As March Madness approaches, it seems only fitting to sort the NBA’s superstars by their alma maters. We’ve seen great programs like Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, and Carolina… but how have these schools done in terms of NBA success? Here’s my rankings.
- Current NBA Players Only. We’re imagining a tourney going down today. Not former players, not how good they were in their prime. Marquette gets current D-Wade, not prime D-Wade. Sorry guys.
- It doesn’t matter how good the player was in college. Paired with Rule #1, a player’s college career is irrelevant in this discussion. Colleges are being used as a way to divide the teams, but Kansas gets confident, ripped, MVP-candidate Joel Embiid, not scrawny injured college Joel Embiid.
- It’s 5 on 5. Most schools don’t have enough NBA players to make a starting lineup and a bench, so we’re just playing 5 on 5.
- Not all 5 players have to be in the NBA. I am allowing G-League or International Players if they are needed to fill out the lineup. For example, Oklahoma has Trae Young, Buddy Hield, and Blake Griffin, but no other players currently in the NBA. They are allowed to add two other former Sooners, but that inevitably makes their team worse and hurts their ranking.
- My Ranking Sytem. To get a ballpark estimate, I averaged out the NBA 2K ratings of each team. However, the ratings are not flawless by any means, and they fluctuate constantly. Therefore, I didn’t blindly rank off the numbers. Fit matters, too.
Missed the Cut
These are schools that had enough players for me to create a lineup, but they just weren’t good. At all.
Best to Worst: Missouri, Arkansas, Oregon, Pitt, Wisconsin, Baylor, Creighton, Maryland, Purdue, UNLV, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, Miami
These were all able to field a respectable starting five, good enough that I felt it necessary to tell you the five I came up with. Still, they didn’t make the top 25, so by the poll analogy, they’re in the “also receiving votes” category.
33. NC State Wolfpack
Dennis Smith Jr
32. LSU Tigers
31. Stanford Cardinal
30. Cal Golden Bears
29. Syracuse Orange
28. Colorado Buffaloes
27. Virginia Cavaliers
26. Tennessee Volunteers
The Top 25
It’s pretty self-explanatory… this is the Top 25. I also included a little blurb about each team. For your enjoyment.
25. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Did this one surprise you a little? It surprised me too. The frontcourt includes three solid NBA players, and Okogie has looked great as a rookie. Jack is 35, and could definetely fill in.
24. Utah Utes
This is another surprising one. Miller is two years removed from retirement, but the other four are solid. Kuz can do the scoring while the others play defense, rebound, and distribute.
23. North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC is certainly a Top 10 college basketball program, but it’s not an NBA superstar factory. Rather, it churns out smart, solid players. Barnes would have to be the #1 scorer, which isn’t ideal, but the team would be solid.
22. Georgetown Hoyas
Despite their lack of a true point guard, this lineup would be one of the physically toughest in the nation. They can overpower and post up most opponents, plus Porter and Green can score from the perimeter, too.
21. Memphis Tigers
Black is a bench-warmer and Stephens is a G-Leaguer, but the other three are above average NBA starters. Rose and Evans creating would do just fine against most of the other teams on this list.
20. Oklahoma Sooners
This is a weird one. Three very good NBA players, w/ Cousins, a G-Leaguer, and Blake’s brother Taylor Griffin, who played 8 NBA games. But their three stars would carry them pretty far, and they’d sure be fun to watch.
19. Villanova Wildcats
Like UNC, Villanova is not an NBA factory, but a winning college program. They’ve been ranked top 8 in the last six seasons. Lowry would lead them, but they’ve got shooters around him. All smart players.
18. Texas A&M Aggies
Despite the minimal experience of Caruso and Williams, I like the fit of this team. They’d be great defensively and Middleton would be a solid primary scorer with spot-up shooters and rim-runners by his side.
17. Michigan Wolverines
Glenn Robinson III
I love how these teams embody the playstyle of their schools. This is such a Michigan team. LeVert is a 20 ppg scorer and the four guards can all score. They’d be an intriguing group for sure.
