It's completely subjective and, of course, many will probably take issue with our conclusions.
In ranking the current top programs, our biggest criteria was how well the program has done in the recent past (the last 3-4 years) and, probably most importantly, how we think they're going to do in the immediate future (the next 3-4 years). Contributing to the equation is, of course, coaching, tradition, the state of the program, its inherent advantages, reputation, and its immediate and long-term term recruiting outlook.
Contributing their opinions to this article were Frank Burlison, Greg Hicks and Tracy Pierson.
1. North Carolina. The Tar Heels come out really well in just about every criteria. They won a national championship two years ago, they have what many feel is the best coach in college basketball, one of the four most traditional program in the country, and they'll always recruit well. Right now, no program's immediate future looks better, especially given the Top-25 caliber players they brought in this year and next.
2. UCLA It's pretty simple: Install a good coach in Westwood, this is what you get. This spot, though, is a tough choice between UCLA and Florida. The Gators won the national championship, and could be the favorites to win a second consecutive one. That's hard to beat. But if you're considering the next several years, UCLA has the Gators, in terms of potential recruiting. UCLA sits on such a great recruiting base it probably doesn't have to leave it to stay consistently in the Top 5. Really, whichever program ends the season better probably deserves this spot.
3. Florida. Many question where the Gators will be after their current group leaves. They recruit well, and have a good recruiting class coming in, but it's not as easy to recruit in Gainesville consistently as other big-named programs, having to recruit more nationally. Billy Donovan has gotten a rep as a good coach after Florida looked so well-prepared in last year's tournament.
4. Duke The Blue Devils could make a good case for the #2 spot themselves. They're the most dominant program in the last 15 years and they still out-recruit everyone for any prospect they want. The issue, though, has been some poor prospect evaluations taking its toll, and it seems like a lot longer than just three years ago that they were in a Final Four. It's valid to question whether Coach K still has his luster, but don't be surprised if, within a couple of years, they're back on top.
5. Connecticut. They're going through a re-building year, something that definitely will happen occasionally to the elite programs that get NBA-type guys consistently. The Huskies do, however, have some very good youngsters on their team and the two national championships in the last nine years is pretty powerful stuff.
6. Ohio State. This is the true upstart in the top ten, due mainly to how well OSU is recruiting. It could be very similar to Florida – a football school that's recruiting well now in basketball. There is some question about the coaching of Thad Mata, but you can't question his recruiting.
7. Michigan State. It seems like the Spartans have been relatively quiet for a while, but they did win a national championship in 2000, have what many in college basketball consider one of the handful of best coaches, and they're still recruiting well. A good coach will get you high on this list, especially someone like Tom Izzo, who you can't see leaving anytime soon.
8. Kentucky. One of the top four programs of all-time, the Wildcats, however, haven't consistently been among the top four in the country for a while. They've been sliding some since they won a national championship in 1998. Tubby Smith is a bit of an enigma in Lexington, a good coach who hasn't recruited at Kentucky's expected caliber, but he's done better with what he's gotten than you would have thought.
9. Kansas Another big traditional power that is down here at #9 because the program seems a bit un-anchored, and the coaching is suspect. The Jayhawks get an amazing amout of talent, however, and they'll continue to recruit well over the next several years.
10. Texas. The Longhorns could also be in the same vein with Florida and Ohio State, traditional football schools that are getting a great deal of talent for their basketball team. They sit on a big recruiting base, and if you're a big-time prospect in Texas, you're always going to look at the Longhorns first.
11 Syracuse. A traditional east coast power with a Hall of Fame coach, and they draw 23,000 a game. They're still benefiting from the phenomenon that was Carmelo Anthony. They have one of the best recruiting classes in the country coming in next fall.
12 Arizona In terms of success in the last 20 years, Arizona would be in the top four or five in the nation. It has a national championship, and a coach, Lute Olson, who has had one of the best coaching careers in the history of the game. Ten years ago, there weren't many teams in the country that were better coached. That isn't the story anymore, and it appears that Olson is on the backside of his career. In the last few years, there haven't been many programs that have done less with more than Arizona.
13. Indiana. A traditional power that has installed a good coach in Kelvin Sampson, who is a very good recruiter. Most college basketball pundits are betting on the Hoosiers to be a consistent top ten program with Sampson at the helm for the next several years but, right now, it's still just speculation.
14. Wisconsin. The Badgers' coach Bo Ryan could be the best unknown coach in the country. Wisconsin plays good basketball, but it will always be a challenge to recruit to Madison. Tthe coaching will keep them a Big Ten power.
15. Illinois. It seems like such a long time ago that Illinois was dominating the headlines as the #1 team in the country, but it was actually just two years ago. Bruce Weber has earned a rep as a good coach, and that will keep him among the best program in the Big Ten, but they've missed on some big recruits recently.
16. Pittsburgh. Another instance where coaching prevails. Jamie Dixon has done an excellent job taking over for Ben Howland, and kept them right in the thick of the Big East race. They have good talent right now, but Dixon will have to keep recruiting to keep the Panthers on their roll.
17. Georgetown. The Hoyas would be a program you might want to buy stock in. John Thompson III is doing a good job, they're playing well and recruiting well, and Georgetown sits on one of the best recruiting beds in the nation.
18. Gonzaga. The Zags could be higher, but you have to keep wondering how long this mid-major dream can go on. Probably a bit longer. Mark Few is well respected and they keep recruiting well. With the emergence of Washington and even Washington State in the Northwest, however, recruiting might begin to taper off in the next few years.
19. Louisville. They have one of the most respected coaches in the game in Rick Pitino and that alone gets them on this list. A recent run to the Final Four helps, but the Cardinals are making some mistakes in recruiting that have cost them.
20. Georgia Tech. Another up-and-comer, with a recent Final Four, the Yellow Jackets are getting some high-end talent.
21. Marquette. A traditional basketball school that has experienced a resurgence under coach Tom Crean.
22. Washington. Lorenzo Romar has proven he can get the talent, but now he has to prove that he can win consistently without a senior-laden team featuring one of the best players in the country.
23. Texas Tech. You know they're going to be well-coached, and Bobby Knight is doing more with less; they should have been in the Elite Eight last season. As long as he's coaching he'll have his team on this list.
24. Texas A&M. Another team we're projecting as being good over the next several years because of coaching. Coach Billy Gillispie has the Aggies playing well. It will be a matter if he can cut into the recruiting advantage Texas has in the state.
25. Memphis. Many might put the Tigers higher, but we feel it's not a program with a good foundation. John Calipari runs it pretty loose, and they'll consistently get beat by teams that are less talented but better coached. Calipari can certainly recruit, though.