Ranking the 20 Greatest Big Men in College Basketball History

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMay 9, 2013

Ranking the 20 Greatest Big Men in College Basketball History

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    Having a superstar big man isn’t the only way to turn your college basketball team into a winner, but it sure helps. Many of the most overpowering teams in the history of the game have been built around one unstoppable, low-post force.

    One of the most recent additions to that pantheon is North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. The emotional leader of the 2009 national champs rewrote the record books of one of the game's most storied programs.

    Read on for more on Hansbrough and 19 more of the most awe-inspiring centers and power forwards ever to step on a college court. The rankings are based on several factors, but individual numbers and ability to lead a winning team are the primary determinants.

20. Kenneth Faried, Morehead State

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    Key Stats: Post-1973 NCAA record with 1,673 rebounds (11th all-time), 86 double-doubles (second all-time)

    Team Success: Two NCAA tournament appearances after a 25-year absence, including massive upset win over Louisville in 2011.

    X-Factor: Faried didn’t get much credit as an offensive weapon, but he piled up 2,009 points in his four-year career.

19. Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount

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    Key Stats: 32.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game to become only junior to lead the country in both categories, 2,723 career points

    Team Success: Lions won three straight West Coast Conference titles, setting Division I record with 122.4 points per game in Gathers’ senior year.

    X-Factor: The speedy 6’7” PF was a perfect fit in Paul Westhead’s track-meet offense, a system that helped carry the Lions to the 1990 Elite Eight after Gathers’ tragic on-court death in that year’s WCC tourney.

18. Paul Silas, Creighton

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    Key Stats: 1,751 total rebounds (sixth in Div. I history), career averages of 20.5 points and 21.6 rebounds (third all-time) per game

    Team Success: After two-decade hiatus, Blue Jays made two NCAA tournaments, losing to eventual champ Cincinnati in 1962 Elite Eight.

    X-Factor: One of just five players to average 20 and 20 for his college career, the 6’7” Silas was also one of the toughest defensive forwards of his generation.

17. Anthony Davis, Kentucky

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    Key Stats: 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, Kentucky-record 186 blocks

    Team Success: 2012 national champs set NCAA records for wins (38) and blocks (344) in a season

    X-Factor: History’s greatest freshman didn’t stay long enough to produce impressive career numbers, but a Naismith Award and a national title are a fine haul for one collegiate season.

16. Bob Lanier, St. Bonaventure

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    Key Stats: Career averages of 27.6 points and 15.7 rebounds per game

    Team Success: Bonnies earned four of their six NCAA tournament wins all-time with Lanier in lineup, including their only Final Four berth in 1970.

    X-Factor: Three-time All-American was also a first-rate shot-blocker, but the stat wouldn’t be official for another decade and a half.

15. George Mikan, DePaul

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    Key Stats: 23.3 points per game as a junior (rebounding stats unavailable for 1940s)

    Team Success: Made Final Four in eight-team field when Mikan was a freshman in 1943, went 62-12 (without a tournament berth) in next three years.

    X-Factor: Defensive goaltending was legal until Mikan—6’10” in an era of 6’4” centers—showed how unstoppable a weapon it could be.

14. Artis Gilmore, Jacksonville

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    Key Stats: Averaged 23.3 points and an NCAA-record 22.7 rebounds a night for his career

    Team Success: Dolphins had joined Division I in 1966-67, and Gilmore put them in the national title game against UCLA in 1970.

    X-Factor: An overwhelming athlete at 7’2”, 240 lbs, the A-Train would’ve been even harder to defend if the slam dunk hadn’t been illegal during his career.

13. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

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    Key Stats: Tar Heel record totals of 2,872 points and 1,219 rebounds, NCAA-record 982 free throws made

    Team Success: 2009 national champs won every NCAA tournament game by at least 12 points.

    X-Factor: Psycho T breezed past a slew of Hall of Famers to top the UNC record books, leading his team to back-to-back Final Four berths as a junior and senior.

12. Tim Duncan, Wake Forest

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    Key Stats: 20.8 points, 14.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game as a senior, NCAA-record 87 career double-doubles, 481 career blocks (fourth all-time).

    Team Success: Demon Deacons’ best finish was an Elite Eight trip when Duncan was a junior, but they did win two ACC tourneys and one regular-season title.

