Arizona hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1984. That streak alone – the second longest in NCAA history – would necessitate inclusion among the greatest college basketball programs of all time.
But the Wildcats have done more since '84 than just consistently win. They've produced some of the NCAA's most talented teams, several memorable games (the '05 regional final against Illinois still amazes) and developed into one of college hoops' truly elite programs.
How else would they end up at No. 8 on this list?
Arizona's won at least 25 games 12 times during that remarkable streak, a feat few teams can match. Same with their 29 weeks atop the AP rankings. Even more impressive are Arizona's five times as a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. Only UNC, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas have more.
The Wildcats' 1,547 wins are more than Cincinnati, while their .645 win percentage is better than UConn's.
They've reached four Final Fours won a title, and have won their 41 NCAA tournament games at a better rate than Syracuse.
Arizona also sports 21 regular-season conference titles, 27 Big Dance appearances and when it comes to NBA players, few schools can match their sheer number or All-Star players.
Most of this starts with Lute Olson, who arrived in Tucson in 1983 and has won nearly 600 games in that span. But even Olson had some minor Arizona success to build on.
Because before they were Wildcats, there was Pop McKale. He won more than 80 percent of his games in seven seasons, still a school record for a coach with at least 3 years' experience. Arizona kept winning with three coaches in the four seasons, then had 36 seasons of stability under Fred Enke, who remains the longest tenured coach in school history.
Enke's teams won 509 games and claimed 11 Border Conference titles, though they weren't nearly as consistent as later years. The 'Cats could go 25-5 or 4-22.
Perhaps more important than wins was Fred Snowden's hiring in 1972, which made him the first black coach in major college basketball.
His squads started fast, reaching the Elite Eight during his fourth season, but after three straight losing seasons, he was out by 1982. Still, his influence on coaching hires and Arizona basketball was significant.
"He comes and turns Tucson into a basketball town and just as McKale Center rocks now, it rocked then," says former Wildcat All-American Bob Elliott.
"Lute took the path that Freddy had paved and added to it, but he didn't have to start with a dirt road."
One thing's for sure, Olson didn't waste any time.
By 1986, the Wildcats had won their first of 10 regular-season Pac-10 crowns. That season also featured Olson's first superstar recruit in Sean Elliott, who most consider the best player to ever wear a Wildcats uniform.
(Not that there's much debate. Elliott was a two-time consensus All-American and won the Wooden award his senior season AND led the 'Cats to their first-ever Final Four. That's what you call a lasting legacy.)
The 1988 squad was even better, and perhaps the best in school history. The 35-3 team was atop the rankings for five weeks and ran away with the Pac-10, finishing 17-1. Some claimed they were rarely tested during the season, but there was no denying their talent, especially when they hammered North Carolina for their first Final Four berth.
It set up one of those classic games, where 34-3 Oklahoma loomed as the national semifinal opponent and most thought the winner would breeze to the national title. (It didn't happen, but that's another post.)
After a few more runs to the Sweet 16, Arizona had been established as a perennial contender. Of course, there were a few hiccups in the early '90s.
A 24-7 in 1992 ended with a loss to Eastern Tennessee State. The next year was a stunning upset to No. 15 Santa Clara. The next year, the 'Cats were in the Final Four. In '95, it was another first-round NCAA tourney loss.
And just when Olson was dealing with a growing reputation as a coach who couldn't win the big one, along came the 1997 team.
Arizona entered the Big Dance at 19-9, but reeled off six straight wins, including a stunning upset of 34-1 Kansas. When the 'Cats followed that with wins against North Carolina and Kentucky in the Final Four, they became the only team to ever beat three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tourney.
The close-knit group featured what was one of the biggest NCAA trends in the '90s and early 2000s, a three-guard offense that presented all sorts of matchup problems for opponents. With MOP Miles Simon, point guard Mike Bibby, big guard Michael Dickerson and scoring sensation Jason Terry off the bench, Olson utilized his most talented players and cemented Arizona's rep as a guard-oriented school. (Which has morphed into Wing U lately.)
It also set up the Wildcats as one of the scariest teams around. For the next six years, Arizona could score in bunches because of their athletic, NBA-caliber guards. (You know the ones: Guys like Gilbert Arenas, Andre Aguodala, Richard Jefferson, and Damon Stoudemire.)
The uber-talented 2001 squad lost to Duke in the national title game, while the 2003 incarnation was tabbed the preseason favorite.
Sure, neither team won a title, but the steady pipeline of pro players continued into Tucson. Even Arizona's recent struggles haven't dried up the talent well (though Brandon Jennings' flight to Europe was a stunner).
At this point, the only thing that can derail Arizona's overall program is Olson's retirement. The 'Cats continued their NCAA streak last season without Olson, but it wasn't the same Arizona team we're used to seeing.
Olson turns 74 in September, but says he wants to coach for another four or five seasons. If that happens, don't expect Arizona to drop on this list anytime soon.
Coming next Tuesday, No. 7 on the list of greatest programs.
No. 9, Syracuse.
No. 10, Connecticut.
No. 11, Cincinnati.
No. 12, Utah.
No. 13: Villanova.
No. 14: Illinois.
No. 15: Michigan State.
No. 16: Georgetown.
No. 17: Arkansas.
No. 18: Ohio State.
No. 19: St. John's.
No. 20: UNLV.
No. 21: Texas.
No. 22: Notre Dame.
No. 23: Temple.
No. 24: Oklahoma.
No. 25: N.C. State.