1960s College Basketball National Champions

The 1960s were the last decade where an NIT Champion could reasonably argue they were worthy of the national championship, rather than a clearly inferior prize to the NCAA title. But by the beginning of the 1960s, the NCAAs had already established a leg up on the still proud NIT.

1960

A fierce race for the 1960 Missouri Valley Championship was one of the main stories of the regular season. Bradley and Cincinnati split their regular season contests with each winning at home. Cincinnati spent the whole season at number one in the AP Poll, but Bradley spent all of the 1960 calendar year ranked in the AP’s top four. Ultimately, Cincinnati would represent the Missouri Valley in the NCAAs after Bradley dropped a five-point decision at Houston. But the Bearcats would meet a Final Four demise in a 1 vs. 2 matchup against defending national champion California. The Golden Bears would follow up that gigantic victory with a 20-point loss to Ohio State, who had entered the NCAAs at AP #3. While #4 Bradley may have had the last laugh over Cincinnati, defeating #9 St Bonaventure and #14 Providence to win the NIT, Ohio State’s argument for a national title is just a bit stronger than Bradley’s is.

GDB National Champions: Ohio State

1961

Both Providence, the NIT Champions, and Cincinnati, the NCAA Champions, claim a national title for the 1961 season. While Providence spent most of December ranked in the teens before dropping out of the AP Poll for the rest of the season, Cincinnati did not make their AP poll debut until February 7th. But the Bearcats did so in style, entering at 5th in the nation before working up to #2 in the last poll of the year. Providence won four straight thrilling games to take the NIT in Madison Square Garden, never winning by more than 7 points. Meanwhile, Cincinnati won the Final Four in Kansas City after an overtime victory over wire-to-wire number one Ohio State. The selection here is pretty clear for Cincinnati.

GDB National Champions: Cincinnati

1962

Defending champion Cincinnati was either ranked 2nd or 3rd in the AP Poll throughout the ’62 season. And they would finish the year on top of college basketball after winning their second consecutive NCAA title. NIT Champion Dayton’s season did not have nearly as illustrious of a shine to it. The Flyers capped it off with a run through the NIT, but they were never ranked by the AP. Their Ohio brethren are a clear choice.

GDB National Champions: Cincinnati

1963

While Texas Western received more notoriety in later years for starting an all-black lineup against all-white Kentucky in 1966, Loyola-Chicago helped pave the way for equality three years prior. The Ramblers gained fame for playing majority black lineups at a time when that simply did not happen outside of HBCUs. And the Ramblers were great, too. Loyola-Chicago entered the NCAAs at 3rd in the AP Poll and 4th in the Coaches Poll. In a classic NCAA title game, they drew wire-to-wire #1 Cincinnati and ended the Cincinnati dynasty with a 60-58 win in double overtime. Although Providence recognizes a national championship based on their NIT title, the Friars were not quite at the Ramblers’ level. Providence was 10th in the March 5th AP Poll, but entered the NIT unranked.

GDB National Champions: Loyola-Chicago

1964

While the 1960 version of the Bradley Braves have a legitimate claim to being one of the top few teams in the country, the same is not true for their 1964 NIT-winning team. Bradley went just 7-5 in the MVC and never earned a ranking in the AP Poll. In fact, only one NIT participant, #9 DePaul, entered New York’s NIT ranked. Half a country away, though, a new power was set to be crowned. #1 UCLA defeated #3 Duke to give John Wooden the first title in a budding dynasty.

GDB National Champions: UCLA

1965

For the second year in a row, UCLA took home the NCAA title, taking #1 Michigan in a championship game between the top two ranked teams in the AP Poll. Although the AP Poll went back to ranking 20 teams from 10 this season, 8th rated Villanova was the only team in the NIT that was ranked. St John’s took home the tourney title, but no claim to the national championship.

GDB National Champions: UCLA

1966

#3 Texas Western (now known as UTEP) will forever be enshrined as the team to inspire the movie Glory Road by defeating Adolph Rupp’s all-white #1 Kentucky squad in the NCAA title game with an all-black lineup. But while nearly every college hoops fan is familiar with that story, not many know BYU also claims a national title for winning the 1966 NIT. The Cougars finished second in the WAC and unranked, though they were a solid 20-5 on the year. Between the two teams, Texas Western was clearly more powerful and accomplished.

GDB National Champions: Texas Western

1967

After a year of the UCLA dynasty being derailed, the Bruins were back at it in 1967, winning the NCAA Championship over surprising Dayton with Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) winning the Most Outstanding Player award at the Final Four in Louisville. The Bruins were an all-timer of a team, going wire-to-wire as the #1 ranked team in the land. But another school also claims a national championship based on winning the NIT that year, and they were quite the team themselves, led by future NBA player Dick Garrett and the famed Walt Frazier. The Southern Illinois Salukis were also ranked number one in the country. While UCLA was ranked first amongst University Division teams, the Salukis were top dog in the College Division rankings. Southern Illinois knew they were simply too good to play in the College Division tournament as they had scored two huge wins during the season over defending national champion Texas Western, who finished 10th in the AP, and Louisville, who finished 2nd behind UCLA. This Southern Illinois team was really, really good, and they opted to head to the NIT in New York City to prove it on the big stage. While the NCAA Tournament with UCLA was the stronger field, the NIT had multiple teams that had spent part of the year in the top ten. Southern Illinois stormed through the bracket in four games to take the NIT. There is no doubt that Southern Illinois team was special and deserving of all the accolades laid upon them. But even though both teams were ranked number one in their respective divisions, the 30-0 Bruins were a cut above the 24-2 Salukis, even if Southern Illinois may have the better story.

GDB National Champions: UCLA

1968

UCLA continued their dominance in 1968, but it included a speed bump in the Game of the Century at the Astrodome in Houston. Top-ranked UCLA fell that day in January and spent the rest of the year at #2. No matter, the Bruins avenged the loss in a 101-69 NCAA semifinal rematch against #1 Houston. They then followed that up with a 23-point mauling of #5 North Carolina for the national title. Unranked Dayton won the NIT, but is no comparison to that UCLA team.

GDB National Champions: UCLA

1969

The UCLA march to history continued in 1969. The same year as the Moon Landing, the 29-1 Bruins won all four NCAA Tournament games over teams ranked in the top 12. NIT Champion Temple was never ranked.

GDB National Champions: UCLA