Who Are College Basketball's New Bluebloods?

By: Mike
February 20, 2024

By Larry Smith - Co-Host & Executive Producer, IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular

February 20, 2024

(Cover photo courtesy Associated Press)

We spend a lot of time these days talking about the massive shift in college football that's coming this summer as the Big 10, SEC, ACC, and Big 12 expand and the Pac-12 shrinks into near oblivion.  But change in college basketball has been in the making for a while.

There are six blueblood schools that have ruled the game: UCLA, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Indiana.  From the launch of the NCAA tournament in 1939 until 2012, they combined to dominate with 36 national championships and 86 Final Four appearances.  They won the most, they recruited the best, and they had the biggest names.  Allen, Knight, Krzyzewski, McCracken, Rupp, Smith, Williams, Wooden...Alcindor, Alford, Hansbrough, Jordan, Laettner, Thomas, Walton... just to name a few.

They were so dominant that, in the nearly half-century between 1963 and 2012, there were only four years in which none of them appeared in the Final Four.  If it was April, one of them was stealing the spotlight, whether they won it all or not.

But since Kentucky beat Kansas in New Orleans in 2012 for their eighth NCAA title and first under John Calipari, something has changed.  Parity set in and as those legendary coaches began to retire, leaving a void needing to be filled.  In the last 10 NCAA tournaments, they've won just three championships and combined for only eight Final Fours.

So who is taking their place?  Indiana has all but disappeared from the game's upper echelon.  Mike Davis kept the program together after the ouster of the volatile Bob Knight, guiding the team to the national championship game appearance in 2002.  But a restless fan base chased him out of town three years later and the Hoosiers haven't been close since.  Just three Sweet 16 appearances under Tom Crean.

UCLA ended a more than decade-long Final Four drought when Mick Cronin guided them there in 2022, but the ghost of John Wooden still lingers over Westwood almost 50 years after his retirement.

There is a new layer of royalty in college basketball.  In the past decade (2013-2023), 27 teams have reached the Final Four, including 16 different schools in the last four years - no repeats. Eight coaches have won nine national titles in the past decade (Louisville and Rick Pitino's 2013 crown was vacated); five of them first-timers.

The IlliniGuys wondered who are the "new bluebloods"; the programs that are now at the top.  Assigning a point value to each school's trip to the regional semifinals and beyond since 2013, we've made a list of the new top ten college basketball programs:

At age 69 and in his 29th season at the helm at Michigan State, Tom Izzo is the dean of Big Ten coaches. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

10) Michigan State - The last Big Ten team to win a national title in 2000, Michigan State has reached the round of 16 four times and has a pair of Final Four appearances.  With a tenure that's approaching 30 years, Tom Izzo is the dean of coaches on this list.

9) Virginia - The Cavaliers broke through with their first NCAA title in 2019, the last championship before the pandemic.  Tony Bennett's program has regional final and regional semifinal trips prior to winning it all.

8) Kentucky - Fans in Big Blue Nation are growing restless with a Final Four drought that's on the verge of reaching nine years and their last national title nearly a dozen years ago, but the Wildcats have done enough to remain on this list with a pair of Final Four trips in 2014 and 2015.

7) Michigan -- The Wolverines are currently mired in last place in the Big Ten, so they are the one team that it feels doesn't belong here.  But that's just how impressive their run was under John Beilein before he bolted for an ill-advised and short-lived try in the NBA.  Michigan reached the championship game twice in 2013 and 2018 and then Juwan Howard took the program to the regional final and the Sweet 16 in consecutive years before missing the tournament in 2023 and is now suffering through the team's worst season since 2008.

6) Gonzaga - The Bulldogs are fighting for their NCAA lives right now, trying to keep alive an NCAA tournament appearance streak that dates back to 1998.  Mark Few's program is the only one in the country that has advanced at least to the national quarterfinals at least five times, including their only two Final Four trips.

Duke's 2nd year head coach Jon Scheyer is trying to do what no else has - become the first former Mike Krzyzewski assistant to reach a Final Four (photo courtesy Sports Illustrated)

5) Kansas - Bill Self is a relatively young 61 years old, so he could stick around Lawrence for a while and take aim at some major milestones.  The Jayhawks' 2022 championship game win over North Carolina keeps them among the elite.

4) Duke - With a national championship and another Final Four trip on their resume, Duke remains among the elite. But all of this is under retired legend Mike Krzyzewski, who never had an assistant reach the national semifinals as head coach.  The jury is still out on his 2nd year replacement Jon Scheyer.

3) UConn - "Only" two national titles - no other Final Four trips - for UConn, which is more than almost everyone else.  But unlike the others, the Huskies won theirs with two different head coaches under Kevin Ollie and Dan Hurley.

2) North Carolina - The Heels have still got it, with Hubert Davis taking them all the way to the title game in his first season on the job.  Davis is on the verge of joining Bill Guthridge as the only coaches to post three 20-win seasons in their first three years in Chapel Hill. UNC is one of two teams with three Final Four trips on their ledger.

1) Villanova - The Wildcats look different since Jay Wright abruptly walked away after a fourth Final Four trip in 2022 - and third since 2016, opting for the peace of retirement over the chaos of the transfer portal and NIL.  But Villanova remains the penultimate program of the past decade and, for now, the leader of the new pack of bluebloods.

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