Power Rankings: The best jerseys, throwbacks and alternates in college hoops
The first Power Rankings of February are the season’s sartorial interlude: all about jerseys, and—for once—not at all about analytics.
(All photos from Getty Images unless otherwise noted.)
Kansas’s ascent to No. 1—justified after back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Baylor—has me thinking about throwbacks. The Jayhawks have worn vintage-inspired stuff in 2015–16 and ’16–17, seen in the triptych below . . .
. . . but they’ve left two fantastic throwback candidates in the closet. One is the 1956–57 Wilt Chamberlain look, with blocky red text arched on white (at left) . . . and the other is my favorite Kansas jersey, the ’92–93, arc-serifed, Rex Walters-era look that was made by Champion, a brand that’s in the midst of a fashion-industry revival.
The strappy-ness of the Chamberlain-era jerseys is notable . . .
. . . because that cut is making a comeback elsewhere in college hoops, as newer cuts of Nike’s jerseys (such as Kentucky’s) and Jordan Brand’s (at Michigan) are showing more pec and neck:
(Chamberlain photos from University of Kansas.)
Next up: 2/4 vs. Iowa State, 2/6 at Kansas State
Here’s a sign of how far the Zags have come since their Elite Eight breakthrough in 1999. That season, Matt Santangelo & Co. were wearing these jerseys . . .
. . . which were made by Spalding—a company known for basketballs much more than clothing—and had that faux-satin sheen usually found in mall replica jerseys. Soon after, the Zags got a Nike deal, and then a signature font, and now they have one of the slickest road looks in the entire nation, as well as one of the best alternate jerseys:
The black Zags look has been in storage since November; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it again very soon (as in, Thursday night at BYU).
Next up: 2/2 at BYU, 2/4 vs. Santa Clara
Did you know that Villanova wore shorts in the mid-’90s with a side logo whose font evoked fictional Bill & Ted band the Wyld Stallyns?
Those were most excellent jerseys, and the best ones—the APEX-brand version that Kerry Kittles’s team wore in ’94–95—is atop my wish list for throwbacks that need to happen:
The other three, if you haven’t ID’d them yet:
• Top Right: Kentucky ’94–95 APEX, which might be the most absurd look any blueblood has worn in the history of the sport
• Bottom Left: Wake Forest ’96–97 Nike (the Tim Duncan specials)
• Bottom Right: Florida ’98–99 Reebok (a short-lived Teddy Dupay look)
Next up: 2/4 vs. St. John’s, 2/7 vs. Georgetown
Baylor can make a unique claim to owning one of the best alternate jersey options . . . and one of the worst. Its Nike black, green and neon road alternate (at left), which it wore at Kansas on Wednesday, is a good look, and probably the sport’s most acceptable use of neon. The Bears’ neon highlighter alternates, on the other hand, are never going to be in fashion.
Next up: 2/4 vs. Kansas State, 2/8 at Oklahoma State
When Jason Terry retires from the NBA—and that could be in the near future, since he’s 39—the Wildcats should honor him with their ’96–97 throwbacks, complete with his signature, calf-covering CATS socks.
The only recent Arizona player I’m aware of who broke out Terry socks was T.J. McConnell, on Feb. 19, 2015 vs. USC. But McConnell committed the faux pas of wearing his freaking kneepad over all but the “S” in “CATS,” so this stunt is in need of a do-over.
Next up: 2/2 at Oregon State, 2/4 at Oregon
Weirdest Jersey Development in the Big 12: there are two teams using gold/yellow alternates with their logo where the team name would normally reside.
This isn’t a battle where anyone really wins, but West Virginia does wear it better. Navy on yellow is always gonna be more palatable than cardinal on gold.
Next up: 2/4 vs. Oklahoma State, 2/8 at Oklahoma
My five favorite, regularly used, non-alternate road jerseys this season are, in this order:
1. The Tar Heels’ Carolina Blues
2. Richmond’s outline-free scripts
3. Gonzaga’s navys (seen in blurb No. 2)
4. Michigan’s maizes
5. UCLA’s blues (they’ll be pictured later, in the Bruins’ blurb)
6. Akron’s outlined scripts
Next up: 2/4 vs. Notre Dame, 2/9 at Duke
Although a prolific Twitter brandbot recently called Kentucky’s checkerboards the “worst college jersey Nike makes,” I am of the opposite opinion. The Wildcats’ checkerboard whites are actually one of the best home looks this season, a signature blend of a classic UK pattern with a modern jersey. My favorite, standard home jerseys from each major shoe company in 2016–17 are Kentucky (Nike), St. John’s (Under Armour), UCLA (Adidas) and Cal (Jordan):
Next up: 2/4 at Florida, 2/7 vs. LSU
In last season’s Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin played Nebraska in what might as well be called the Adidas Shortspocalypse:
Fashion-wise, there was nowhere to go but up, and the Badgers’ new, Under Armour jerseys (below at right) have been an improvement—albeit a bland one—over what they were stuck with in the 2015 Final Four and in ’15–16.
