To throw another wrench in the natural order of the universe in 2020-2021, the college basketball Blue Bloods have abdicated their typical thrones at the top of the rankings.
As of this moment, only Kansas (#15) and UCLA (#23) are ranked in the AP Poll. Kenpom is a little more kind to the Blue Bloods with Kansas (#17), Indiana (#24), and UCLA (#25) in his rankings. Even this is much lower than the Blue Bloods’ usual place in or around the top 10. At least they can say that it took a once-in-a-century global pandemic to make that happen.
All of this upheaval has prompted many to question their worldview. They started to ask things like: Are Indiana and UCLA still college basketball Blue Bloods? Are the likes of UVA, Villanova, & Michigan State Blue Bloods yet? Is it true that if you don’t use it, you lose it? Can my team become a Blue Blood? These are all, of course, vitally important questions. It is good for the soul of college basketball, nay the world, to bring some clarity to these issues. This paper will aim to do just that.
Who are the College Basketball Blue Bloods?
Since Duke ascended to college basketball Blue Blood status in the early 2000s, it has been widely accepted that there are 6 (and only 6) Blue Bloods in college basketball. They are in no particular order:
If you’re even a casual fan of college roundball (let’s face it, if you’re reading this you’re probably closer to a hoops junkie) you’ll recognize that these are historically the top college basketball teams. Period.
College basketball Blue bloods are exactly that, the cream of the crop. They win a ton, dominate their conferences, get the best recruits, hire and retain iconic coaches, send lottery picks to the NBA year in and year out, have immense support and resources, have huge and passionate fan bases, and most importantly they win a lot (did I mention that already?).
The problem is there has not been (until now) a quantifiable metric for determining Blue Blood status. It has been done via consensus and feeling that a team is worthy of anointment. To make matters worse, some of these Blue Bloods have been Blue Bloods so long that the NCAA and their conferences are entirely different than when they achieved said status. So, how is anyone to determine when a program deserves to be knighted as a Blue Blood? Or when a team falls to mere plebian Cincinnati Bearcats status? Shudders.
What are the Requirements to be a College Basketball Blue Blood?
Many things that embody Blue Bloods like money, resources, recruits, NBA draft picks, fan bases, and even individual coaches are symptoms of a Blue Blooditis rather than the underlying cause. There is really only one cause of such: winning. But it’s not that simple! There are multiple types of winning that a Blue Blood must achieve: regular season, postseason, and conference domination. A Blue Blood should be Goliath to their foes’ David. A Blue Blood should be that dude that your girlfriend tells you not to worry about.
One caveat on the coach and player thing. Of course, you need to have great coaches and players to become a college hoops Blue Blood. But the way to define that is by how much winning they do. After all, many Duke fans and boosters wanted Coach K out of Durham in 1983. Had he been fired then, the world may not know how great a coach he really is and Duke would likely not have achieved Blue Blood status. I think about this nearly every night before bed!
Thus, I declare the 3-6-6-3 rule. Every traditional Blue Blood has achieved the 3-6-6-3 feat at the time of being exhaulted (or the equivalent in their timeframe). Explained below:
- 3 NCAA Championships All-Time – Kansas holds 3 titles.
- 6 NCAA Final Fours All-Time – Indiana had 6 Final Fours when they were exalted as Blue Bloods in 1987.
20 year Recency Requirements:
- A 20 year Average of a 6 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament – All teams easily achieved this in their heyday. We’ll use this to judge regular-season success as it encompasses both quantity and quality of wins as officially sanctioned by the NCAA Selection Committee.
- Triple Share of Conference Tourney or Regular Season Championships Every 20 Years – Each conference now offers a regular-season championship and conference tourney. So, over 20 years there are 40 chances for a win. A Blue Blood should win at least triple their share of that 40 (3/X relative to the number of teams in conference). For example, the ACC has 15 teams. A current-day Duke would need to win 3/15 of the 40 opportunities (i.e. 8 conference titles in 20 years) to qualify. Despite the name, the Big 12 has 10 teams. So a modern Kansas would need to win 3/10 of the 40 (i.e. 12 conference titles in 20 years) to qualify.
Lets take a look at how our recency metrics holds up to our traditional college basketball Blue Bloods over the past 20 years. Teams were given a 12 seed by default in years that they didn’t make the tourney as the lowest-ranked at-large teams are typically 11 seeds.
|School||Raw Seed||Avg Seed||Conf Titles|
How Does a Team Lose College Basketball Blue Blood Status?
Like with the aristocracy it should be easier to stay a college basketball Blue Blood than it was to attain the status in the first place. So, a team doesn’t have to win at the same rate nor bring home the same amount of hardware. However, they do have to maintain appearances. After all, traditionally the main way for royalty to lose their Blue Blood status was by marrying down with mere commoners. Here the hoops Blue Bloods have to avoid marrying down with mediocrity.
So, here is the proclamation:
To retain Blue Blood status, a team must achieve 2 of the following 3 in any given 20 year span:
- Average a 6 seed or better in the NCAA tournament.
- Win a triple share of the regular season/conference tourney titles (3/X).
