College Basketball: 30 Best Starting Fives in College Hoops HistorySeptember 27, 2011
College Basketball: 30 Best Starting Fives in College Hoops History
Sometimes, a single transcendent player can carry an otherwise-ordinary team to the NCAA tournament title (see Anthony, Carmelo). More often, though, success in college basketball depends on having the right combination of great players on one team.
Even then, some of the best teams in history have come up short in the tournament. For every time a team like Rick Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats has all the pieces fall into place, another team loaded with NBA prospects (say, the Elton Brand-led Duke Blue Devils) is sent home without a championship.
Whether they soared or flopped in the postseason, though, the teams profiled here boasted the greatest collections of talent in NCAA history. Read on for a look at the 30 most impressive starting lineups the college game has ever seen.
30. St. John's, 1984-85
C Bill Wennington, F Walter Berry, F Chris Mullin, G Mike Moses, G Ron Stewart
The third Big East team in the 1985 Final Four, St. John’s lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown to set up the storied title game between the Hoyas and underdog Villanova.
The Redmen (as they were still called at the time) had their share of stars themselves, including sophomore Mark Jackson coming off the bench.
The starting backcourt of Moses and Stewart wasn’t especially distinguished, but with these forwards they didn’t have to be. Sharpshooter Mullin averaged nearly 20 points a game to go with 4.3 assists, while Berry and Wennington combined for 29.5 more points and 15.1 rebounds a night.
Berry, who would win the Wooden Award the following year, struggled in the NBA thanks in part to personality clashes—he forced a trade to San Antonio after only seven games as a Blazers rookie—and was off to Europe after three seasons.
The 7'0" Wennington was rather more successful, winning two titles as a reserve with Michael Jordan’s post-comeback Bulls.
Mullin, a newly minted Hall of Famer, won Olympic gold with the original Dream Team and earned All-NBA recognition four straight seasons with Golden State.
29. Georgia Tech, 1989-90
C Johnny McNeil, F Malcolm Mackey, F Dennis Scott, G Brian Oliver, G Kenny Anderson
Georgia Tech has a record of turning out NBA guards that few schools can match, and the program’s first Final Four squad is no exception.
McNeil and freshman Mackey provided their share of rebounding (12.8 boards a night between them), but the team’s focus was decidedly on its perimeter game.
Three-point gunner Scott raised his scoring average from 20.3 the previous year to 27.7 points a night, while Oliver’s jumped from 16.1 to 21.3. The catalyst was freshman PG Anderson, who brought in 20.6 points of his own while dishing out 8.1 assists a game.
Scott went on to a fine pro career as a perimeter sniper, mostly for Orlando. Anderson enjoyed even more success at the NBA level, averaging better than six assists a game for his 14 pro seasons and making an All-Star appearance as a Net.
28. DePaul, 1979-80
C James Mitchem, F Terry Cummings, F Mark Aguirre, G Teddy Grubbs, G Clyde Bradshaw
Few teams have faced higher expectations or missed them by more than the 1979-80 Blue Demons.
With star freshman Cummings joining a Final Four team led by scoring machine Aguirre, DePaul lost its NCAA tournament opener, getting bounced by Kiki Vandeweghe and eighth-seeded UCLA.
Aguirre, the Naismith Award winner that season for his 26.8 points and 7.6 rebounds a game, had plenty of help around him.
Mitchem and Bradshaw (along with reserve Skip Dillard) would become NBA draftees, and the 6'9" Cummings showed flashes of his enormous potential by averaging 14.2 points and 9.4 boards a night.
Though their teammates never made it onto NBA rosters, Aguirre and Cummings both became standout pros.
Aguirre, the No. 1 overall pick in 1981, made three All-Star teams in Dallas before winning a pair of rings as a reserve on the Bad Boys Pistons. Cummings, who went second overall in the 1982 draft, was a two-time All-Star as a Buck and posted 20-point averages in seven of his first eight seasons.
27. Arkansas, 1977-78
C Steve Schall, F Jim Counce, G Ron Brewer, G Marvin Delph, G Sidney Moncrief
There have been Arkansas teams with more future pros (the MayDay squads of the early 90s) or more team success (Corliss Williamson’s national champs), but none achieved quite the same mystique as the Triplets.
