March Madness: The 25 Greatest NCAA Tournament Players of All Time
Now that the conference tournaments and Selection Sunday are behind us, it's time to look back at some of the stars who have shone the brightest during the craziest event in sports, the NCAA tournament.
March has been Mad for years now, and whether you're a fan of basketball or not, it's got something or someone in it for everyone.
There's always at least one Cinderella story and at least one team that just mystifies everyone. Best of all, there have been some truly stellar individual performances over the years.
Some of these guys were stand-out stars the moment they enrolled in school, while others didn't get on the national scene until they got to the tournament.
Whether they were household names before or after the tournament, these guys just knew how to dance better than anyone else.
Being the best come tournament time was more about being the most exciting player on the court, not necessarily the most outstanding.
So here's my list of the 25 best NCAA tournament players ever. There's some recent guys along with the old favorites, and not all of them won the title.
Note: The rankings aren't definite, but each athlete is in the right general area, in my opinion at least. Please leave comments on who I left out or who you think doesn't belong!
25. Jimmer Fredette: The Guy Who Can Join the List This Year
Jimmer Fredette was probably the most talked-about individual in college basketball this year; that is, until his teammate Brandon Davies was suspended for breaking BYU's honor code.
Without Davies, Fredette and the Cougars probably lost their shot at a No. 1 seed in the tournament, but a No. 3 seed in the Southeast shouldn't stop Fredette from putting on a show.
He's got everything going for him. He's a great shooter, he's great in interviews and there's a lot to talk about with him, including the fact that he's up for some postseason awards.
He handles big situations well, so look for him to lead BYU deep in the tournament and excite everyone along the way.
24. Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley is on this list because he took an Ivy League team to the Final Four and was even called the "White Oscar Robertson" by some. He was a household name athlete from Princeton, and the sport wasn't rowing or polo.
He led Princeton to the Final Four in 1965, where they lost, but he still won the tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Photo courtesy of NBA.com
23. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan may have never taken Wake Forest very far into the tournament, but every year, he had more pressure put on his shoulders and every year, he owned up to it.
Jerry West proclaimed him the No. 1 overall pick after just his sophomore season, but he had made a promise to his mother that he would get his degree, so he stayed all four years. He's a guy you can't root against.
The deepest his Wake Forest team went was the Elite Eight, but he still won all sorts of collegiate awards and was the No. 1 overall pick in 1997 NBA Draft. And that championship didn't elude him for long.
22. Bob Kurland
Bob Kurland led the Oklahoma A & M Baggies (now the Cowboys) to two consecutive titles in 1945 and '46 and was also the Most Outstanding Player each of those years, the first player to do so.
He was also one of the first players to dunk the ball regularly during games, so thank God he came along.
Kurland was also known for leaping over the rim and grabbing opponents shots, and thus defensive goaltending was banned in 1945.
Photo courtesy of allposters.com
21. Corey Brewer
Corey Brewer was part of the University of Florida's own Fab Four that won back-to-back national championships in 2006-07, a big part.
He was the tournament's Most Outstanding Player in 2007, but he had something more that made him stand out from teammates Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Taurean Green.
Horford and Green's fathers each had, albeit limited, NBA careers, and Noah's father Yannick was a highly successful French tennis player.
Brewer's family, on the other hand, really could have benefited from Corey entering the NBA draft in 2006, when he likely would've gone early in the first round.
But he decided to stay for his junior year, along with his teammates, and it's lucky for the Gator nation that he did.
He was stellar for the Gators all year and really stepped it up in the tournament, where he easily guided the Gators to their second national title.
20. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to its only national title in 2003 and is only the third freshman to be named Most Outstanding Player.
He led the Orangemen all season long and then really made it count come tournament time.
In the Final Four game against Texas, he scored 33 points, a record for a freshman. He then notched a double-double in the championship game against Kansas.
How many more titles would Syracuse have if he'd stayed another year or two?
19. Stephen Curry
A Cinderella team is supposed to make a magical run to the Elite Eight after winning their tiny division's tournament, and then they don't come back for 30 years.
Steph Curry must've seen a different version because he took Davidson to two NCAA tournaments in 2008 and 2009 and took down teams like Georgetown and Wisconsin while they were there.
He scored over 30 points in his first four tournament games, only the fourth player to ever do it, and he was also only the second player to be named to the Most Outstanding Player of his region without making it the Final Four.
More than anything, Steph Curry is the kind of player everyone loves to root for.
18. Derrick Rose
First off, as a Memphis fan, it's hard to recall this. But Derrick Rose had an incredible tournament; there's no doubt about that.
Rose was the one new face on the Tigers in the 2007-08 season, and the difference was obvious, especially when the Big Dance came around.
The Tigers cruised into the championship game behind his leadership, as he averaged over 20 points a game and stopped the opposing point guard from doing just about anything.
But what he and Memphis fans remember most is that single free throw he missed that would've made all the difference in the world.
Ah well, he certainly was exciting to watch.
17. Michigan Fab 5
Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and and Ray Jackson made up possibly the most exciting starting five college basketball has ever seen. Their playing style had flair, they had big personalities and they learned how to use the media to their advantage quickly.
The "hip-hop flavor" that they pioneered was put on a national stage in the tournament, and they rode it all the way to the final their freshmen and sophomore seasons in 1992 and '93.
They had a lot of talent and were pure excitement, but they could never win a championship, at the collegiate or professional level.
16. Pervis Ellison
Ellison was nicknamed "Never Nervous Pervis" because he took charge of any and every chance he got, and that was pretty obvious when he led Louisville to its second national championship and became only the second freshman ever named Most Outstanding Player in 1986.
He had a stellar four-year NCAA career after that, but he never quite reached the heights of his debut season. He started at center all four years he was at school and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft.
