There are six teams viewed as the royalty of college basketball: Duke (4), Indiana (5), Kansas (3), Kentucky (8), North Carolina (5), and UCLA (11). The number in parentheses following each school’s name is their number of NCAA Tournament championships. Those six programs have combined to secure 36 of the 76 NCAA titles. They’ve also combined to be the national runner-up 23 times and ten of those losses came to one of the other schools on the list.
Each of those programs is in the top ten in all-time victories in college basketball and only Indiana is not in the top ten in Division I winning percentage. Four of the other five, in fact, are all in the top six in win percentage. The fifth and sixth teams? UNLV and Syracuse. (The Runnin’ Rebels, with 45 seasons in the books, have a much shorter Division One resume than the other schools in this discussion, who all have over 95 seasons in their respective record books). The Orange, who hopped in front of UCLA this season in winning percentage, is also fifth on that all-time wins list, having recently passed the 1,900-win plateau.
The Orange have a long and illustrious history, including a pair of national championships following the 1917-18 and 1925-26 seasons. And, no, Jim Boeheim was not even a player on those squads.
Syracuse has strung together a record 44 consecutive winning seasons.
SU’s list of accomplishments goes on and on: 37 NCAA Tournament appearances (7th all-time), five Final Fours (14th all-time), nine Elite Eights, 18 Sweet Sixteens, 11 Big East regular season titles, five Big East championships.
It has a head coach and two players enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Its list of All-Americans, at 41, is as long as your arm, and ten of those players have been consensus All-Americans. Ten jerseys have been retired and hang in the rafters of one of the most unique venues in college basketball – the Carrier Dome.
The Orange also recently moved from being the most dominant team in the Big East with 416 wins to another premier conference in college basketball, the ACC.
Is that enough to get Syracuse onto the list?
There are a couple other teams with multiple titles that are not among this sacred company – Connecticut and Louisville. The Huskies are the nouveau riche, having secured their fourth tournament championships in the last 16 seasons earlier this month.
The Cardinals have a strong claim, as well, having won a pair of championships in the 1980’s, then tacking on their third last season. Louisville also stands 11th in all-time victories and tenth in win percentage. Their claim is legitimate.
Half a dozen teams have also won a pair of titles. Four of them combined for their championships at least 30 years ago and, as a result, are not in the discussion. The other two, Florida and Michigan State, seem to be legitimately in this discussion.
The Gators, in spite of just adding another Final Four appearance to their resume, lack the long-term success to be involved. Even with their continued strong play this season, they will stand 88th in all-time victories and that is not due to being a newcomer to the sport. Florida has been playing basketball since 1921. While the Gators have won 20 or more games in each of their last 16 seasons, they have done it only five other times.
Michigan State, however, could also knock down the door on that select group. The Spartans moved up to 32nd in all-time wins this season and have left long stretches of mediocrity behind, having not finished with a losing record in 26 seasons and making their 17th straight NCAA Tournament this season.
Programs like Arizona, Michigan, and Ohio State can also make a case that they are deserving of being invited to this second group.
Syracuse has the one big roadblock in their way, which is their lack of multiple NCAA Tournament titles.
The Orange have been nothing short of sensational in recent years. Their cumulative record of the last five seasons is 149-32, good for a winning percentage of .823. They have landed atop the AP poll in three of those five years and the other two saw them ascend to as high as #3 in the country.
They have had a couple close shaves in that time, as well. Last season, a charging call kept them from a possible shot at a second tourney championship. Had they advanced and won the title, it also would have also kept Louisville from their third tournament title. Also in these last five years, Arinze Onuaku’s knee injury derailed the 2009-2010 powerhouse team in the postseason and Fab Melo’s eligibility issues did the same two years later.
While the last five years have been as successful as any stretch in Orange history, save for the 2003 championship run (and that tournament success looks like an aberration, as the Orange had a 3-3 NCAA tourney record in the preceding four seasons and a 2-3 mark in the following five years), these “could-have-beens” leave SU outside the elite of college basketball. Had Syracuse won any one of those rings, or any one in the future, the bluebloods’ number would be seven.