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Rating the Candy 16 groups by custom — 2019 NCAA match

For a selection of those who have reached this round of the 2019 NCAA tournament, the Sweet 16 represents a significant goal achieved. For others, it’s merely a way station.

All of the 16 want to move on, of course, but which programs and fan bases have come to expect it? We ranked them on the basis of their winning tradition in college basketball, using both recent and historical track records as our rough guide.


16. Virginia Tech Hokies

NCAA tournament appearances: 11
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 0
All-time program icon (player): Dell Curry
All-time program icon (coach): Charles Moir
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 14

Buzz Williams, who has led Virginia Tech to three straight NCAA appearances for the first time in school history, also has the Hokies in the Sweet 16 for just the second time ever (1967). Excitement over this run might be tempered just a bit for Virginia Tech fans given the rumors swirling around Williams and Texas A&M — if he leaves, can a true basketball tradition be sustained in Blacksburg?


15. Texas Tech Red Raiders

NCAA tournament appearances: 17
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 0
All-time program icon (player): Darvin Ham
All-time program icon (coach): Gerald Myers
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 10

Texas Tech’s back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances are extremely notable for a program that has never enjoyed any level of consistent relevance in college basketball. Chris Beard is the first coach in Tech history to get the Red Raiders to the second weekend more than once. Will he stick around Lubbock long enough to elevate the program’s tradition on a more meaningful, extended basis? We shall see.


14. Auburn Tigers

NCAA tournament appearances: 10
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 0
All-time program icon (player): Charles Barkley
All-time program icon (coach): Sonny Smith
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 22

The Tigers will play on the second weekend for the first time since 2003. The last (and only) time they won a game on the second weekend was 1986, when No. 8-seeded Auburn beat UNLV before falling to eventual champion Louisville in the Elite Eight. Long story short: Anything Auburn does from here is gravy, and a momentary diversion for the fan base from obsessing over Gus Malzahn’s playbook.


13. Oregon Ducks

NCAA tournament appearances: 16
National championships: 1 (1939)
Final Fours: 2 (2017, 1939)
All-time program icon (player): Dillon Brooks
All-time program icon (coach): Dana Altman
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 30

The Ducks won the first NCAA tournament, back when the field was eight teams, and didn’t make it back to the Final Four stage until Dillon Brooks led them there in 2017. Oregon has become a team you’ve gotten used to seeing this time of year, though certainly the Ducks have a ways to go to establish what you’d call a national brand in the world of college basketball.


12. Florida State Seminoles

NCAA tournament appearances: 17
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 1 (1972)
All-time program icon (player): Dave Cowens
All-time program icon (coach): Leonard Hamilton
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 36

Florida State has had some good teams and outstanding players — the Sam Cassell/Charlie Ward/Bobby Sura era in the ’90s was fun — but this is inarguably a football school in a football state. After the rocky beginning to the Willie Taggart era on the gridiron, FSU fans might be a little thirstier for a run on the hoops side than they would have been otherwise.


11. Tennessee Volunteers

NCAA tournament appearances: 22
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 0
All-time program icon (player): Bernard King
All-time program icon (coach): Ray Mears
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 36

The women’s basketball program (eight national titles) has historically been far superior to the men’s, though given that the Lady Vols haven’t reached the Final Four since 2008, that shadow isn’t as long as it once was. Same goes for a once-proud football program, which has had four winning seasons in the past 11. We bring all this up to say that while there aren’t expectations per se for a men’s basketball program that peaked with an Elite Eight appearance under Bruce Pearl in 2010, many of those who wear Tennessee orange would probably be cool with an identity built around a Final Four-caliber men’s hoops program.


10. LSU Tigers

NCAA tournament appearances: 22
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 4 (2006, 1986, 1981, 1953)
All-time program icon (player): Shaquille O’Neal, Pete Maravich
All-time program icon (coach): Dale Brown
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 43

For what is widely perceived to be a football school, LSU has a decent hoops tradition. That tradition is more about individual performance than team accomplishment — neither Shaq nor Pistol Pete ever reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament — but Final Four appearances are viewed as an achievable goal in Baton Rouge. The Tigers have been to the Final Four on four occasions but have been blown out every time they’ve gotten there.


9. Houston Cougars

NCAA tournament appearances: 21
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 5 (1984, 1983, 1982, 1968, 1967)
All-time program icon (player): Hakeem Olajuwon
All-time program icon (coach): Guy V. Lewis
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 34

Houston has tradition, but as coach Kelvin Sampson alluded to in his postgame news conference after the Cougars took down Ohio State on Sunday night, no current team members were around to witness it. Before last season, the program was mired in a 33-year drought without an NCAA tournament win. They’ve now made it to the second weekend for the first time since 1984.


