Five College Basketball Teams from the 2010s That You Forgot Were Stacked

5. The 2014-15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

(Photo by Lance King via Getty Images)

32-6 Record, 8th in the Final AP Poll, Lost in the NCAAT Elite Eight

Future NBA Talent: Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Bonzie Colson

In only their second year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Mike Brey led this Notre Dame team to a 14-4 conference record and an ACC Tournament Championship. This year, senior guard Jerian Grant exploded to lead the ACC in assists, assists per game, free throws, free throws attempted, and minutes played during the 2014-15 campaign. Grant clearly proved to be the best player on this squad, but junior big man Zach Auguste, who never played an NBA game, was often the reason Notre Dame prevailed in big-time matchups. Auguste averaged a consistent 13 PPG and 6.5 RPG throughout the year and put up a 16 point – 13 rebound double-double in the ACC Championship game to propel the 11th ranked Irish past the 19th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. The senior duo of Grant and Pat Connaughton scored 24 and 20 points respectively, and the Irish rode a five-game win streak into the NCAA tournament. 

Notre Dame won their first three games in the Big Dance, including a convincing 11-point win over a scary Wichita State team led by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. VanVleet went off for 25 points, but four of Notre Dame’s five starters scored 15 or more to put the Shockers away. Following their impressive Sweet Sixteen win, the Irish ran into a title-favorite, undefeated Kentucky team in the Elite Eight. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 25 points on 10/13 shooting to eliminate the Irish. This would turn out to be Kentucky's final win of the season, but nevertheless, the Irish put up a valiant effort losing by only a single bucket, 68-66.

With five guys averaging double figures and a freshman Bonzie Colson only playing an average of 12 minutes per game, this Notre Dame team surprised a lot of people and made some serious noise in the ACC. Jerian Grant’s decision to return for his fifth year as a redshirt senior turned out to be huge for the Irish. Their ACC Tournament run is still one of the best in recent memory. In consecutive days, Mike Brey's squad knocked off a 25-13 Miami team, 4th ranked Duke, and 15th ranked North Carolina to claim the title. When the initial NCAA title odds were released in the preseason, Notre Dame was 150/1 to win the national championship. This was a sign of the modest expectations that they more than surpassed throughout the 2014-15 college basketball season.

4. The 2010-11 Marquette Golden Eagles

(Photo by Nick Laham via Getty Images)

22-15 Record, Unranked in the Final AP Poll, Lost in the NCAAT Sweet Sixteen

Future NBA Talent: Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, Dwight Buycks, Vander Blue

When you look back at a college basketball roster and see senior year Jimmy Butler, junior year Jae Crowder (although his first season in Division I), and Darius Johnson-Odom leading the team in scoring, you would expect the team to be competing at the top of their conference. And they were…right? Wrong. But Connor, a team with five future NBA players must have been at least ranked in the top 25 at the end of the year…right? Wrong again. On paper, these Marquette Golden Eagles look like they should have been putting up a fight against the powerhouses of college basketball this particular season. However, the Jimmy Butler-led squad could only muster a 22-15 record, finishing 9th in the Big East standings. In fact, Marquette ended up going 27-8 only a year later, and Jae Crowder won conference player of the year - but let's stay on topic here.

This team began the year winning seven of their first nine games, their only two losses being by a combined 8 points to college basketball giants Duke and Gonzaga. Things really began to fly off the rails once this team hit conference play. The Golden Eagles finished .500 in conference play and were beaten in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals by a talented Louisville team. Now let's cut Marquette some slack here; the Big East was stacked during the 2010-11 season. In the final AP Poll, the Big East had seven teams ranked in the top 25 and 11 teams with 20 or more wins. To top it all off, the eventual National Champion Connecticut Huskies had the same conference record as Marquette! What a year for Big East basketball as a whole.

The Golden Eagles received an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, where they managed to win their first two games before being bounced in the Sweet Sixteen by a young North Carolina team. After a stellar regular season, Johnson-Odom was held to seven points and four turnovers in their final loss, while Buycks was held scoreless on a mere two shot attempts. Butler and Crowder combined for a quiet 25 points, and Marquette was eliminated 81-63. 

