Monday, July 21, 2008 Updated: July 22, 6:08 PM ET
Counting down the most prestigious programs since 1984-85
By Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica ESPN Research
What is prestige? What does a college basketball program have to do to prove its prestige? What program is the most prestigious? And who's to judge?
This summer, we decided to tackle the hundreds of Division I men's college basketball teams, weighing the thousands of regular-season and postseason wins and losses, the NBA draft picks, the All-Americans and the national titles to come up with a numerical point system to provide unbiased rankings of every college hoops program's success since the start of the 1984-85 season. Normally when you see these rankings, they are the "expert" opinion of one or more people whose knowledge (and sanity) usually is questioned by those who disagree.
But with ESPN's Prestige Rankings, there is no such argument. We let the numbers do the talking. We assigned point values for certain successes (win a national title, earn 25 points) and failures (get your program banned from the NCAA tournament, lose three points), put all the seasons through our big calculator and came up with the No. 1 program (and the No. 300 program) of the past 24 seasons.
Why cut it off at the 1984-85 season?
The 1985 postseason was the first NCAA tournament that was expanded to the 64-team format (precursor to the current 65-team format), in which a champion must play at least six games to win a national title. That span -- 24 seasons -- is a large enough sample size to get a true barometer of a program's recent history.
This is also an era of the game in which parity has ruled. UCLA will not top the rankings thanks to its domination in the '60s and '70s. NC State, San Francisco, Wyoming and CCNY aren't cracking the Top 50 because their national titles came before 1985. Minnesota won't get credit for having two top-two NBA draft picks in the '70s.
It was a different world for college basketball back then, and those accomplishments, as remarkable as they are, aren't a factor here.
Explanation of the scoring system
We wanted to account for a program's positive accomplishments. National titles and deep advances in the NCAA tournament are the big point-getters.
Having the best record in your conference's regular season is a fairly big deal, as well. We didn't just give out points here for conference titles. (Considering how many conferences are split into divisions and award shares of the title for, say, a 12-6 team from the West Division when a 14-4 team is in the East Division. In this scoring system, the 14-4 team would be the only one to earn five points.)
We also doled out four points for conference tournament titles. These were given fewer points than a regular-season title because a three- or four-day stretch of domination in your conference shouldn't be rewarded as much as a season-long one. For conferences that didn't hold conference tourneys (notably the Pac-10 and Big Ten for years and the Ivy currently), we simply awarded the points to the team that was given the conference's automatic bid to that year's NCAA tournament.
What about Cinderellas? We all remember 15th-seeded Richmond over Syracuse and 15th-seeded Hampton over Iowa State, and first-round upset wins by 12- through 16-seeds are rewarded accordingly.
We also had to factor in negatives. When your highly seeded team falls flat on its face in the first round against a no-name school, your program loses two points. When your team is caught breaking the rules and the NCAA bans it from the postseason, that is an embarrassment for the fan base. Same thing goes for losing seasons. Both cost your program three points in our rankings.
• National title 25
• Title game loss 20
• National semifinal loss 15
• Elite Eight loss 10
• Best record in conference's regular season 5
• 30-plus wins in a season 5
• Sweet 16 loss 5
• Conference tournament title 3
• AP first-team All-American 3
• Losing in NCAA second round 3
• Player in top 10 of NBA draft 2
• NCAA first-round win as a 12-16-seed 2
• NIT title 2
• AP second-team All-American 2
• 20-29 wins in a season 1
• NCAA tournament berth 1
• Postseason NIT berth 1
• AP third-team All-American 1
• NCAA first-round loss vs. 12-16-seed -2
• Losing season -3
• Ban from NCAA tournament -3 >> Minimum 15 seasons in Division I ** Ties are broken by overall winning percentage since the 1984-85 season ^^ Teams are listed by their current conferences
Using the 15-season minimum, 41 current D-I schools won't qualify, giving us exactly 300 schools.
Let's start the countdown to No. 1.
50. COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON COUGARS, Southern Conference Positives: 12 20-win seasons; 8 regular-season titles Negatives: 1 losing season; 1 NCAA tournament win Total points: 70 Did you know? The College of Charleston has only one NCAA tournament win ever (against fifth-seeded Maryland in 1997), but it also has just one losing season since 1984-85.
