Introducing the 50 in 50 series

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
8:59
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How does one even begin to objectively rank the most successful college basketball programs of the past half-century?

That's the question some members of ESPN's Stats & Information Group huddled on this summer in an attempt to expand upon the work done four years ago in the first Prestige Rankings.

First, the basics: Awarding "prestige points" is highly skewed toward NCAA tournament success. That's the barometer fans hold their players and coaches to, and we did the same. Advance further in the Big Dance and your point total rises exponentially, with an NCAA crown bringing in 25 points.

Don't fret: Regular seasons count, too. Win at least a share of your conference's title and you got five points. (Don't worry, independents; if you finished the final AP poll ahead of two major-conference champions, you got credit.) Conference tourney titles (read: automatic bids) are worth three points. Same rules apply to independents for those, too.

To account for the shorter seasons in the 1960s and '70s, a major improvement over the previous ranking is that we now look at a team's season win percentage to award points, and not 20- and 30-win thresholds. Finishing with a win percentage greater than .800 earned that season's squad four points. Those finishing between .600 and .799 got two. And as we all know, a 6-23 season stings a lot worse than a 14-15 one, so we scaled the negative points there, too (under .350 equals a minus-4 while a percentage between .351 and .499 meant minus-2.)

There are other little perks in there that are pride points for programs. No. 1 seeds. First- or second-team consensus All-Americans. Top-10 NBA draft picks. First-round upsets over top-four seeds in the NCAA tournament. Postseason NIT titles. All are worth something.

And what about those moments schools would love to forget? NCAA sanctions or a season decimated by vacated wins? Like our college football Prestige Rankings from 2009, we used a sliding scale for the relative harshness of the different penalties. Any season with a vacated win was a minus-2. Same for a postseason ban and the dreaded "show cause" penalty. Varying penalties like TV bans, loss of financial aid, recruiting scholarships lost and other probations were minus-1 each.

Because of changing times since the early 1960s, our historical formula has some natural flaws. With the expanding nature of NCAA tournament fields and the fact that seeding didn't begin until 1979, there's slightly more weight on more recent history.

But the bottom line is this: Success -- success no matter which conference you're in -- is rewarded in the 50 in 50 series. You will see a number of mid-major programs on here and that may surprise you. But they are programs that have racked up an enormous amount of wins and conference titles over the years. Maybe they haven't appeared on television as much as a decent program from a big conference that didn't make the cut, but they have been wildly successful at their level -- and we've noticed.

So stay with us for the rest of the week and let's see how it goes. Will Duke maintain its top standing from 2008 as we expand the scope further in history? Which hardwood blue blood will have bragging rights? Which school in your favorite mid-major conference sits among the heavyweights of the sport?

You're about to find out. Starting at 9 a.m. ET each morning throughout the rest of the week, we'll be counting down from 50, with a different team featured in the Nation blog every 15 minutes.

Schools 36 through 50 will be revealed today, while 21 through 35 go Wednesday, 11 through 20 are presented Thursday and the top-10 grand finale is unveiled Friday.

So go ahead, browse around the package and have fun with it. The system isn't perfect, but we think the final rankings provide an accurate take on the past 50 years of college basketball -- a project that will no doubt produce some heated debate and even vitriol, but also hopefully inform, educate and bring back some fond (or bitter) memories.

Editor's note: Special thanks to Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks, Ryan Feldman and Jeremy Mills for their help on this project. Also, special recognition to the College Basketball Reference site, NCAA.com and the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia, which were all valuable resources during this undertaking.

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