Across the decades, there have been college basketball players who had legendary careers. The era of "one-and-done" has somewhat reduced the chances for greatness. So, there may be some level of debate about who might make a list of the greatest NCAA basketball players.
Like real basketball teams, we've picked a starting five. By narrowing our list down to the best at each position, we've put a premier price on career performance. Here's a list of players who would make our NCAA men's basketball all-time greatest starting five.
It was a struggle to narrow down all five positions to just one player, but we did. To help fuel the debate over our choices, we've also added a short list of players whose college career achievements are worthy of honorable mention.
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Point Guard – Oscar Robertson, University of Cincinnati
College basketball has produced some legendary point guards. Designated playmakers, these skillful ball handlers and ball distributors guided some of the best teams in NCAA history. Like every starting spot, there could be some debate over our choice at point guard.
However, we think our point guard choice should be unanimous. As our floor general, we pick Oscar Robertson, known to basketball fanatics as The Big O. Even as a point guard, Robertson was a prolific scorer. He led the NCAA in scoring in each of three seasons at the University of Cincinnati.
The Big O was a three-time first-team All-American and twice named college basketball's player of the year. While leading the Bearcats, his Cincinnati teams lost only nine total games. Robertson would make reach the Final Four his last two college seasons, but a National Championship eluded him.
As impressive as Robertson's three-straight scoring crowns were, The Big O was also big on the boards. As a guard, Oscar Robertson finished his college career averaging over 15 rebounds a game. He rarely came off the court, averaging just under 39-minutes per game.
His assist numbers aren't quite as impressive as strict passing point guards, but Robertson still has multiple triple-double games to his credit before the stat was even recorded. Robertson did more than just score and control the Bearcat offense.
His 6'5" big-body frame was uncharacteristic of point guards during his era. Robertson frequently manhandled bigger players in the post. While he never climbed a ladder to cut down the nets at the NCAA tournament, Robertson is the greatest floor general in NCAA basketball history.
Honorable Mention - John Wooden – Purdue (Yes, the same John Wooden, aka the Wizard of Westwood); Walt Hazzard – UCLA, Allen Iverson – Georgetown, John Lucas – Maryland, Jason Kidd – California, Bobby Hurley – Duke, Isiah Thomas – Indiana, Phil Ford – North Carolina, Calvin Murphy – Niagara, Bob Cousy – Holy Cross, Magic Johnson – Michigan State
Shooting Guard – Pete Maravich, LSU
There may be some inclination to put our next player in the point guard category. Like Robertson, he led the NCAA in scoring three-consecutive seasons. While the kid known by the nickname "Pistol Pete" may have been listed in the game day program as PG, Pete Maravich was a shooter.
Maravich shot the ball a lot and made a boatload of those shots as well. Maravich's college numbers make the top-10 lists for NCAA records that may never be broken. During his three varsity seasons for the LSU Tigers, Maravich scored 3,667 points.
His three scoring averages per season are the top-3 all-time for college basketball. Only twice in the history of college basketball have any other players averaged more than 40 points per game.
Maravich did it all three seasons. Known as much for his saggy socks, Maravich also buried the highest number of field goals made in each of these seasons, an astounding 522 in his final year as a Tiger.
Maravich was also known for his marksmanship. His shooting percentage rivaled that of post players. However, Pistol Pete frequently fired away from a point on the court far behind the arc. However, there was no arch in college basketball when Maravich played.
Looking at the numbers he put up when the longest shot still only counted as two-points adds a whole other perspective to his greatness. One can only imagine at the prolific scoring numbers Maravich made have had if a vast portion of his shots were worth another point.
The idea of Pete Maravich playing in the three-point era is mind boggling. The fact that he is hands-down the all-time greatest scorer in NCAA history and lock at shooting guard is not. We'll take Pistol Pete as our starter at shooting guard.
Honorable Mention: Michael Jordan - North Carolina, Freeman Williams - Portland State, Rex Chapman – Kentucky, Hersey Hawkins – Bradley University, Jimmer Fredette – BYU, Steph Curry – Davidson, Dwayne Wade – Marquette, Jay Williams – Duke, Danny Manning – Kansas, Kevin Bradshaw – US International San Diego, Austin Carr - Notre Dame, Jerry West - West Virginia
Small Forward - Elgin Baylor, College of Idaho and Seattle University
We could obviously look to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to find a special player to start at our small forward spot. But, for as great as he was, we think another player at this position might have been the best ever at the college level.