8. Purdue Boilermakers

NCAA tournament appearances: 30
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 2 (1980, 1969)
All-time program icon (player): Glenn Robinson
All-time program icon (coach): Gene Keady
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 37

Purdue fans have earned a reputation of being a bit edgy on the platform of unfiltered rage that is Twitter, and maybe that’s because the Boilermakers last made it to the Elite Eight in 2000 under Gene Keady. Purdue has tradition, but 39 years on from its last appearance in the Final Four, getting there should be a “believe it when we see it” proposition … until we see it.


7. Gonzaga Bulldogs

NCAA tournament appearances: 16
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 1 (2017)
All-time program icon (player): Adam Morrison
All-time program icon (coach): Mark Few
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 16

Gonzaga’s long-awaited breakthrough to the Final Four in 2017 upped the ante for a program that was hard to take seriously as a contender until that happened. While the Zags don’t have the long-standing tradition of others in this field — 100 percent of their NCAA tournament wins have occurred in the past 20 years — the bar for this program is going to be Final Four until further notice.


6. Virginia Cavaliers

NCAA tournament appearances: 23
National championships: 0
Final Fours: 2 (1984, 1981)
All-time program icon (player): Ralph Sampson
All-time program icon (coach): Terry Holland
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 27

The Cavs were an NCAA tournament perennial throughout the early ’80s and mid-’90s, then hit a rough patch where they made the tournament just four times in 18 seasons (1996-2013), never reaching the second weekend over that stretch. Tony Bennett has largely restored the Hoos’ tradition — albeit with a big, Final Four-sized caveat — but if there’s one program on this list for which the arrow is pointing firmly up, it’s this one.


5. Michigan Wolverines

NCAA tournament appearances: 29
National championships: 1 (1989)
Final Fours: 8 (2018, 2013, 1993, 1992, 1989, 1976, 1965, 1964)
All-time program icon (player): Chris Webber, Glen Rice
All-time program icon (coach): John Beilein
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 55

Michigan doesn’t have the depth of basketball tradition of a Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky, but the Wolverines have given us the Fab Five, the Glen Rice/Steve Fisher run to the title in ’89, and a current era that has seen Michigan achieve perhaps its richest period of sustained relevance. Is beating Ohio State in football more important to the fan base? Sure, probably. But there are hardwood standards here too.


4. Michigan State Spartans

NCAA tournament appearances: 33
National championships: 2 (2000, 1979)
Final Fours: 9 (2015, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1979, 1957)
All-time program icon (player): Magic Johnson
All-time program icon (coach): Tom Izzo
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 49

“Wannabe” by the Spice Girls was the No. 1 song the last time Michigan State wasn’t playing in the NCAA tournament in March (1997, as if you’d have to look it up). There aren’t many programs more universally respected than Tom Izzo’s Spartans, and this is a fan base that annually has realistic expectations of a Final Four.


3. Duke Blue Devils

NCAA tournament appearances: 43
National championships: 5 (2015, 2010, 2001, 1992, 1991)
Final Fours: 16 (seasons above, plus 2004, 1999, 1994, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1978, 1966, 1964, 1963)
All-time program icon (player): Christian Laettner
All-time program icon (coach): Mike Krzyzewski
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 81

It might seem surprising, given the annual March ritual that handicapping Duke’s title chances has become, that the Blue Devils have only reached the Final Four twice in the past 14 years (they won the national title both times). Whatever the recent realities, this program is always in the national conversation, and it would be hard to imagine college basketball if they weren’t.


2. North Carolina Tar Heels

NCAA tournament appearances: 50
National championships: 6 (2017, 2009, 2005, 1993, 1982, 1957)
Final Fours: 20 (Seasons above, plus 2016, 2008, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1995, 1991, 1981, 1977, 1972, 1969, 1968, 1967, 1946)
All-time program icon (player): Michael Jordan
All-time program icon (coach): Dean Smith
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 94

Kentucky and Indiana are other uncompromisingly passionate basketball states, but there’s no bigger purely college basketball state than North Carolina, and so it matters when the state’s flagship university wins or loses. The Tar Heels have won plenty, including recently — their 50 NCAA tournament wins this century are tied with Kansas for the lead. Anything short of a national title is a disappointment, and annually.


1. Kentucky Wildcats

NCAA tournament appearances: 59
National championships: 8 (2012, 1998, 1996, 1978, 1958, 1951, 1949, 1948)
Final Fours: 17 (Seasons above, plus 2015, 2014, 2011, 1997, 1993, 1984, 1975, 1966, 1942)
All-time program icon (player): Dan Issel
All-time program icon (coach): Adolph Rupp
NBA players (all time, active rosters): 111

This has not been one of Kentucky’s consistently dominant teams, nor are the Wildcats healthy right now — PJ Washington is a major question mark to appear in this tournament. None of that will diminish expectations for a program that annually sets the bar at “national title.” If UK fails to reach the Final Four, the drought will reach four years for a program that previously made four appearances in five seasons between 2011-2015


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