16. Washington Huskies
Despite only three tourney appearances in the last decade, UW has showcased some talented players that would put it together in the NBA. They also have some of my favorite uniforms in college hoops.
15. Marquette Golden Eagles
It’s kind of surprising to see Marquette up here. But Butler and Crowder were second rounders, and Matthews went undrafted, so that explains that. It’d sure be an interesting team to watch though.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
IU has only made four tournaments in the last decade, but they’ve still produced talented players. Great work by Tom Crean. Oladipo is a great 1st option and they’ve got three and D guys around him.
13. Louisville Cardinals
I really like the fit of this team. Mitchell has proven to be a reliable #1 option, and Rozier would be great in a secondary role. Harrell setting picks and the forwards hitting shots and defending? Sounds good to me.
12. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Now this one really surprised me. Wake hasn’t been ranked in nine years. But the talent sure adds up. All five are starting-level players in the NBA. How many other teams have that?
11. Ohio State Buckeyes
I love this OSU group. Conley and Russell would make a great backcourt, they compliment each other very well. Turner can score, too, and KBD can do the little things. Also appearing is Kosta Koufos. It’s a fun squad.
10. Michigan State Spartans
Jaren Jackson Jr
This is such an MSU team. I don’t know who the scorer is, I guess Harris, but most MSU teams do just fine without an iso scorer. Also try scoring on Draymond+JJ. What a duo. This team is top 10. Especially w Izzo.
9. Arizona Wildcats
This is a fun one. I wish they had a true point guard, but Iggy can pass well. And I don’t know who’s defending a Markkanen-Ayton frontcourt but I also don’t know who Markkanen and Ayton are defending.
8. Florida Gators
First, look at Parsons in college compared to now. This is an awesome team. The trio from the back-to-back titles would really benefit from Beal helping with the scoring. It would help to have prime Jo, but still. Wow.
6. USC Trojans
USC has two East All-Star level players in DeMar and Vooch. With role guys like Melton (look his stats up) and Taj, there’s just enough room for Swaggy to be Swaggy. They’d be fun and they’d be good. Gotta love this 5.
5. UConn Huskies
This would be fun. It’s a great balance of scoring and defense, of tournament success and late bloomers. Kemba and Gay could lead the offense with Drummond blocking shots and rim-running. Top 5 seems right.
4. Texas Longhorns
KD is the best player in this article, unless you love AD. Aldridge has been great this year, Augustin is a solid point guard, and Bradley and Tucker are both very good defenders. This team fits great. Hook ’em.
3. Duke Blue Devils
Marvin Bagley III
Ooooo this would be fun to see. These 5 embody the changing of eras at Duke. Ingram and Tatum can create alongside Kyrie, JJ can hit shots, and Bagley will rebound. The problem is that none of them would get along.
2. UCLA Bruins
UCLA takes the #2 spot ahead of Duke. Russ leads the offense with Love scoring in a variety of ways. LaVine can hit shots and do cool dunks, while Ariza is a good 3-and-D guy and Holiday is an elite defender. Great fit here.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Well, that was kind of anti-climatic. There’s really no debate for the top spot. The one-and-done factory has it. Three all-stars here and two players that will be all-stars soon. Big Blue Nation comes out on top. The craziest thing to think about with Kentucky is the players that didn’t make it into their starting five. I wonder where their second team would rank in this list… Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray, Julius Randle, DeMarcus Cousins is probably the next best five. They’re not as good as UCLA, and probably not Duke, but they may be Top 5. Crazy what Coach Cal has done there.
One of the morals of this story is that college success does not equal NBA stars. Look at programs like Villanova, Purdue, Wisconsin Virginia, and UNC. Now compare those with USC, Marquette, Wake Forest, and Washington. There’s no question that the first group has seen more success at the college level, but the latter group has actually produced more NBA talent.