Local products Brewer, Moncrief and Delph led the Razorbacks to their first-ever Final Four in 1978.
All three were athletic, long-armed perimeter talents who could score on the jumper or off the dribble, and all were dangerous defenders. Only a meeting with Jack Givens and eventual champion Kentucky kept the trio from reaching the national title game.
Brewer went on to become a dangerous scorer for a few seasons with Portland and San Antonio before injuries derailed his career. (He’s also the father of the similarly-skilled Ronnie Brewer, formerly of Arkansas and now a Chicago Bull).
Moncrief hit the jackpot as a pro, winning the first two Defensive Player of the Year trophies while making five straight All-Star teams as a Buck.
26. South Carolina, 1972-73
C Danny Traylor, F Alex English, F Brian Winters, G Mike Dunleavy Sr., G Kevin Joyce
Two years removed from its first-ever NCAA tournament berth, South Carolina fielded the most talented squad in program history. Though the 1973 Gamecocks only made it as far as the Sweet 16, they’re still tied for the most tournament wins the school has managed.
Seven-footer Traylor and senior leader Joyce—fresh off a stint with the U.S. Olympic team in Munich—were the complementary players to a trio of younger stars.
Winters, at 6’4”, averaged 6.3 rebounds a night, while Dunleavy and English averaged double-digit points as freshmen during the first season in which first-year players were eligible to appear on varsity teams.
Dunleavy, better known now as a former head coach and father of current Pacer Mike Jr., was a solid backup point guard for a decade, most successfully in Milwaukee.
Winters blossomed into a fine scorer (also as a Buck), making a pair of All-Star teams and averaging 19 points a game for three straight seasons. English, meanwhile, finished in the top five in the league in scoring for six straight years in a Hall of Fame career with the Nuggets.
25. Kentucky, 1947-48
C Alex Groza, F Wallace (Wah Wah) Jones, G Kenny Rollins, G Ralph Beard, G Cliff Barker
The original Fabulous Five—four decades before Michigan’s better-known version—Adolph Rupp’s 1948 Wildcats gave the legendary coach his first NCAA title.
Rupp also imported the entire starting five in his capacity as U.S. national team coach, winning Olympic gold in the summer of 1948, and four of them (excepting senior Rollins) won another NCAA crown in 1949.
All five played briefly in the early days of the NBA, most of them with the now-defunct Indianapolis Olympians.
Beard and Groza were the most effective as pros—the latter averaged 22.5 points over his two seasons—but both were suspended for life after they were implicated in a widespread point-shaving scandal during their college days.
24. Loyola Marymount, 1989-90
F Hank Gathers, F Per Stumer, G Bo Kimble, G Jeff Fryer, G Tony Walker
Coach Paul Westhead’s light-speed offense set his team up to score points, but it was talent as well as the coach’s system that allowed the 1989-90 Lions to average an NCAA-record 122.4 points a game.
Point guard Walker set up his quick-shooting teammates to the tune of 7.1 assists a game. Fryer, a perimeter sniper, set a tournament record with 11 three-pointers in a win over Michigan, but his 22.7 points a game were only good for third on this roster.
Gathers, who had led Division I in both scoring and rebounding the previous year, anchored the squad until his stunning on-court death of a heart attack in the WCC tournament.
Kimble, his childhood friend and the nation’s leading scorer for 1989-90 at 35.3 points a night, carried the team forward after the tragedy and led them to the Elite 8 and a loss to eventual champion UNLV.
The Lions’ three victories in the 1989-90 tourney are one more than they have achieved in all the other seasons in school history combined.
23. Kentucky, 1995-96
C Walter McCarty, F Antoine Walker, F Derek Anderson, G Tony Delk, G Anthony Epps
The team that made Rick Pitino’s coaching career was tailor-made for Pitino’s high-energy, three-shooting style.
Four starters (including pass-first PG Epps) shot better than 40 percent from long range, and McCarty and Walker gave the Wildcats as mobile a pair of post players as the college game has ever seen.
