College Basketball

Ranking the 10 Greatest Individual Seasons in College Basketball History

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2013

Ranking the 10 Greatest Individual Seasons in College Basketball History

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    Definitions of college basketball dominance evolve with the game. Statistics from prior decades look ludicrous when viewed through the prism of today's slower, weaker-shooting and overcoached game.

    For example: every national scoring champion from 1954 to 1981 averaged at least 29.5 points per game. In the past 20 years, only two players have exceeded that mark.

    More recently, players have succeeded by achieving feats that their predecessors could never manage. Some crunched numbers in a deep run toward a national championship, while some balled out with full awareness that the statistics would be the extent of their legacy to the game.

    These 10 single seasons were dominant in their time. Not only were the numbers often staggering, but at some moment, these players became front and center of the entire sport.

10. Michael Beasley, Kansas State (2007-08)

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    Three games into Michael Beasley's college career, he had already ripped down 60 rebounds. He averaged 30 points per game over his first five outings.

    Though the numbers dipped slightly over the course of Beasley's lone collegiate season, he mined territory that no freshman had ever explored.

    Of Beasley's 33 games for Kansas State, 28 of them ended with double-doubles. Only once was he held to fewer than 13 points. On the opposite extreme, a 44-point outburst against Baylor remains a Big 12 record. He cracked 30 points 13 times, 40 points three times.

    One of the four times Beasley fell short of double-figure rebounds was a game in which any Wildcat would be too happy with the result to sulk about stats: a win over second-ranked archrival Kansas. He had boasted before the season, "We're going to beat Kansas at home. We're going to beat them in their house. We're going to beat them in Africa. Wherever we play, we're going to beat them."

    Beasley pumped in 25 points and added six rebounds to back up the boast in K-State's first home win over KU since 1983.

    The season ended with a Round of 32 loss to Wisconsin, and no one was surprised when Beasley bolted to the NBA. He left behind an epic stat line of 26.2 points, a nation-leading 12.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He sank 53 percent of his shots, including 38 percent from three-point range.

    Only the third freshman to lead the country in rebounding and the fourth to be named a consensus first team All-American, Beasley's all-time credentials at K-State are unimpeachable. Of course, not many freshmen for any school have packed quite as many dominant moments into a one-season career.

9. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston (1983-84)

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    Yes, there was a time when the NBA's most polished offensive big man of the 1990s was merely a raw kid from Nigeria.

    Hakeem (then known as Akeem) Olajuwon was occasionally a forgotten man behind the acrobatic troupe of Houston Cougars known as Phi Slama Jama. High flyers like Clyde Drexler, Michael Young and Larry Micheaux ran the court and flushed dunks with impunity, running enough opponents out of the building for Houston to reach three straight Final Fours from 1982-84.

    Olajuwon and Drexler were named All-Americans in 1983. Drexler then went pro, leaving Olajuwon and Young fully in control of the Cougar attack. Hakeem put up averages of 16.8 points and a NCAA-best 13.5 rebounds. And he was unofficially credited with 207 blocked shots (5.6 per game), a total that would tie the official NCAA record recorded by Navy's David Robinson two years later.

    One unusual milestone that Hakeem reached during the season was the 500-rebound plateau, one that hadn't been reached since Marvin Barnes of Providence pulled down 597 in 1973-74. After Olajuwon, no one joined the 500 club until Oklahoma's Blake Griffin did so in 2008-09.

    For the third straight year, Houston was denied a national championship, as Hakeem was outdueled by Georgetown's Patrick Ewing. It's only years later that we truly appreciate how strong the Dream's junior campaign really was.

8. Kevin Bradshaw, US International (1990-91)

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    We can hear it now: Who's Kevin Bradshaw and what is US International?

    Let's answer the first question first. Kevin Bradshaw was a 6'4" guard who played high school ball with Vernon Maxwell, spurned Florida to play at Bethune-Cookman, dropped out to join the Navy and start a family, played with David Robinson on a military all-star team while both were in the service and then resumed his college career at US International in San Diego.

    Bradshaw's 1990-91 season was noteworthy because it shouldn't even have happened. USIU declared bankruptcy in December 1990 and immediately suspended all athletic programs. Men's basketball was reinstated, but only after coach Gary Zarecky was forced to let go of nearly his entire coaching staff.

    Within two weeks of the reinstatement, the up-tempo Gulls met their frenetic counterparts from up the road in Los Angeles, the Loyola Marymount Lions. The previous season, LMU had set an NCAA scoring record in a 181-150 victory over US International, despite Bradshaw pouring in 54 points.

    In the rematch, Loyola broke its own mark and won 186-140. Just as noteworthy, though, was Bradshaw setting an NCAA record of his own. He scored 72 points, setting a new standard for a single game against a Division I opponent. The old record was held by The Pistol himself, Pete Maravich, who had scored 69 against Alabama in 1970.