Clearly, expectations weren't too high for this team in the preseason as they held +8000 title odds prior to their first game. It's easy to look back at this team and recognize some notable names: an NBA All-Star, a solid NBA role player, and a couple guys who bounced around the league for a few years and think, "Hey, this team must have been such a great college team!" However, When you sit back and think about it, nobody from this team was highly coveted coming out of college. Two of the five future pros went undrafted, two went in the second round, and Jimmy Butler was the final pick of the 2011 first round. In my opinion, this is a testament to how well someone’s game can translate to the NBA level, even if it didn’t stand out in college. This Marquette squad should serve as a reminder that you can have all the talent in the world on your team, but college basketball is drastically different than the NBA. Having an abundance of future pros on your team doesn't always translate to team success.

3. The 2008-09 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

(*I know the article is written about teams from the 2010s, but I’m making an exception.)

(Photo by David E. Klutho via Getty Images)

24-7 Record, 12th in the Final AP Poll, Lost in the NCAAT First Round

Future NBA Talent: Ish Smith, Jeff Teague, James Johnson, Al-Farouq Aminu

Let me start this section of the article with a bit of personal bias: this team was so much fun to watch. Living 20 minutes from Lawrence Joel Coliseum during this season was electric. My grandparents are season ticket holders, and I attended multiple games during this historic Wake Forest season. I give a substantial amount of credit to this Wake Forest team for helping me fall in love with the game of basketball. Seeing the Demon Deacon mascot ride out to the hardwood on his motorcycle created a core memory for 9-year-old Connor Sparrow. I’m a Tar Heel born and bred, but I have to say I still cheer for Wake Forest over any school not named North Carolina.

Let's get into the season itself. Coming off a dismal 17-13 season and a losing record in the ACC, the Demon Deacons were an afterthought heading into the 2008-09 season. However, there were a couple of bright spots: during their freshman campaigns, both Jeff Teague and James Johnson averaged 14+ PPG, and Wake had a top-10 recruit coming to campus named Al-Farouq Aminu. Another domino that fell in Wake’s favor is that they were extremely young the year before, and all five starters returned for the 08-09 year.

This team started off blistering hot, winning their first 16 games by an average of over 19 points. For only the second time in school history, Wake Forest topped the AP polls in mid-January and achieved the #1 ranking. Yeah, you read that right: Wake Forest Basketball was ranked #1 in the country (although they only held it for a week.) The first half of the season was highlighted by two key signature wins, the first being a 92-89 shootout victory over the Final Four bound UNC Tar Heels, who were ranked third at the time. Jeff Teague put on a show in Lawrence Joel Coliseum, scoring 34 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Up to this point, the argument could be made that the Demon Deacons had only played cupcake games. They stepped up to the challenge in their first true test of the season and forced everyone in the college basketball world to pay attention. Their next signature win came two weeks later when they knocked off the #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils once again in Lawrence Joel Coliseum. Aminu and Johnson both posted double-doubles to lead Wake to a much-needed bounce back win after losing to unranked Virginia Tech the game before and sliding from their #1 spot in the polls.

For how much talent this Wake Forest team had, they ended the season in horrific fashion. After starting 16-0, Wake finished the year going 8-7 with a couple inexcusable losses that left a bad taste in the mouth of fans everywhere. In their first ACC Tournament game, the Demon Deacons were defeated, losing to a subpar Maryland team that finished 7-9 in ACC play. Following this blunder, Wake received a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and drew a matchup with #13 Cleveland State. Future NBA champion Norris Cole scored 22 and led Cleveland State over Wake in a convincing 15-point win. Much of the final stretch of this Wake Forest season was characterized by a lack of focus. This came full circle in this NCAA Tournament first-round game, where Wake turned the ball over a staggering 18 times.

While they didn't end on a high note, this Wake Forest team should still be remembered fondly by Demon Deacon fans. This team produced three future NBA first-round picks and consistently hovered at the top of the AP poll week in and week out. They began the year at +7500 to win the NCAA title, so it's safe to say that despite an early tournament exit, this team exceeded expectations. While this program has had its struggles over the last few years, I'm a firm believer that ACC basketball is much more competitive and exciting to watch when Wake Forest is competing near the top.