After winning the national title with this group, Pitino soon jumped to the NBA’s Boston Celtics, where he quickly brought in McCarty (and Ron Mercer, a reserve on the 1995-96 squad) to join Walker in an apparent effort to reassemble his old team.
McCarty was a journeyman at best in the NBA, but Delk proved more successful. Though he changed teams frequently, the 6'1" guard proved to be a reliable instant-offense reserve in his decade in the league.
Anderson averaged as many as 16.9 points a game while bouncing between the starting lineup and the bench over 11 seasons with seven teams.
Walker, whose famed three-point shot didn’t develop until he reached the Celtics, made three All-Star teams for Boston and later won a ring with Shaq and D-Wade in Miami.
22. Duke, 1998-99
F Elton Brand, F Shane Battier, F Chris Carrawell, G Trajan Langdon, G William Avery
The best group of Blue Devils never to win a title, the 1998-99 squad fell to Rip Hamilton and UConn in the national championship game. Otherwise, the team’s only loss that year was a two-point upset by Kenyon Martin’s Cincinnati Bearcats in the Great Alaska Shootout.
Duke knew a thing or two about Alaska and shooting thanks to 2-guard Langdon (the “Alaskan Assassin”), who averaged 17.3 points a game that year. He and Carrawell provided the leadership for an otherwise green squad.
Battier is still going strong as an NBA defensive specialist in his second tour with the Grizzlies. Brand has never been the same since the 2007 injury that ended his stay with the Clippers, but he’s still a top-notch rebounder as an old hand on the young 76ers.
21. Notre Dame, 1973-74
C John Shumate, F Adrian Dantley, F Gary Novak, G Dwight Clay, G Gary Brokaw
Although Notre Dame won 26 games (against just three losses) in 1973-74, just one victory got all the attention. The Irish snapped UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak with a nail-biting 71-70 victory on Clay’s last-minute jumper.
Shumate, who handcuffed Bill Walton in that game, averaged 24.2 points and 11 boards for a team whose season ended with a disappointing upset to Campy Russell and Michigan.
The 6’9” Shumate would go on to average 7.5 rebounds a game over a peripatetic NBA career.
Dantley, Shumate’s right-hand man with 18.3 points a game in his freshman season, would average 30.4 points the next year. He won a pair of NBA scoring titles with the Jazz, averaging 30 points or better four times in his Hall of Fame career.
20. Oklahoma, 1987-88
C Stacey King, F Harvey Grant, F Dave Sieger, G Mookie Blaylock, G Ricky Grace
When Danny Manning led Kansas to the 1988 national title, it was an upset not only because the Jayhawks were a No. 6 seed but also because of the immense talent of the top-seeded Sooners they defeated.
The frontcourt provided the scoring—King and Grant each averaged better than 20 points a night—while the pair of juco transfers in the backcourt combined for 13.3 assists a game.
As a pro, King was a fine backup center with a sweet shooting touch who landed in the right place—Michael Jordan’s Bulls, version 1.0—to win three championship rings.
Grant never quite matched the performance of brother Horace, but was an effective NBA starter for several years as a Bullet.
Blaylock, who had set the Sooners’ career steals record, made six All-Defensive teams for Atlanta while averaging as many as 17.4 points and 9.7 assists.
19. North Carolina, 1997-98
F Makhtar N’Diaye, F Antawn Jamison, G Vince Carter, G Shammond Williams, G Ed Cota
At a school where Final Four appearances are commonplace, UNC’s loss in the national semifinals in 1998 could only come as a disappointment. One of the most electrifying offenses college basketball had ever seen came up short in its best shot at a title.
N’Diaye provided the physical interior presence for a team that didn’t always play a lot of defense, while point guard Cota was on his way to shattering the school record for career assists (he would finish with 1,030).
SG Williams (who set a school record with 233 career treys) took on more of a playmaking role in seven years as an NBA reserve, mostly in Seattle. Jamison is still a dangerous scorer (18 points a game for the Cavs last year), but he’s clearly lost a step from his All-Star days in Washington.
Carter, too, looks to be on his way out as a Sun, but his likely Hall of Fame career featured a string of eight consecutive All-Star nods as a Raptor and Net.