Even more ironic is the limited court time Elgin Baylor had during his college career. However, Baylor made as impressive a mark on the college game as any player in history. He had some problems with the books during his collegiate days, so he ended up at two different schools.
The College of Idaho had expected the super talented athlete to play both football and basketball. However, after the Coyotes cut scholarships, Baylor found his way to another obscure northwestern university.
Baylor suited up for the Seattle University Chieftains in 1958, and virtually led them to their only NCAA Final Four appearance single handedly. Baylor's cumulative scoring average during his three college seasons was over 31-points per game.
As a small forward, Baylor's athleticism propelled him as a prolific rebounder. He led the nation in rebounding during the 1956-57 NCAA season. Even in a losing effort in the NCAA final loss to Kentucky, Baylor won the Most Outstanding Player Award.
In 1958, the Minneapolis Lakers convinced Baylor to skip his senior season in Seattle. It certainly reduced the impact his career numbers would have made on the college record books. Baylor now has a college gym named after him, and a legacy as possible the greatest small forward of all-time in NCAA basketball.
Honorable Mention - Bill Bradley, Princeton, Xavier McDaniel, Wichita State, Glenn Robinson – Purdue, Johnny Neumann – Mississippi, Hank Luisetti – Stanford, Cliff Hagan – Kentucky, Chris Mullin – St. Johns, Cazzie Russell – Michigan, Rick Barry – University of Miami, Florida, David Thompson - North Carolina State
Power Forward – Elvin Hayes, University of Houston
Over time, the difference between small forward and power forward emerged. Often, power forwards were mistakenly grouped with post-players or viewed as part-time centers. As more big men became adept at long range marksmanship, the position has evolved.
In today's game, the power forward may be one of the more versatile positions on the court. In the late 1960s, Elvin Hayes exemplified the epitome of the power forward. Many teams used their second forward spot as a spot to boost rebounding and under-the-basket defense.
Hayes did both of those things exceptionally well, plus he scored the basketball. He led his Houston Cougars team in scoring every year he played. Hayes finished with a 31-point per game career average, including netting more than 36 a game in 1968.
Across his three seasons with the Cougars, the athletic Hayes hauled down more than 17 rebounds per game. His 222 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament are still a record. During the 1968 season, Hayes and the center on our starting five would hook up in one of college basketball's game-for-the-ages.
Honorable Mention - Larry Bird - Indiana State, Paul Silas – Creighton, Jerry Lucas – Ohio State, Christian Laettner, Duke, Bob Pettit – LSU, Dan Issel – Kentucky, Sidney Wicks – UCLA, Larry Johnson – UNLV, Len Bias – Maryland,
Center - Lew Alcindor, UCLA
When you win the National Title every season you play, lose only two games out of the 90 college basketball games you played in, plus have a rule changed just because of you were so impossible to guard, you earn a spot on our starting five.
His name in college was Lew Alcindor. As a member of the UCLA Bruins, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would finish his college career averaging over 26 points and 15 rebounds per game. If not for the NCAA's freshman rule, his career totals would have been even more impressive.
In 1965, Alcindor's freshman team beat the varsity by UCLA 15-points. Alcindor won the NCAA Tournament MVP every season he played. Dunking was removed from the college game after the 1967 season, because of his aggressively unstoppable use of it during his first official college season.
He participated in what many view as the game-of-the-century in 1968. Alcindor's Bruins were beaten by the Elvin Hayes led Houston Cougars. Ironically, Alcindor scored only 15 points. This was after missing two-consecutive games with a scratch on his cornea.
It the result of a second scratch on the same eye during his pro career that he began to wear his trademark goggles. It took more than a scratch on the eye and a change of the rules to stop this big man in the middle. Lew Alcindor gets the call as our starting center.
Honorable Mention – Bill Russell – San Francisco, Bill Walton – UCLA, Patrick Ewing – Georgetown, Wilt Chamberlain – Kansas, Bob Kurland - Oklahoma State, David Robinson – Navy, Bob Lanier – Saint Bonaventure, Ralph Sampson – Virginia, Tim Duncan – Wake Forest, George Mikan – DePaul, Artis Gilmore – Jacksonville, Clyde Lovellette – Kansas, Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston
These are our five starters for the greatest college basketball team ever assembled. Certainly, there wouldn't be enough balls to go around giving every player the opportunities he had for his real team. However, it is mind boggling to envision how unstoppable this lineup would have been.
Take any combination of our honorable mention players, and you'd have a bench loaded with superstars. Most are but an eyelash from being top-five worthy. So, this is our starting unit for the greatest college basketball team in history. Let the debate begin.