The Last Dance has taken the sports world by storm.
In a time where we don’t actually have any access to live sports due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the entire world, airing 10 hours of archival, all-access, never-before-seen footage from the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season — one that was complete with Scottie Pippen demanding a trade, Phil Jackson getting run out of town and Michael Jordan winning a title and retiring because Jerry Krause couldn’t play nice — has been, quite literally, the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
And it got me to thinking.
If I could pick any single college basketball season to discover hours and hours and hours of all-access footage from, what seasons would I pick?
These are my top 12.
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12. KENTUCKY, 2008-09
There are some absolutely insane stories floating around the college basketball world from Billy Gillespie’s time in Lexington. Some of them have been told. Many more have not. And all of them would make for absolutely phenomenal television, all the way up until the moment he, quite literally, ran away from reporters while pretending to be on the phone when he was fired.
I’m all in.
11. MEMPHIS, 2007-08
The best team that John Calipari ever had in Memphis.
The Tigers went 38-2 this season. They lost to then-No. 2 Tennessee as the No. 1 team in the country in late-February and they lost to Kansas, in overtime, in the national title game. That’s it. They won everything else, including the fights they got into with fans at UAB.
10. NORTH CAROLINA, 2004-05
This was arguably Roy Williams’ best team at North Carolina. It was his first team to win a national title. It featured a quartet of lottery picks — Marvin Williams, Rashad McCants, Ray Felton and Sean May.
And the fact that McCants is on this roster shouldn’t just be glossed over. He was a loose cannon, and allowing a camera crew to document his life in Chapel Hill — especially the time he went from nearly ineligible to getting straight-As — would be quite entertaining. Should I mention that this was right around the time that the Tar Heels really started funneling players into those so-called “paper-classes”?
That could be interesting, couldn’t it?
9. KENTUCKY, 1995-96
There are some people that will tell you that the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats — The Untouchables — were the single greatest college basketball team ever assembled. There were six first round picks on the roster (Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Nazr Mohammed and Derek Anderson), a seventh second round pick (Mark Pope) and two more guys (Wayne Turner, Jeff Sheppard) that had cups of coffee in the NBA. They were coached by one of the greatest to ever do it in Rick Pitino. They went 34-2 on the season, losing to UMass — who was coached by John Calipari — in November before getting their revenge in the Final Four, and to Mississippi State — another Final Four team — in the SEC title game.
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8. FLORIDA, 2006-07
Only one team since 1992 has won back-to-back national titles, and it was the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007. I would love to have a camera crew along for the ride that season, starting from the moment when Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Taurean Green all decided to come back to school for another season all the way up to the point when they beat Greg Oden and Mike Conley’s Ohio State team for the national title.
And it doesn’t hurt that Noah would provide plenty of incredible content. There’s no doubt about that.
7. GONZAGA, 2005-06
Adam Morrison exploded onto the college basketball scene with a stirring performance in the 2005 Maui Invitational, becoming a sensation nationally as he competed — in a Player of the Year race as well as Call of Duty — with J.J. Redick of Duke.
Morrison was to the 2006 season what Zion Williamson was to 2019, what Trae Young was to 2018. When Gonzaga would play road games, it wasn’t “Gonzaga is coming to town,” the headlines were “Adam Morrison is playing in town tonight.” It was no different than when LeBron, or Steph Curry, or James Harden plays on the road. He was a sensation.
I wrote a long feature on that season for both of those guys a few years back, and some of the stories that Morrison told about that year were incredible. People were in the ceiling rafters for a game at San Francisco. He had pennies thrown at him at Loyola-Marymount. He had water bottles thrown at him at San Diego. That would be phenomenal television.
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6. INDIANA, 1992-93
There are plenty of options for the Bob Knight era, but I think the 1993 season might be the most interesting. It was Knight’s last Big Ten regular season title, and he had a loaded roster to do it with, including Player of the Year Calbert Cheaney.
But there are two other reasons I want this season over some others.
