, winning multiple championships even prior to World War II. When the NCAA Tournament got its start, Kentucky was right there in contention and made it to the Final Four three times during the 1940s. The team hasn’t slowed down since then, reaching the end of the bracket at least once in every decade except for the 2000s.
It seemed like the luster of Kentucky was starting to wear off during that time, but the team hired coach John Calipari and has remained one of the most relevant programs in basketball. No team has more NCAA Tournament appearances than Kentucky, and only one team has more than the eight championships that the Wildcats have won.
While the UCLA Bruins might not carry the same luster that they once did, the history of the program is impossible for anyone to catch up with at this point. Under the tutelage of the great John Wooden, UCLA basketball became a powerhouse, winning 11 championships during his more than quarter-century with the program.
UCLA was also able to win another title in their post-Wooden era, doing so in 1995 under Jim Harrick. UCLA’s 11 titles are more than any other school by a long shot, and they’ve made the Final Four in all but one decade (2010s) since the 1960s. They rank fourth in NCAA Tournament appearances, but it’s the title wins that set them apart.