    Bradshaw actually drew hate mail for eclipsing the great Maravich's record, but he simply kept shooting. By season's end, his scoring average stood at 37.6 points per game, the highest since Portland State's Freeman Williams posted 38.8 in 1976-77. Only Purdue's Glenn Robinson and Long Island's Charles Jones have even averaged 30 since then.

    Because it allowed 105 points per game, USIU won only two games all season. Bradshaw's pyrotechnics ensured that even if the school's final campaign wasn't successful, it would at least be entertaining.

7. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati (1957-58)

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    Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double in his second NBA season is a major part of his legend. Even in college, however, the 6'5" guard was already crunching the kinds of numbers usually reserved for 6'9" behemoths.

    The "Big O" led Cincinnati to the Final Four in his junior and senior seasons, but his sophomore year served as a tremendous introduction. Robertson put up 35.1 points and 15.2 rebounds a game, shooting 57 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the foul line.

    In all three of Oscar's college seasons, he led the nation in scoring and was named National Player of the Year. One such award was actually renamed in his honor in 1998.

    Even bigger things were in Robertson's future, but he made a great first impression.

6. Xavier McDaniel, Wichita State (1984-85)

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    Doug Hoke, Getty Images

    Entering his senior season, Wichita State's Xavier McDaniel already had a distinguished CV.

    As a sophomore, the "X-Man" led the nation in rebounding, finishing second to teammate Antoine Carr for Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. With Carr having departed, McDaniel took the MVP award for himself in 1983-84.

    What was missing from both seasons, however, was any sort of NCAA tournament experience.

    A two-year postseason ban and a lack of support as a junior had kept McDaniel out of March Madness, but he was not to be denied as a senior. Walking away with his second national rebounding title, X matched it with a scoring crown. His 27.2 PPG and 14.8 RPG made him the first player in college basketball history to lead the nation in both in the same season.

    It's still an exclusive club. Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers (1988-89) and Kurt Thomas of TCU (1994-95) remain the only other members.

    McDaniel's feats placed him in other rarified air, as well. He became only the third MVC player to record 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds, joining a couple of guys named Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird. Yeah, that's all.

5. Glenn Robinson, Purdue (1993-94)

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    Like Hakeem's 500-rebound season, the modern tempo of college basketball has rendered the 1,000-point season and the 30-point-per-game average even more difficult to attain than they already were.

    Only eight players have topped a grand since Pete Maravich finished his career in 1970. Only three have averaged 30 per game since Loyola Marymount lost Bo Kimble to graduation and Hank Gathers to a tragic on-court heart attack.

    Purdue's Glenn Robinson is the last man to do both in the same season, and his effort was justly rewarded with multiple National Player of the Year awards. "The Big Dog" dropped 1,030 points, good for 30.3 per game, and added 10.1 rebounds per game for good measure. Capable of scoring from anywhere, Robinson shot 48 percent from the floor, 38 percent from three and 80 percent from the foul line.

    Robinson paced Purdue to a 14-0 start, and the ending to the season was almost as strong. He helped the Boilermakers erase an eight-point deficit in the final 2:27 of a March game against Michigan, draining the winning runner. A week later, the Dog chewed up Illinois with a career-high 49 points, clinching the first of Purdue's three straight outright Big Ten titles.

    A top seed in the NCAA tournament, Purdue needed Robinson to drop in 44 points to survive Kansas in the Sweet 16. Metaphorically strapping the team to his back left Robinson with a literal back injury, one that hobbled him against Duke in the regional final. With their star scoring a season-low 13 points, the Boilermakers bowed out with a nine-point loss.

    No other Big Ten player has ever scored 1,000 points in a season. The club looks unlikely to expand any time soon.

4. Clyde Lovellette, Kansas (1951-52)

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    It seems odd that only one national scoring champion has ever ended his triumphant season with an NCAA title. That man and that season happened more than six decades ago.

    A 6'9" Indiana native named Clyde Lovellette was already one of the nation's top big men when the Kansas Jayhawks tipped off the 1951-52 season. By the campaign's end, however, he stood head and shoulders over any competitor after averaging 28.4 points per game to lead all of college basketball. He also pulled more than 13 rebounds per game.

    When the NCAA tournament started, Kansas was not a prohibitive favorite, entering the tournament ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll. Still, Lovellette was plenty big enough to drag his team through what was then a 16-team event.

    The big man put home 31 points against TCU, a then-record 44 against Saint Louis and back-to-back 33-point totals against Santa Clara and St. John's to claim the national championship. Lovellette's total of 141 points was a new tournament record, as well.

    Lovellette began a string of dominant post men for Kansas. His replacement, B.H. Born, would be unofficially credited with the NCAA tournament's first-ever triple-double in 1953. Born would also be the man to alert KU's coaching staff to the potential of a Philadelphia high school star by the name of Wilt Chamberlain.