For starters, Knight really went off the rails in the mid-80s, and the 90s version of Knight would likely be the most entertaining version of Knight. We’re watching this to see the ridiculous outbursts, and they’re more likely late in his career.
But I’m also enthralled by this story: In February of 1993, Knight said on his radio show that Indiana had gotten a commitment from a player from Yugoslavia named Ivan Renko. Renko was completely made up, but he still popped up on recruiting services with scouting reports and all. The goal was, simply, to make that industry look foolish.
And he did.
5. DUKE, 1991-92
A year after Duke shocked UNLV in the Final four to win their first national title under Mike Krzyzewski, they returned Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill to a team that was the favorite to win the title again.
They would eventually win back-to-back titles with the backdrop of Laettner becoming the most hated player in the history of the sport while playing the greatest NCAA tournament game of all-time — an overtime win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight — in the process.
4. KENTUCKY, 2013-14
There are plenty of options for the John Calipari era in Lexington, but for me, 2014 takes the cake.
Not only was this team touted as the best recruiting class of all-time, but they were expected to go 40-0 and cruise to a national title. Instead, the likes of Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins went 22-9 in the regular season, finished six full games out of first in the SEC and then made a run to the national title game.
Why couldn’t everyone get along?
What changed in March?
What did Cal have to do to get everyone on the same page?
I’m sure I’m not the only one that would love to see that in a The Last Dance documentary.
3. VIRGINIA, 2018-19
Maybe the great sports story of my lifetime.
Virginia went from being the first team to lose to a No. 16 seed as a No. 1 seed in 2018 to winning the program’s first national title in 2019. I’m sure that if Tony Bennett knew that was going to be how the story would turn out, he would have hired the documentary crew himself.
The only downside here is that this Virginia team doesn’t have the kind of characters that some of the others teams on this list have. Bennett himself is kind of bland, and his teams do take after their coach in a way.
That’s the only reason it’s No. 3 on this list and not the No. 1 potential The Last Dance documentary.
2. MICHIGAN, the Fab Five era
Who wouldn’t want to see an all-access show centered around the Fab Five and their time at Michigan?
There already has been one documentary done on them, and it was actually quite enjoyable, but I want more. I want behind-the-scenes footage of Steve Fisher trying to convince a freshman version of Juwan Howard to allow Jalen Rose and Chris Webber to shine. I want to see a reaction from inside the locker room of Webber’s teammates after he calls a timeout that Michigan didn’t have in the 1993 national title game. I want to see what was done to convince all five of these guys not only to make it to campus, but to stay there for a second season as well.
There is only one era of college basketball that could be more entertaining than this, and it’s obvious.
1. UNLV, 1990-1991
Led by famed head coach Jerry Tarkanian, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels won the 1990 national title, putting up massive scoring totals with the likes of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augman and Greg Anthony on the roster. All of those guys were on the roster the following season, and they entered the NCAA tournament at 30-0. They were undefeated entering the Final Four, where they lost to a Duke team that they had A) beaten in the previous year’s Final Four, and B) would go on to win the next two national titles.
All of this was happening at a point in time where Tark was getting run out of Vegas. He had accepted a commitment from Lloyd Daniels, a New York City prep star, a few years earlier, but Daniels was arrested buying crack from an undercover cop. That eventually led to the NCAA opening an investigation into Daniels’, Tark and UNLV where it showed that Daniels had built a relationship with Richard Perry, a gambler who had been convicted of sports bribery. UNLV was initially banned from the 1991 NCAA Tournament, but they appealed the ruling and were eventually allowed to defend their title with the ban being deferred for a year. The 1992 season would eventually be the end of Tark’s tenure in Vegas after a picture surfaced showing Perry in a hot tub with three of Tark’s players.
Imagine that all of that in the background of a team trying to become the first (and only) program since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated for an entire season.
Imagine an inside look at what a powerhouse in Las Vegas had going on outside of basketball.
That would almost be too good to be true.
The Last Dance: UNLV.
I can only imagine.