18. Houston, 1967-68
C Ken Spain, F Elvin Hayes, F Theodis Lee, G Don Chaney, G George Reynolds
The 1968 Cougars came out on top in one of the greatest regular-season games in history, ending UCLA’s 47-game winning streak by a 71-69 margin.
Hayes, the national Player of the Year, helped hold the Bruins’ Lew Alcindor (suffering from a scratched cornea suffered a few days earlier) to just 15 points while scoring 39 himself.
The only thing that could stop the unbeaten Cougars from taking the national championship was a rematch with the Bruins in the Final Four.
With Hayes stifled by a box-and-one defense and Reynolds ineligible for postseason play—he hadn’t graduated from his junior college, a requirement back then—the Bruins won in a slaughter, 101-69.
Chaney went on to make five All-Defensive teams and win two titles as a Celtic. Hayes, meanwhile, dominated at the NBA level, winning a scoring championship as a rookie and two later rebounding titles in a Hall of Fame career with the Rockets and Bullets.
17. Florida, 2005-07
C Joakim Noah, F Al Horford, F Corey Brewer, G Lee Humphrey, G Taurean Green
UCLA notwithstanding, back-to-back national champions are a rarity in college basketball. Even more remarkable, especially in the era of NBA early-entry, is a team like these Gators that wins consecutive titles with the same starting lineup.
Green (son of NBAer Sidney) handled the point guard duties while also averaging better than a steal per game. Humphrey was the designated long-range gunner, hitting 45.9 percent of his threes.
Defensive specialist Brewer has yet to become more than a role player in the NBA, though his athleticism may help him find a home in Dallas (where he landed after a midseason trade last year).
Noah, the 2006 Final Four MOP, earned All-Defensive team recognition with the Bulls while averaging 11.4 boards a game last season.
Horford, who often played second fiddle to Noah in Gainesville, has been the most successful pro of the bunch with back-to-back All-Star appearances for Atlanta.
16. Duke, 2000-01
F Carlos Boozer, F Shane Battier, F Mike Dunleavy Jr., G Nate James, G Jason Williams
Like most of Mike Krzyzewski’s best teams, the 2000-01 Blue Devils won their national championship from the outside in. Four standout perimeter players (led by Wooden and Naismith Award winner Battier) poured in the points while the physical Boozer anchored the middle.
Williams (who went by Jay as a pro) tore up his knee in a motorcycle accident just a year after becoming the No. 2 overall pick of the Bulls.
Dunleavy Jr. has struggled defensively, but his three-point marksmanship has earned him regular playing time with the Warriors and (currently) the Pacers.
Battier has had more luck, draining threes and playing outstanding defense for the Grizzlies (to whom he returned late last season) and Rockets.
Boozer, injured for the early stages of last season, may yet return to his Jazz All-Star form as Derrick Rose’s running mate in Chicago.
15. Indiana, 1975-76
C Kent Benson, F Scott May, F Tom Abernethy, G Bobby Wilkerson, G Quinn Buckner
After nearly 40 years, the 1975-76 Hoosiers are still the last team to complete an undefeated NCAA championship season.
Coach Bobby Knight’s first title squad featured a winning mix of offense (Naismith Award winner May and his 23.5 points a game) and defense (the physical 6’3” Buckner).
Even more remarkably, the entire lineup found some success at the next level. Abernethy had the least distinguished pro career, but even he played five seasons as a backup with the Lakers and Warriors.
Wilkerson became a double-digit scorer in Denver, while May earned All-Rookie honors and played several solid years with the Bulls. Benson, the Final Four MOP as a junior in ’76, went on to put up fine rebounding numbers in Detroit, though he struggled to score as a pro.
Buckner was never a scorer at any level, but averaged 4.3 assists for his career (mostly with the Bucks) while distinguishing himself by making four All-Defensive teams.
14. Kansas, 1996-97
C Raef LaFrentz, F Scot Pollard, F Paul Pierce, G Jerod Haase, G Jacque Vaughn
Roy Williams coached bales of future NBA players at Kansas, but none of his teams could match the 1996-97 squad for unfulfilled potential.