    While Born's career trailed off after Kansas and Chamberlain's spiraled into legendary professional feats, neither matched Lovellette's national championship or scoring title.

    Oh, and there was also the gold medal Lovellette won at the 1952 Olympic Games and the 1954 NBA championship he won as George Mikan's backup with the Minneapolis Lakers. He was the first player ever to claim an NCAA, NBA and Olympic championship.

3. Bill Bradley, Princeton (1964-65)

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    Bill Bradley, like Oscar Robertson, is a player who packed most guys' entire careers into every one of his college seasons. Picking his best is difficult, but it's the postseason that propels Bradley's 1964-65 senior year above the rest.

    Bradley nabbed his third straight All-American selection, led the Ivy League in scoring, became a first-round pick of the New York Knick and earned a Rhodes Scholarship. In short, he did everything a basketball player can do short of broker world peace.

    In the NCAA tournament, a place where Princeton had only won one game in Bradley's career, the future U.S. Senator went rogue all over the Tigers opponents. He paced wins over Penn State, North Carolina State and Providence to put Princeton into its first Final Four. A semifinal loss to Cazzie Russell and Michigan dropped the Tigers into the consolation game against Wichita State.

    There, Bradley's final collegiate game became one for the ages. The forward scored 58 points on the Shockers, including 39 in the second half, 16 of those in the last five minutes. The explosion gave Bradley an NCAA championship record for both a game and a tournament (177).

    Both records have only been topped once, and then only narrowlyAustin Carr of Notre Dame put up 61 against Ohio in the 1970 first round, and Michigan's Glen Rice scored 184 in the Wolverines' six-game run to the 1989 championship. Bradley still holds the records for scoring in a five-game tournament and a Final Four game.

    Bradley's the only player in Princeton history to score 40 points in a game—and he did it 11 times. Six of those came in that spectacular senior year. Everybody would love to end their career with a championship, but if you can't, finishing with a career-high scoring night is the next best thing.

2. Johnny Neumann, Ole Miss (1970-71)

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    Today's one-and-dones can only envy the sort of green light that Ole Miss' Johnny Neumann enjoyed during his single year in Oxford. Neumann seamlessly took the national scoring mantle from fellow SEC showman Pete Maravich. Imagine if he'd actually stayed and finished the season.

    A 6'6" swingman who could hit jumpers from anywhere, Neumann was the kind of player whom coaches still salivate over today. He pumped in 40 or more points 12 times as a Rebel, topping 50 on five occasions. In what would have been the ultimate SEC basketball sacrilege, Neumann fell one point short of Maravich's home court record, scoring 63 in a win at LSU.

    In Terry Pluto's ABA history book Loose Balls, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp is quoted as saying, "Neumann is as good as a sophomore as Maravich was as a senior."

    After 23 games and a 40.1 scoring average, Neumann bailed on his team in a search for money to pay his ailing father's medical bills. He signed with his hometown team, the ABA's Memphis Pros.

    Neumann is still one of only three players to record a 40-point scoring average, joining Frank Selvy of Furman (41.7 in 1953-54) and Maravich (all three of his seasons). He remains the only Ole Miss player to be voted an All-American.

    Known as "Johnny Reb," Neumann lived up to his school's nickname in the professional ranks, shirking discipline and driving coaches crazy. While he played for Ole Miss, however, his opponents were the ones under the most stress.

1. Pete Maravich, LSU (1969-70)

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    Again, pick a season. Pete Maravich's entire career at LSU rewrote the record books. What always eluded The Pistol, however, was postseason glory.

    His senior year brought him the closest.

    LSU hadn't been to any postseason event in 16 years before Maravich dragged them to the 1970 NIT. Continually outdoing himself, Pistol Pete set a new per-game scoring record with a 44.5 average and continually mounted assaults on his career single-game high. Of his four career 60-point games, three came during his senior year, including his NCAA-record 69 against Alabama.

    With a 20-8 record, the Tigers were invited to New York for the NIT, which made a perfect place for the wild, flashy Pistol Pete show to play its final gigs. His Big Apple experience, however, was somewhat of a disaster.

    Sports Illustrated detailed Maravich's issues with getting stuck in elevators and woken up by girls knocking on his door in the dead of the night. Battling a litany of injuries, Maravich also didn't play all that well. He put up 37 points in a second-round win over Oklahoma, but in his other two games, forward Danny Hester was the leading scorer. Those were the only two times that season anyone else led the Tigers in scoring.

    The final act may have been a letdown, but LSU basketball fans were excited to have any kind of postseason at all. Those NIT games stood as the Tigers' only tournament action between 1954 and 1979, and there was no one better to lead them there than The Pistol.

     

    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.

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