15. Walt Hazzard
Walt Hazzard was a big part of UCLA's undefeated season in 1963-64. That year, he was the college player of the year and the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
That summer, he won the Olympic gold medal with Team USA and was then the No. 1 NBA Draft pick.
Put it this way. Kevin Love, it's a BIG deal that this guy let you wear his retired No. 42.
Photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com
14. Jerry Lucas
Jerry Lucas was the star of one of the first big recruiting classes in college basketball. At Ohio State, Lucas made it to three straight NCAA finals from 1960 to 1962, winning it all in 1960. He was the Most Outstanding Player in both 1960 and 1961.
He made one poor decision in his college career, and that was playing on a bad knee in the 1962 final.
Other than that, he averaged over 20 points each of his three seasons and lead the nation in rebounding twice. He shared the ball well and stayed focus on what was important.
He got his bachelor's after three years and was taking graduate-level classes in what would've been his senior year.
He's a guy to emulate.
Photo courtesy of news-herald.com
13. Shane Battier
Is their a nicer guy in the world than Shane Battier? Really?
Anyway, while at Duke, Battier was one of the best defenders college basketball had ever seen, winning the National Defensive Player of the Year Award three times in four years.
He went to two Final Fours with the Blue Devils, winning it all in 2001, including a sweep of the Player of the Year awards and the tournament Most Outstanding Player.
12. Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing was one the most recruited players ever in his time and was one of the first freshmen to play with the big boys.
Georgetown went to the NCAA final three out of Ewing's four years, in 1982, '84 and '85.
He made his presence felt in each of those tournaments and was the Most Outstanding Player in 1984 when his Hoyas won it all.
11. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson was the highest scorer in each of his three seasons at the University of Cincinnati and left college as the all-time leading NCAA scorer.
He went to two Final Fours, and although the championship eluded him, he was still one of the best to watch. The Player of the Year trophy is named after him for a reason.
Photo courtesy of examiner.com
10. Jerry West
There really isn't a basketball's best list without Jerry West on it.
While at West Virginia, he set numerous records, including tying an NCAA tournament record in 1959 for points total with 160 from five straight games.
He was also named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player that year despite losing in the final.
9. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain was named the 1957 Most Outstanding Player despite Kansas losing to North Carolina in the final in triple overtime.
The reason UNC won was because the Tar Heels had at least three guys on Chamberlain at all times. This guy was so good, other teams decided playing basketball just wasn't the way to go up against him.
More teams followed this game plan the next season, so Wilt decided to leave for the NBA where he hoped people would let him play.
Photo courtesy of kuathletics.com
8. Larry Bird
Before Larry Bird, a little school called Indiana State had never been to the NCAA tournament. He took them all the way to final in 1979, where they lost to someone Bird got to know very well later on.
He was the fifth-highest scorer in NCAA history when he left and averaged over 30 points a game in his three seasons.
7. Magic Johnson
Magic spent two very successful years at Michigan State. He and the Spartans went to the Elite Eight in his freshman season in 1978.
The next year, he had his first encounter with Larry Bird in the 1979 NCAA final when the Spartans faced a then undefeated Indiana State. Magic won the game and Most Outstanding Player.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon was invited to tour the University of Houston just so the coaches could see what he could do, and it worked out pretty well.
The Nigerian-born center took the Cougars to the Final Four in 1982 and then consecutive finals in 1983 and 1984, though they lost both times.
He was the Most Outstanding Player in 1983 and is, to date, the last player from the losing team to be awarded as such.
5. Bill Russell
Bill Russell wasn't recruited out of high school and had to play basketball at the University of San Fransisco, and he made sure people knew who the team was.
He led USF to the NCAA championship in 1955 and '56, on the back of over 20 points and 20 rebounds a game.
San Francisco won the title and Russell was the Most Outstanding Player in 1955, and John Wooden called him the greatest defender he'd ever seen.
4. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is one of the best ever to play the game of basketball; there's no doubt about that.
As a freshman, MJ scored the game-winner in the 1982 championship game to give the Tar Heels the victory over Patrick Ewing's Georgetown team, but it was Jordan's teammate, James Worthy, who was the Most Outstanding Player.
Jordan was exciting to watch at every level, but his days at UNC were just a taste of what was to come.
3. Bill Walton
Bill Walton was a big part in UCLA's 88-game unbeaten streak in the '70s, and as a Bruin, he won back-to-back national titles and Most Outstanding Player awards in 1972 and '73.
In the 1973 final over Memphis State, he was nearly perfect, going 21-for-22 from the field with 44 points.
He really doesn't need a whole lot of explanation, and his son is a perfect example of how far someone can get thanks to their name.
2. Christian Laettner
Christian Laettner holds four NCAA tournament records.
Most points (407), most free throws made and attempted (142 and 167) and most games played (23).
He also scored the winning shot in the greatest college game ever played with a last-second shot to seal a 104-103 win for Duke over Kentucky. And that was just in the regional finals.
That was the year after Duke won the championship and Laettner was named Most Outstanding Player.
Duke won it again in 1992, but the tournament is remembered partly for this game and mostly for this shot.
With so much talent, it's a shame this guy couldn't make it in the NBA.
1. Lew Alcindor
Now, the order of this list isn't definite except for one spot, and that's this one.
Lew Alcindor played three seasons under John Wooden at UCLA and won a championship in each one. As a freshman, playing for the freshmen squad, he hit a double-double to defeat the No. 1-ranked Bruins.
He's also the only player to ever be named the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player three years in a row.
The only thing you can have against Lew is that after the 1967 season, the dunk was banned in college basketball because he was too darn good at it. Thankfully it was reinstated in 1976.
Alcindor was also the inaugural Naismith College Player of the Year winner.