    X-Factor: A poster boy for the four-year college career, Duncan evolved from a defensive-specialist freshman into a Naismith Award-winning senior.

11. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State

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    Key Stats: 24.3 points and 17.2 rebounds a night for his career, school-record totals of 78 double-doubles (tied with Lew Alcindor for seventh in Division I history) and 1,411 rebounds

    Team Success: A national title in 1960 (Lucas’ first varsity season) was followed by two consecutive championship-game losses to Cincinnati.

    X-Factor: Decades before the three-point line existed, Lucas had a long-range jumper Dirk Nowitzki would’ve envied.

10. Ralph Sampson, Virginia

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    Key Stats: 2,225 points and 1,511 rebounds, 84 double-doubles (third in NCAA history)

    Team Success: Despite spending most of Sampson’s career ranked No. 1, Cavaliers made just one Final Four appearance, losing in the 1981 national semis.

    X-Factor: One of two players to win three Naismith Awards, the 7’4” Sampson had a 112-23 record as a four-year starter but couldn’t close the deal in March Madness.

9. David Robinson, Navy

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    Key Stats: Division I-record 207 blocks as junior, 2,669 points and 1,314 rebounds overall

    Team Success: Three straight NCAA tournament appearances (the school’s first in 25 years) included second-ever Elite Eight trip in 1986.

    X-Factor: The Admiral would be third all-time in blocks if his career total of 516 were official, but the stat wasn’t added to the NCAA record books until his junior year.

8. Christian Laettner, Duke

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    Key Stats: Career totals of 2,460 points and 1,149 rebounds

    Team Success: Back-to-back national titles in 1991-92 included avenging a 30-point loss to UNLV in the 1990 title game.

    X-Factor: Consummate winner played in four Final Fours, thanks in no small part to his own legendary late-game heroics.

7. Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas

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    Key Stats: In the top 20 in Division I history in career scoring (29.9 points per game) and rebounding (18.3 boards a night) averages

    Team Success: Made national championship game in 1957, falling to undefeated North Carolina in three overtimes.

    X-Factor: Chamberlain would be an even bigger presence in the Jayhawk (and NCAA) record books if he hadn’t left after his junior year to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

6. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown

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    Key Stats: 1,316 career rebounds (a school record) and 2,184 points

    Team Success: On top of winning 1984 national title, Ewing’s Hoyas played in two other championship games.

    X-Factor: A game-changing defender from his freshman year, Ewing took a little longer to develop his renowned offensive prowess.

5. Danny Manning, Kansas

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    Key Stats: 2,951 points (ninth in NCAA history) and 1,187 rebounds (KU record)

    Team Success: Sixth-seeded 1988 Jayhawks are among history’s most surprising national champs.

    X-Factor: Manning’s offense got all the headlines, but he was also an impact defender (1.9 blocks and 1.8 steals per game as a Naismith-winning senior).

4. Elvin Hayes, Houston

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    Key Stats: Career averages of 31 points (13th in NCAA history) and 17.2 rebounds per game

    Team Success: 1967-68 Cougars were 31-0 before losing to UCLA in national semis, their second straight Final Four trip

    X-Factor: The Big E, national player of the year as a senior in 1968, famously outplayed Lew Alcindor to beat UCLA in one of the most iconic regular-season matchups in history.

3. Bill Walton, UCLA

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    Key Stats: Averaged 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds a night for his career

    Team Success: NCAA-record 88-game winning streak included undefeated national titles in Walton’s first two seasons on varsity.

    X-Factor: Nothing Walton did in three consecutive Naismith-Award-winning seasons can top his 21-for-22 shooting night (for 44 points in all) in the 1973 national title game.

2. Bill Russell, San Francisco

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    Key Stats: Averaged 20.7 points and 20.3 rebounds (seventh in Division I history) for his career

    Team Success: Then-record 60-game winning streak included the school's only two national titles all-time.

    X-Factor: No player in basketball history could take over games as a defender the way Russell could.

1. Lew Alcindor, UCLA

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    Key Stats: Career averages of 26.4 points and 15.5 rebounds per game

    Team Success: Three national titles in as many years included one undefeated season and an overall record of 88-2.

    X-Factor: The impossibility of handling Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in the paint helped prompt the NCAA to ban dunking for almost a decade following his graduation.