College Basketball’s blue bloods. The best programs to exist in men’s college basketball history, and teams that are expected to compete at the highest level each and every season. They are Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, and UCLA.
For those who deem Indiana a blue blood, they are not. Their colors are red and white, not blue.
Blue Bloods used to own the sport, winning championships, competing in Final Fours, and dominating their conferences. But as the new era of college basketball dawns on us, old coaches leaving, and new programs on the rise, who could take over for these 5 schools as the new bloods? We take a deep dive into the most successful, non-blue-blood programs in recent history, and determine their future of storied success.
Villanova (Big East)
Head coach Jay Wright took over Nova basketball in 2001, and after he figured it out after three seasons, they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament each year but one since 2005.
In that time frame, they have been to seven Sweet 16’s, three Final Four’s, and they’ve won two National Championships. The Wildcats have finished top of the Big East, one of college basketball’s best conferences, seven times in the last eight years.
In fact, the one time they didn’t win the regular-season Big East title, they finished second, with a record of 14-4, and then won the National Championship. In those eight years, they’ve won the conference tournament a whopping six times as well.
They don’t necessarily recruit the top-ranked guys, but they get the guys they know will fit their system. They play beautiful fundamental basketball, and Jay Wright has become a Hall of Famer, with no desire to leave for an NBA job. Nova has a culture that has been built since Rollie Massimino took over in the ’70s, and Jay Wright has made this program an absolute powerhouse.
Gonzaga (West Coast Conference)
The ‘Zags hadn’t even made the NCAA Tournament until 1995, by then of course most of the blue bloods had already won the whole thing multiple times.
In 1993 longtime coach Dan Fitzgerald figured out how to win, and what ensued was a run of six years where they made the NCAA Tournament twice, won the conference regular-season four times, and even made the Elite Eight as a 10 seed.
After just two years in Spokane, head coach Dan Monson left for Minneapolis to coach the Gophers, and in came Mark Few, a Gonzaga assistant who inherited one of the fastest rising mid-major programs. Few turned them into a powerhouse, quickly.
In his first two seasons, the mid-major made the Sweet 16, an incredible accomplishment. In his 23 seasons at the helm, Few has won the regular-season title an incredible 21 times, finishing second twice.
They’ve made March Madness all 23 years. In 10 years Gonzaga has made the second weekend of the tournament, and recently he has gotten over the hump of making it to a Final Four, where he lost the National Championship twice.
Gonzaga hasn’t won a title quite yet, but they are getting ever closer to glory, and Few has made Gonzaga a perennial powerhouse in the rankings, and now, in recruiting. Gonzaga has transformed the West Coast Conference into a top mid-major destination, and it doesn’t sound like Gonzaga has any plans of moving to a bigger conference anytime soon.
Michigan State (Big 10)
Michigan State has a long storied history, with success first debuting in the mid to late ‘50s. They went a while without consistent winning until an Elite Eight appearance followed by a National Championship in 1979.
Though pretty consistent success remained, top-tier winning didn’t really start at the highest level until current coach Tom Izzo was hired in 1995. His first two years were rough, but that was followed by four straight Big 10 regular-season titles. In those four seasons they made the Sweet 16 all four times, three Final Fours, and one National Title.
In 26 full seasons of coaching the Spartans, Izzo has led the Spartans to the Tournament in 24 straight seasons and is on pace for a 25th straight. Six Final Fours and 10 regular-season titles, Izzo has turned MSU into one of the top programs year in and year out.
Michigan (Big 10)
The Wolverines have had success throughout their entire history pretty much, but were never considered a blue blood. After Steve Fisher’s success ran out in Ann Arbor, and Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker failed to make the NCAA Tournament in nine consecutive seasons, it was out with the old and in with the new.
In 2007 John Beilein was hired and within two years they were back in the postseason. It took him six years to get past the first weekend in March, but when he did, he led UMich to the National Title game, where they were defeated by Rick Pitino’s Louisville (who would’ve been on this list if not for their recent violation problems).
Beilein again led his team to the final game of the season, where in 2018 they were soundly defeated by Jay Wright’s Villanova. With former player Juwan Howard now at the helm, continued success has occurred. Qualifying for March Madness in 10 of the last 12 instances, Michigan b-ball is back, ready to add on to their one National Title.
Baylor (Big 12)
The effect of Scott Drew on this program has been immense. If you follow college basketball at all, you’ve likely heard all the crazy statistics about this Bears program.
Before Drew took over, they were garbage, and that’s putting it lightly. From 1989 to 2003, they made zero NCAA tournament appearances, and just two NIT appearances, where they lost in the first round both times. Scott Drew, in his one season as a head coach prior to Baylor was at Valparaiso, where he won the regular-season conference championship.
So when Baylor hired him to head up a power five program, there were some doubts. And there were indeed struggles.
Baylor won no more than four conference games in any of his first four seasons. Drew was on the hot seat.
But he persisted, promising success. The 2007-2008 season was historic for Baylor: their first winning season in conference play and first NCAA Tournament berth since 1988.
Though they were eliminated in round one, Drew wasn’t finished. 2 seasons later they went to the Elite 8, and they followed that up with five tournament appearances in seven seasons. The program hadn’t seen that type of consistent winning since the mid-’40s.
Finally, in his 18th season as head coach, Drew and the Baylor Bears won the regular-season conference title, finished 28-2, and won the National Championship. For Drew, it has been consistent success, and newfound winning in the recruiting game as well. Baylor and the culture that Drew formed are here to stay.
Read about some of the less consistent teams in this college basketball season.
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