49. IOWA HAWKEYES, Big Ten Positives: 14 NCAA tournament appearances; 3 Sweet 16s Negatives: 4 losing seasons; lost to 14th-seeded Northwestern State in 2006 Total points: 72 Did you know? Iowa is the only school in the Top 50 that didn't have the best season-ending record in its conference a single time in the past 24 seasons. But the Hawkeyes have been good enough to reach the 20-win mark 14 times, and that counts for something.
48. CHATTANOOGA MOCS, Southern Conference Positives: 14 SoCon titles (8 regular-season, 6 tourney); 9 postseason berths (6 NCAA, 3 NIT) Negatives: 3 losing seasons Total points: 75 Did you know? The Mocs consistently finish near the top of the competitive Southern Conference. They also had one of the truly magical Cinderella runs of all time when they reached the Sweet 16 as a 14-seed in 1997.
47. BUTLER BULLDOGS, Horizon League Positives: 11 seasons with at least 20 wins; 7 wins in 7 NCAA berths Negatives: 6 losing seasons; 0 All-Americans Total points: 78 Did you know? The Bulldogs have won an NCAA tournament game in each of their past four appearances. It's hard to believe they've had just seven trips there since 1985.
46. BRIGHAM YOUNG COUGARS, Mountain West Positives: 14 20-win seasons; 12 NCAA berths Negatives: 5 losing seasons; 3 NCAA wins Total points: 81 Did you know? Quietly, the Cougars have been racking up 20-win seasons in pretty solid conferences (the WAC and MWC). Holding them back is the fact that they haven't played in a Sweet 16 since the days of Danny Ainge.
45. WISCONSIN BADGERS, Big Ten Positives: 7 20-win seasons; 15 NCAA tourney wins in 12 appearances Negatives: 7 losing seasons; lost to 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State 43-32 in 1999 Total points: 83 Did you know? Wisconsin would be near the Top 10 of this list if it went back only a decade. All things considered, this is not a bad historical ranking for a program that went without an NCAA tournament appearance between 1948 and 1993.
44. PITTSBURGH PANTHERS, Big East Positives: 13 NCAA berths in 13 appearances; 4 All-Americans Negatives: 7 losing seasons Total points: 83 Did you know? This program has seen extreme highs and lows lately. There was a seven-year span in which it had just one NIT appearance. But now it is on a seven-year NCAA tournament run, claiming two Big East tourney titles in that time. The Panthers get an unofficial nod over the Badgers in this tie for 44th because Pitt won their second-round showdown in Milwaukee during the 2004 NCAA tourney.
43. WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS, Sun Belt Positives: 2 Sweet 16s; 14 Sun Belt titles (8 regular-season, 6 tourney) Negatives: 7 losing seasons; 0 All-Americans Total points: 83 Did you know? Not many schools can claim the conference dominance the Hilltoppers have reached in the Sun Belt. Since 1985, they have sat atop the league standings eight times and have run the table in the league tournament six times.
42. MASSACHUSETTS MINUTEMEN, Atlantic-10 Positives: 9 seasons with at least 20 wins; 1996 Final Four Negatives: 10 losing seasons Total points: 87 Did you know? Despite a recent resurgence, this program's ranking clearly is leaning on its John Calipari-led squads from the mid-1990s. UMass is one of the two schools in our Top 50 with 10 losing seasons. (St. John's is the other.)
41. LSU TIGERS, SEC Positives: 13 NCAA tourney berths; 2 Final Fours; 4 NBA top-10 picks Negatives: 8 losing seasons; 0 conference tourney titles Total points: 93 Did you know? The fifth-highest-ranked SEC program on our list hasn't won the conference tournament since 1980. It's the only school in our Top 50 without such a crown since 1985. The Bayou Bengals are helped out by their big-name stars -- Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Jackson -- who were each recognized as first-team All-Americans twice. This is the lowest-ranked two-time Final Four program in our Top 50.
Check ESPN.com for Nos. 31-40 on Tuesday.
Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks and Chris Fallica are researchers at ESPN.