The hulking front line of LaFrentz and Pollard combined for 17.6 rebounds and 3.9 blocks a game, while Vaughn dished out 6.2 assists a night. High-flyer Pierce and Academic All-American Haase rounded out a lineup boasting five starters with double-digit scoring averages.
Even with all that talent, the Jayhawks were bounced in the Sweet 16 that March by eventual national champion Arizona.
Vaughn and Pollard both went on to long careers as NBA backups (most notably with the Jazz and Kings, respectively).
LaFrentz developed a deadly three-point shot as a pro and twice blocked more than 200 shots in a season with the Nuggets.
Pierce, of course, is still hoping for his second championship ring as age catches up to the Celtics, but after nine All-Star appearances his legacy is more than assured.
13. Georgetown, 1983-84
C Patrick Ewing, F Reggie Williams, F David Wingate, G Fred Brown, G Michael Jackson
In four brilliant seasons at Georgetown, Ewing took the Hoyas to three national title games. The only time he found the right supporting cast to win one was 1984.
With Williams and Wingate, both shutdown-defenders in their own right, funneling opponents to the shot-blocking Ewing, and the steady Jackson keeping the offense flowing, Georgetown out-dueled Akeem Olajuwon and Houston for the national championship.
Wingate remained a rock-solid defender at the NBA level, mostly coming off the bench in a career that spanned 15 seasons (including a stint alongside fellow Hoya Alonzo Mourning in Charlotte).
Williams proved a more effective scorer as a pro than Wingate, and he spent several seasons starting alongside yet another Georgetown product, Dikembe Mutombo, in Denver.
Ewing never won a title in the NBA, but he finished 16th in league history in points, eighth in rebounds and sixth in blocks in his Hall of Fame Knicks career.
12. UCLA, 1972-73
C Bill Walton, F Larry Farmer, F Keith Wilkes, G Larry Hollyfield, G Greg Lee
The last team in John Wooden’s untouchable string of seven straight national champs, the 1973 Bruins capped a perfect season by routing Memphis in the title game, 87-66.
Walton (who famously scored 44 points on 21-for-22 shooting in that game) and Wilkes contributed to 73 games of the Bruins’ NCAA-record 88-game winning streak from 1972-74.
Scoring machine Wilkes was a finalist for Hall of Fame election this spring for his performance as a three-time All-Star with the Warriors and Lakers.
Walton spent most of his pro career hobbled by a creaky back, but earned his Hall of Fame stripes by leading the league in rebounds and blocks while carrying Portland to its only title, in 1977.
11. Notre Dame, 1980-81
F Orlando Woolridge, F Tim Andree, F Kelly Tripucka, G Bill Varner, G John Paxson
With high-scoring swingman Tripucka—the lone holdover from the 1978 Final Four squad—surrounded by fellow offensive talents like Paxson, Notre Dame’s 1981 edition looked set for another deep tournament run.
Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, their potent shooting abandoned them in a tooth-and-nail Sweet 16 battle with BYU, and, after scoring just 50 points in the game, they were knocked off by Danny Ainge’s coast-to-coast buzzer-beater.
Woolridge, a better scorer as a pro than he ever was in South Bend, was a solid starting PF for a decade (most successfully with the Bulls).
Paxson won three rings setting up Michael Jordan as a Bulls point guard. Tripucka, the son of former Broncos QB Frank, was twice an All-Star as a Piston before becoming the first star of the expansion Hornets.
10. Syracuse, 1987-88
C Rony Seikaly, F Derrick Coleman, F Stephen Thompson, G Matt Roe, G Sherman Douglas
After losing the 1987 title game on Keith Smart’s buzzer beater, expectations were high for a Syracuse squad that returned most of its key players. Though the Orangemen were stunned by Rhode Island in the second round in 1988, there was no mistaking the talent on the roster.
Seikaly, in his senior season, posted career highs with 16.3 points and 9.6 boards a night. Sophomore Coleman added 13.5 points and a team-high 11 boards.
Douglas, en route to setting a Division I record for career assists the following year, averaged 8.2 dimes a night.
Seikaly, the inaugural top pick of the expansion Heat, averaged as many as 17.1 points and 11.8 rebounds a game in his 11 NBA seasons.