- Reach a Final Four.
- These are interchangeable, so an extra Final Four within the 20 year span can take the place of conference titles or the NCAA 6 seed average and vice versa.
So, how do our waning Bloods stack up?
- 11 NCAA Titles (Last – 1995)
- 18 Final Fours (Last 3 – 2006, 2007, 2008)
- 37 Pac12 Regular Season Titles (Relevant – 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013)
- 4 Pac12 Tourney Championships (Relevant -2006, 2008, 2014)
- Average 20 year NCAA tourney seed = 8
Not terrible, but the Bruins haven’t had a ton of success since the mid-2000s. Their last Final Four was 2008 so their Blue Blood clock goes until 2028 (but we’ll extend to 2029 due to Covid). They could get their average NCAA tournament seed down to 6 if they start soon. Otherwise, UCLA needs 6 more PAC12 regular season/tournament titles and a Final Four by 2029 or 2 total Final Fours. Should be doable for a Blood.
- 5 NCAA Titles (Last – 1987)
- 8 Final Fours (Last – 2002)
- 22 B1G Regular Season Championships (Relevant 3 – 2002, 2013, 2016)
- 0 B1G conference tournament wins
- 20 Year NCAA Tourney Seed Avg = 9
Oof, things are not looking good for the Hoosiers. The most surprising thing to me is that Indiana has never won the B1G basketball tournament (held since 1998). They’ve only made the B1G title game once (2001). This is despite the fact that the tournament is held in Indianapolis just about every other year (alternating with Chicago).
But enough trashing IU. What do they need to stay a Blood? Their recent NCAA tourney seeding and conference championships have not been impressive so those are both out. Their last Final Four was 2002, so that sets the Blue Blood expiration clock at 2022. (Again, we’ll extend until 2023 per Covid). So, the Hoosiers need to make both of the next two Final Fours to stay a Blue Blood. I will also accept winning the NCAA championship in lieu of one of the Final Fours. A tall order but that is the price to pay in this game of blood.
The College Basketball New Bloods
So, who is next in line to be a college hoops Blue Blood and what do they need to do to get there?
Conference Title Requirement 6/10 x 40 = 24
- 0 NCAA Titles
- 1 Final Four (2017)
- Ungodly Amount of WCC championships
- 20 Year Average NCAA Seed = 6
It’s really too early for this conversation for the Zags. They need more hardware and a lot of it. They’re having no problem in the WCC but need to compete on the national stage. Check back in ~ 10 years.
Also, for the record, we should double the 3/X conference title requirement to 6/X for anyone in a Mid-Major conference. So the Zags will need to win 6/10 WCC titles, which they currently have no problem doing.
Conference Title Requirement 3/14 x 40 = 9
Michigan State’s Resume
- 2 NCAA Titles (1979, 2000)
- 10 Final Fours (Since 2000 – 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2019)
- 5 B16 Tourney Championships Since 2000 (2000, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2019)
- 8 B1G Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2018, 2019, 2020)
- 20 year average NCAA Tourney Seed = 5
The path here is simple – win another NCAA Championship. This would not only punch MSU’s Blue Blood ticket but also cement Izzo’s status as one of the greatest coaches of all time. As an aside, the B1G must just hate the fact that they are the only P5 conference without a basketball Blue Blood. Or maybe I am overthinking it…
- 1 NCAA Title (1941)
- 4 Final Fours (1941, 2000, 2014, 2015)
- 3 B1G Tourney Titles Since 2000 (2004, 2008, 2015)
- 5 B1G Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015, 2020)
- 20 year Average NCAA Tourney Seed = 6
The Badgers are sneaky here with that 1941 championship that I think everyone but them forgot about. They still need 2 more Final Fours and 2 more NCAA championships along with just a bit of a bump in B1G contention to achieve Blue Blood nirvana.
- 1 NCAA Title (1989)
- 8 Final Fours (1964, 1965, 1976, 1989, 1992, 1993, 2013, 2018)
- 2 B1G Tourney Titles Since 2000 (2017, 2018)
- 2 B1G Regular Season Conference Championships Since 2000 (2012, 2014)
- 20 Year Average NCAA Seed = 9
Michigan’s got some history here but had a pretty bad schnide there from 99-09. They seem to have gotten themselves on the right track but they have some work to do on every front except Final Fours.
Ohio State’s Resume
- 1 NCAA Title (1960)
- 11 Final Fours (1939, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1968, 1999, 2007, 2012)
- 5 B1G Tourney Championships Since 2000 (2002, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013)
- 7 B1G Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012)
- 20 Year NCAA Tourney Seed Average = 8
Similar to Michigan, Ohio State has some work to do. They’ve also got the Final Fours but haven’t had great success since the late 00s to early 10s. They might be sitting in New Blood status for a while until they can get things on track.