2. The 2015-16 Iowa State Cyclones

(Photo by Aaron Ontiveroz via Getty Images)

23-12 Record, 22nd in the Final AP Poll, Lost in the NCAAT Sweet Sixteen

Future NBA Talent: Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Abdel Nader, Matt Thomas, Deonte Burton, Nazareth Mitrou-Long

Coming off of consecutive 9th place finishes in the final AP poll and returning three of their top four scorers, Iowa State looked poised to compete near the top of the Big 12 once again in 2015-16. To be exact, 70.9% of minutes played and 71.5% of scoring returned from the 2014-15 roster. There were some uncertainties, though, none looming larger than the departure of coach Fred Hoiberg, who left for the NBA (5 years, $25 million to go 115-155 in less than 4 years…yikes.) Nonetheless, Hoiberg had found tremendous success at his alma mater and led them to an NCAA tournament berth in four of his five seasons with the program. Newly-hired Steve Prohm entered with lofty expectations but came into an ideal scenario for a first-year head coach: his seven best players were upperclassmen, all of whom were accustomed to winning.

Senior guard Nazareth Mitrou-Long went down with a season-ending injury only eight games into the season, but the Cyclones found success following the injury. The positive takeaway from this incident is that junior guard Matt Thomas slid into the starting lineup for the rest of the year and averaged 11 PPG and 4.4 RPG while shooting 43% from 3-point land. Iowa State had a semi-successful regular season in a year where the Big 12 was loaded with talent. The Big 12 finished with five schools in the top 25, three of them in the top 10. However, the Cyclones competed with all of the powerhouses and never lost a game by more than 10 points the entire year. 

Future second-round pick Georges Niang went on a season-long heater averaging over 20 points and 6 boards a game for the Cyclones while leading the conference in field goal percentage (54.6%). When the stakes were the highest, Niang posted scoring outputs of 31, 28, 28, and 30 points in the conference and NCAA tournaments. Junior guard Monte Morris proved to be the motor of this team, averaging close to 14 PPG and 7 APG while leading the Big 12 in assists, assists per game, and minutes played, all for the second year in a row. While Iowa State finished a meager 10-8 in conference play, they were a team that no school wanted to match up with in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State drew a #4 seed and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, winning both of their previous games by double digits. However, they ran into the #1 seed Virginia Cavaliers and fell short, losing 84-71. Oddly enough, Marial Shayok played 22 minutes for Virginia in this game but later transferred to Iowa State and averaged close to 19 PPG for the Cyclones in 2018-19.

This Iowa State program had been on the rise for a few years before this, and the oddsmakers took notice. The Cyclones were +2800 to win the NCAA Championship and were one of the most exciting teams to watch in college basketball. With six future NBA players on their team, this Iowa State squad is one of the most forgotten stacked college basketball teams from the 2010s.

1. The 2011-12 North Carolina Tar Heels

(Photo by Chris Trotman via Getty Images)

32-6 Record, 4th in the Final AP Poll, Lost in the NCAAT Elite Eight

Future NBA Talent: Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston

I know what everyone is thinking – "Oh, of course Connor's going to include a North Carolina team in the article; how predictable." That may be true, but let me tell you…when discussing this team, it’s a lot more painful for me to write about than it is for you to read. This is the greatest college basketball team to never win a national championship, and nobody can convince me otherwise. Allow me to plead my case…

The Tar Heels were fresh off another ACC regular season championship and a tough Elite Eight loss heading into the 2011-12 season. They had overachieved the season prior, and now everyone had taken notice of how big of a threat UNC posed to college basketball in the upcoming year. North Carolina returned all five starters and brought in the #5 recruiting class in the nation. The #1 ranked recruit from 2010, Harrison Barnes, decided to return to school for his sophomore season after being thought of as a potential one and done. Point guard Kendall Marshall had been given the reigns to the team as a freshman following Larry Drew's dramatic midseason departure. For what it's worth, Larry Drew is one of the few former Carolina basketball players that I can't stand. If you get outperformed and subsequently benched for a freshman, maybe that says something about the player you are instead of the coaching staff…but I digress. Tyler Zeller and John Henson, arguably the most dominant frontcourt duo in school history, both decided to return as well.

North Carolina opened up the year winning a few games in convincing fashion before meeting Kentucky on December 3rd in Rupp Arena. This would be the most formidable team they would face all season as many people felt that these were the best two teams in college basketball. Throughout the game, it was a back and forth affair, and it came down to the final possession. Marquis Teague missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Kendall Marshall crossed the timeline down one point with a chance to win it. The final play is etched in my memory forever. Entry pass to Zeller, loses the handle, Henson picks it up, Henson 14-footer for the win…blocked by Anthony Davis on the defensive rotation. To this day, that game stings. I know in my heart that John Henson was burying that jumper if it hadn’t been blocked. However, as a fan of college basketball, this has to be one of the most exciting games I've ever had the pleasure of tuning in to. 14 future NBA players played in this game, including 10 future first-round draft picks. Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller chipped in 14 apiece for the Heels while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist posted a 17 point – 11 rebound double-double to lead the Wildcats. Following this game, many college basketball sportswriters predicted that these two teams would meet once again come late March.