Still, it would be nice to see Under Armour create its own version of the one truly cool jersey Wisconsin has worn during its emergence as a national power: The ’80s–90s Adidas throwbacks that are seen below, with Bucky Badger-sided shorts. There’s been a regrettable lack of Bucky on UW’s jerseys for decades, and putting this in the regular rotation is a solution.
Next up: 2/5 vs. Indiana, 2/9 at Nebraska
The Villanova blurb—if you’re a Virginia fan who skipped it because you’re still stinging from Saturday—contained Nos. 1–4 on my throwback wishlist. Nos. 5–8 are below, once again all from the ’90s, starting with the lone Virginia jersey from the past three decades that had any flair—the “V” neck:
• Top Right: Auburn ’98–99 “Tiger trims,” from the Chris Porter era
• Bottom Left: Minnesota’s short-lived, ’95–96 Converse-brand, Rockets-esque look
• Bottom Right: Xavier ’96–97 Reebok Giant Xs
Next up: 2/4 at Syracuse, 2/6 vs. Louisville
The Ducks have the most alternate jerseys, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the kings of alternate jerseys. My top six that have (to the best of my knowledge) debuted this season are:
1. Richmond’s Red Spiders
2. Northwestern Gothic (so much better than the non-alternates, it should just be permanent)
3. Oregon’s monochromes
4. Marquette’s retro powder blues
5. UMKC’s Kansas City skylines
6. Pepperdine’s scripts
Next up: 2/2 vs. Arizona State, 2/4 vs. Arizona
I wish Louisville broke out their ’80s throwbacks more often; they’re the Cardinals’ best look and the vintage redbird on the side of the shorts is as cool as Wisconsin’s Bucky or the vintage Villanova Wildcat. Alas, the Cardinals have been heavily modern this season, and these are my top four throwbacks I’ve seen in ’16¬–17:
1. Top Left: Oregon’s modernized 1939 Tall Firs
2. Top Right: Miami 1969–70 verticals
3. Bottom Left: Nebraska ’90–91 crazyscripts
4. Bottom Right: Michigan State’s ode to its early-1900s name, Michigan Agricultural College
Next up: 2/4 at Boston College, 2/6 at Virginia
The Bruins’ regular road jerseys are the classic, dynasty-era look that’s one of the best in the game:
. . . but in their loss at USC over the weekend, the Bruins wore a modernized Adidas road jersey with a V-neck, blocky shoulders and script UCLA on their shorts. When your school has an iconic look that’s been worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, and that you wore when you won most of your 11 national titles, don’t mess with it. The update was a downgrade.
Next up: 2/4 at Washington, 2/9 vs. Oregon
The 1980–81 Seminoles wore lower-cased, Padres-esque tops that were screaming out to be revived as throwbacks:
Florida State heard those screams, and for its equivalent of Midnight Madness in October, the ‘Noles wore T-shirt versions of that look:
It’s a travesty that these jerseys never made it past the preseason. I pray that a sleeveless version will make a surprise debut in the ACC tournament, and inspire FSU’s second-ever championship run in the event.
(1980–81 team photo from Nolefan.org.)
Next up: 2/5 vs. Clemson, 2/9 vs. NC State
Huggins-era throwbacks are coming for the Bearcats this month, as Under Armour cooked up a home version of the old C-paw design that cracks the second half of my favorite 2016–17 throwbacks list. (The first four appear in the Louisville blurb.)
4. Top Left: Syracuse’s ’85–86 Pearl Washingtons
5. Top Right: Villanova’s ’87-88 Perfect Games
6. Bottom Left: Cincinnati
7. Bottom Right: Canisius’s ’80s gear for Big 4 Basketball Classic
Next up: 2/4 vs. UConn, 2/8 vs. UCF
Last jersey on the throwback wishlist: Purdue’s Big (Road) Dogs from ’93–94, with the asymmetrical, golden wave on the shorts, the giant school name on the jerseys, and Glenn Robinson wearing high socks that were so thick they looked like plaster casts:
The Boilermakers have revived home versions of these, but not the away blacks, which are more menacing—and what I remembered as a kid, watching Robinson destroy the Big Ten on regional, Raycom broadcasts.
Next up: 2/4 at Maryland, 2/9 at Indiana
The Next 16
19. South Carolina
21. Notre Dame
23. St. Mary’s
30. Illinois State
31. Wichita State
32. Oklahoma State