Conference Title Requirement 3/11 x 40 = 11
- 4 NCAA Titles (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014)
- 5 Final Fours (1999, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2014)
- 4 Big East/AAC Conference Tournament Titles Since 2000 (2002, 2004, 2011, 2016)
- 4 Big East Regular Season Championships Since 2000 (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006)
- 20 year average NCAA Tourney Seed = 7
UConn is an interesting case as they have won a lot of NCAA titles but not dominated the regular season as much as Blue Bloods tend to do. After winning the NCAA title in 2011 they have only made the NCAA tournament 3 times, twice as a 9 seed and once as a 7 (though they did win another NCAA title as that 7 seed). They also only won 1 conference tournament and 0 regular seasons in that span, in what was a much weaker AAC conference (compared to the old Big East). If the Huskies had finished the 2010s with just decent performance they’d probably be considered Blue Bloods already. Now to get to the mountain top, they need a couple of years of just outright winning (earning high NCAA tournament seeds), a few more Big East championships, and one more Final Four. They could also just pop off say another NCAA championship and I don’t think anyone would contest their Blue Blood status.
- 3 NCAA Titles (1985, 2016, 2018)
- 6 Final Fours (1939, 1971, 1985, 2009, 2016, 2018)
- 4 Big East Tourney Titles Since 2000 (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019)
- 7 Big East Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2006, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020)
- 20 Year average NCAA seed = 7
Nova is in the driver’s seat. They have the hardware, they are maintaining excellent standards. All they have to do is not miss the layup (like UConn did) or succumb to NCAA sanctions (like Louisville, lol). They just need a handful of more years of high NCAA seeds and they’re in.
Conference Title Requirement 3/15 x 40 = 8
- 1 NCAA Title (2003)
- 6 Final Fours (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003, 2013, 2016)
- 2 Big East Tourney Championships Since 2000 (2005, 2006)
- 4 Big East Regular Season Championships Since 2000 (2000, 2003, 2010, 2012)
- 20 year average NCAA seed = 7
Cuse has the Final Fours, it needs two more championships. The Orange also need to improve their overall seeding a bit and win a few ACC championships. By the 3/15 formula the goal would be 3 more conference titles by 2024 (per covid) or 4 by 2026. Boeheim will go down as an all-time great either way, but (like Izzo) if he wants to be at the tippy top echelon he’ll need to bring Cuse to Blue Blood status.
- 3 NCAA Tournament Championships (1980, 1986, 2013)
- 10 Final Fours (1959, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005, 2012, 2013)
- 4 Conference Tournament Championships since 2005 (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014)
- 3 Regular Seasons since 2005 (2009, 2013, 2014)
- 20 Year Average Seed = 7
Louisville was in Conference USA prior to 2005-2006, which they won the conference tournament twice between 2000-2005 (2003, 2005) and the regular season once (2005). The double requirement for mid-major conferences should be in effect. Their 2014 season was also in the AAC (a quasi-major) so their regular season and tourney conference title doesn’t hold as much weight. (And this is to say nothing of the games/titles that have been vacated, lol). The Cardinals were close to Blue Blood status in the mid-2000s but ultimately didn’t quite make it. The good news is they have the hardware and fairly recent success. Chris Mack just needs to run off a handful of seasons of ACC contention resulting in top NCAA seeding and they’ll be in.
- 1 NCAA Title (2019)
- 3 Final Fours (1981, 1984, 2019)
- 2 ACC Tournament Championships Since 2000 (2014, 2018)
- 5 ACC Regular Season Crown’s Since 2000 (2007, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019)
- 20 Year Average NCAA Seed = 8
UVA was the king of the regular season for the late 2010s after not doing much in the 2000s. Fortunately for them, they got over both humps and are now (still) the reigning national champions. They have a lot of work to do in the postseason but there is no telling where Tony Bennett and co go from here. If the Cavaliers get 2 more NCAA titles and 3 more Final Fours while maintaining the same regular-season edge in the ACC they’ll be Blue Bloods for sure. I wouldn’t be shocked if that is in just 5 or 6 years now that the ice has been broken and the traditional ACC Blue Bloods (Duke & UNC) are down. Or they could have just gotten lucky in 2019.
Conference Title Requirement 3/12 x 40 = 10
- 1 NCAA Championship (1997)
- 4 Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997, 2001)
- 4 PAC12 Tourney Chips since 2000 (2002, 2015, 2017, 2018)
- 8 Pac12 Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018)
- Average Seed = 6
The path is simple for Arizona as well – win two more NCAA titles. Winning those titles will also bring 2 more Final Fours. Aside from that they just need to maintain their in-conference level of play.
Conference Title Requirement 3/14 x 40 = 9
- 2 NCAA Titles (2006, 2007)
- 5 Final Fours (1994, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2014)
- 4 SEC Tournament Championships Since 2000 (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014)
- 6 SEC Regular Season Titles Since 2000 (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014)
- 20 Year NCAA Tourney Average = 6
The Gators are right on the precipice as well. They only need one NCAA championship (which would come with a Final Four) to get over the hump. They have been fading down the stretch, however, with 6 and 10 seeds in the tourney in 2018 and 2019 and missing it altogether in 2015 and 2016 (a nice 4 seed in 2017 though). The haters will say it is a bit soon for UF but the back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007 (along with the bookend titles in football in 2006 and 2008) constitute perhaps the most impressive continuous run I’ve seen by one school.