North Carolina won 14 of their next 15 games following the Kentucky loss and began dominating other ACC teams. While this was a season characterized by multiple blowout wins for the Tar Heels, there is one legendary moment from a loss that will be played on a loop in every Duke-UNC rivalry hype video for the rest of time. Yep, you guessed it – Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beater over Tyler Zeller in the Dean Dome. The outcome of this game forced me to skip school the next day in fear of confronting my friends who were Duke fans. The sad thing is, I knew as soon as it left his hands that it was going in; there was no doubt in my mind. On a positive note, the Heels got revenge in their final regular season game and throttled Duke 88-70 in Cameron Indoor. Not to add insult to injury, but this is the same year that C.J. McCollum became an official owner of Duke basketball. Sure, Duke fans, you can have the Austin Rivers buzzer-beater, but was it worth losing to Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? Speaking of that, one of the biggest regrets I have in life is attending North Carolina's first-round matchup against Vermont at the Greensboro Coliseum and not staying to watch Duke take on Lehigh in the following game. That’s right, I, Connor Sparrow, a die-hard Carolina fan, had lower-level seats to Duke's infamous collapse to a #15 seed, and I left before the game started. Cut me some slack; I was 11.

The Tar Heels made it to the ACC Tournament Championship, where they fell to Florida State for the third time that season in as many games. Barnes dropped 23 points while Zeller put up 19 points and 12 rebounds. Michael Snaer led the Seminoles with 18 points as Florida State claimed their one and only ACC Tournament title. Heading into NCAA tournament play, the Heels received a #1 seed and easily handled Vermont in the opening round. This led them to a second-round matchup against the #8 seed Creighton Bluejays (just hearing that school name makes me shudder). After missing the last three games, John Henson returned, and North Carolina was back to full strength…for less than one game. I'm sure you know where this is going – with just under 11 minutes left in the second half, UNC held a 16-point lead. Kendall Marshall, the engine of the machine that was the Carolina offense, was taken out of midair by Creighton reserve forward Ethan Wragge. Marshall hopped up immediately, but it was later revealed that he had broken his right wrist and would be forced to miss significant time. Ethan Wragge should have been sentenced to life in prison on the spot.

North Carolina ended up defeating Creighton and moving past Ohio before coming toe to toe with #2 seed Kansas. Due to an injury to backup point guard Dexter Strickland only 19 games into the season, Carolina had no depth at that position whatsoever. Freshman walk-on Stilman White was thrust into the starting lineup against Ohio and finished with two points, six assists, and zero turnovers. However, the Kansas Jayhawks were miles better than the Ohio Bobcats. Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, and the Jayhawks proved to be too much for the Heels, who looked lost without their star point guard running the show. To Stilman White’s credit, he played as well as he possibly could have: four points, seven assists, and zero turnovers, but it wasn’t enough to power Carolina through to the Final Four.

I would argue that this North Carolina team had more talent than their most recent national title team, but circumstance truly takes precedent in college basketball. This season was far and away one of the most successful in program history. UNC had seven future NBA players on this roster, six of them being future first rounds picks (four in the following year alone). Kendall Marshall averaged 9.8 assists and led the ACC in this category in back-to-back years. Harrison Barnes averaged 17 points, while Zeller and Henson both averaged near double-doubles. I realize that many people may remember this Carolina team, but I just wanted to provide some context for their season as well as a reminder of how stacked they actually were. North Carolina was listed at +350 to win the National Championship in the preseason odds, and there is a strong argument that they would’ve cashed those bet slips had they stayed healthy.

Final Thoughts

There you have it; five college basketball teams from the 2010s that you may have forgotten were stacked. It's always fun to look back at previous college basketball seasons and see where certain players ended up and writing this article gave me the chance to do that. Hopefully, you learned something from this article, and if not, you at least took a stroll down memory lane. If there are any teams that you feel I missed, feel free to DM me on Twitter (@connor_sparrow) and let me know. Finally, thanks for reading! I’ll continue to write articles about entertaining and relevant topics in the sports world right here on Be sure to check out our podcast episodes as well as other articles written by the team. Thanks again!