No school can match UCLA's 11 NCAA tournament titles and 18 Final Fours.
The Bruins won 10 of those championships between 1964 and 1975 and established one of sports' most celebrated dynasties when John Wooden coached legendary players like Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, Sidney Wicks and Gail Goodrich.
So a simple question remains: How did the celebrated Bruins only land at No. 4 on the list of greatest college basketball programs? In a word, consistency.
UCLA's place among the elite – college basketball's elite of Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana – was assured thanks to those titles, but it never again equaled that run under Wooden (who could?). Its basketball fortunes have been uneven ever since, to say nothing of when Wooden first started at UCLA or before him.
The Bruins haven't suffered in the post-Wooden era. They won it all in '95 and have been to the last three Final Fours. But that isn't the same consistency shown by North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas.
To be clear:
Between the 1963-64 and the 1974-75 seasons, UCLA was 335-14 (.9599 win percentage), with 10 titles and 11 final fours.
The rest of the time: the Bruins' record is 1,311-705 (.6463), with 1 title and 7 final fours. That's still impressive, but it's a record more on par with Arkansas (1,473 wins, .6463 %, 1 title and 6 Final Fours), which is a top 20, but not top 5 program.
UCLA's overall résumé looks like this:
Its 1,646 victories are 9th most, while its .6955 win percentage is sixth, better than Duke's. Its 11 titles are four more than anyone else, and its 18 Final Fours are one more than UNC.
Oddly enough, UCLA is second in NCAA tourney win percentage, just behind Duke at .7368. It's also second in total tourney appearances (42).
The Bruins' 30 conference titles are 6th (more than Duke or Louisville).
They've spent an NCAA best 134 weeks atop the AP poll, including four seasons in which they went wire-to-wire.
UCLA owns three of the longest win streaks in NCAA history, including an amazing 88-game run from 1971-1974.
Thirteen Bruins have been All-Americans 19 times. Only Kentucky has more.
This also includes five seasons in the 1980s when UCLA missed the NCAA tournament; when the Bruins had back-to-back losing seasons in 2003 and 2004; and when they lost in the Big Dance's first round three times in six seasons in the '90s.
None of this is meant to overly criticize the Bruins. They're one of today's elite teams and one of the all-time great programs. But rankings like there reflect an overall program, not just how it performed in March.
Besides there's plenty to celebrate in UCLA's history. And it begins with Wooden.
He coached 27 years at UCLA, starting in 1948 when the Bruins went from 12-13 to 22-7. The Bruins were solid in the '50s, yet when Wooden made some small adjustments in the early '60s UCLA took off.
Starting with an undersized, up-tempo squad in 1964, the Bruins overwhelmed foes by running them into the ground. Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich led the way to an unbeaten 1964 season, while Goodrich's marvelous 42-point performance in '65 against Michigan capped back-to-back titles.
Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, spearheaded the truly dominant UCLA era. As a sophomore, he led the Bruins to a 30-0 season, though he was far from the only great player on the roster, which also featured standouts like Lynn Shackleford, Lucius Allen and Mike Warren.
Even when teams managed to beat UCLA, the Bruins always won when it mattered most. By the time Alcindor was a senior, he had put his stamp on college hoops as a three-time MOP of the Final Four and perhaps the best the game would ever see.
He was a breathtaking mix of size, speed, strength and agility, with a devastating hook shot and an intimidating defensive presence. He wasn't explicitly why the dunk was once banned, but most accounts point to him as the reason. It's as if people tried to halt UCLA's dominance, but couldn't.
Even when Alcindor graduated, the Bruins still beat down foes in the NCAA tourney. Whether it was Sidney Wicks outplaying Artis Gilmore or getting 29 points from Steve Patterson to outlast Villanova in '71, the Bruins wouldn't be denied.
And things only got tougher for foes starting the next year when Bill Walton arrived. Behind their star sophomore center and Wilkes, UCLA won its 8th title and sixth straight. Like death and taxes, the Bruins were the best in March every season.
Walton, like Alcindor, was a singular talent, the kind of player that made everyone around him better behind his defense, passing and stellar low-post game. Leave it to UCLA to bring in players this good nearly every season.
Attracting once-in-a-generation players like Walton and Alcindor ensured the Bruins remained the team to beat and a program unlike anyone'd ever seen in the college game. Most teams hoped for winning streaks. UCLA aimed for unbeaten seasons.
In a way, the Bruins' era of dominance was capped by Walton's remarkable performance in the 1973 championship game against Memphis. His 21-of-22 shooting performance (and 13 rebounds) was as close to perfection people had ever seen on the grand stage. Who else but a Bruin?
When the Bruins' NCAA run ended to David Thompson's N.C. State Wolfpack in the 1974 Final Four, few knew that just one UCLA title remained. Wooden went out a winner the next season, after beating Kentucky in the title game.
He left a legacy that was impossible to match, though.
Gene Bartow was the first to try. In two years, UCLA went 52-9, won two conference titles and reached a Final Four, but it wasn't good enough. He left for UAB.
Next was former player and Wooden assistant Gary Cunningham. In two seasons, UCLA was 50-8, won two conference titles and reached an Elite Eight, but it wasn't enough.
Larry Brown followed. Brown didn't have the same sterling record (42-17 in two season), but took the Bruins to the 1980 championship game where they almost upset Louisville.
From there it was seven more seasons with ex-players leading the way. Larry Farmer (61-23 overall, but only 1 NCAA tourney berth) and Walt Hazzard (77-47, one NCAA tourney berth) turned what may have been respectable seasons for other schools, but neither lasted in Westwood.
In came Jim Harrick, who put together solid and occasionally great teams. In four years, the Bruins were a contender, grabbing a No. 1 seed in the 1992 tournament before losing to Indiana in the Elite Eight.
By '95, the Bruins had a balanced, experienced team led by seniors Ed O'Bannon and Tyus Edney. With a little luck (Edney's full-court scamper against Missouri remains the stuff of March lore) and a lot of O'Bannon, UCLA upended defending champions Arkansas for its first title in 20 years.
Not that it lasted. Princeton ousted the defending champs in the first round the next season, and Harrick was fired for NCAA recruiting violations. UCLA hired assistant Steve Lavin, who could recruit, but wasn't an accomplished coach. After seven seasons, including a 10-19 campaign in 2002-03, UCLA hired its eight coach since Wooden's retirement.
And it finally proved to be a stellar hire.
Ben Howland stumbled to start (29-28 in his first two seasons), but hasn't missed a Final Four in three years. He's made UCLA one of March's most dangerous teams and a threat to win a title each season. He may never match Wooden's team in terms of titles (who could?), but the Bruins are once again one of college basketball's elite.
It also gives UCLA that rare feat in college hoops – a school that found a worthy successor to the legend that established the program.
Next Tuesday: No. 3 on the list of greatest programs.