Douglas, whose floor leadership earned him the nickname “The General,” averaged 7.3 assists over his first six seasons with Miami and Boston.
Coleman, whose reputation for laziness helped make him a notorious bust as a No. 1 pick of the Nets, nevertheless averaged 16.5 points and 9.3 boards a game over his 15 NBA seasons.
9. Arizona State, 1979-80
C Alton Lister, F Kurt Nimphius, F Sam Williams, G Byron Scott, G Fat Lever
As a college team, the 1979-80 Sun Devils weren’t any too impressive (22-7, a second-round NCAA loss to Ohio State). However, this ASU squad has the remarkable distinction of having the entire lineup become at least part-time starters at the next level.
Lister never scored much, but was an effective rebounder and shot blocker as a Buck and Sonic before injuries derailed his career.
Williams and Nimphius were most effective as reserves (in Golden State and Dallas respectively), with both players averaging around 4.5 boards a game for their careers.
Scott did the most winning as a pro, earning three rings as Magic Johnson’s backcourt mate with the Lakers. The best player of the lot, though, was the 6'3" Lever, a two-time All-Star for Denver who peaked in 1988-89 with 19.8 points, 9.3 boards and 7.9 assists per game.
8. UNLV, 1989-90
C David Butler, F Larry Johnson, F Stacey Augmon, G Anderson Hunt, G Greg Anthony
Prior to his fall from grace for associations between his program and gamblers, Jerry Tarkanian assembled one of the most devastating teams in college history.
The Runnin’ Rebels ran Duke out of the building in the national title game, setting a margin-of-victory record with their 103-73 triumph.
Hunt, the tournament MOP, set a school record with 283 career three-pointers. The long-limbed 6’6” Augmon, called Plastic Man, was an elite defender who would go on to start for the Hawks for several seasons.
Anthony, another aggressive defender who also averaged 7.4 assists a game for the Rebels, went on to a solid pro career (mostly as a backup) with the Knicks and Grizzlies, among others.
Johnson, aside from starring in memorably silly shoe commercials that popularized his nickname of Grandmama, was a No. 1 overall pick who gave the Hornets a pair of All-Star seasons and also contributed to several Knicks playoff teams.
It’s worth noting that UNLV’s path to the title took them through two other team’s that made this list: Bo Kimble’s Loyola Marymount squad and Kenny Anderson’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
7. Duke, 1991-92
C Christian Laettner, F Thomas Hill, F Grant Hill, G Brian Davis, G Bobby Hurley
The director’s cut of one of the most imposing college dynasties ever, Duke’s 1992 national champs boasted many of the same players who had lost in the 1990 final and captured the ’91 title.
Even as good as these Blue Devils were, it took Laettner's endlessly-replayed buzzer-beater against Kentucky to keep their season alive and set up a title-game win over Michigan.
Seniors Laettner and Hurley both cemented their reputations as all-time greats of the college game. Laettner finished his career with 2,460 points and 1,149 rebounds, while Hurley dished out 1,076 assists to go with 1,731 points in his four seasons at Duke.
Hurley’s development was short-circuited by a devastating car accident as a Kings rookie, and he lasted only a few years as an NBA backup.
Laettner, nearly as despised as a pro as he had been in Durham, was a solid but unspectacular starter for several teams who earned an All-Star nod as a Hawk in 1997. Grant Hill, no longer the perennial All-Star of his Pistons days, is still a full-time starter in Phoenix at age 38.
6. Michigan, 1991-93
C Chris Webber, F Juwan Howard, F Ray Jackson, G Jalen Rose, G Jimmy King
The Fab Five would have earned plenty of headlines even had they been merely good. After all, a starting lineup of all freshmen would have been a curiosity at worst.
Instead, Steve Fisher’s legendary recruiting class actually lived up to its prodigious hype, making back-to-back appearances in the national championship game (both losses).
Although Webber was the undisputed star (19.2 points, 10.1 boards and 2.5 blocks a game as a sophomore), all five players averaged double figures in scoring and three of them—Webber, Howard and Rose—became lottery picks.
Rose spent his entire NBA career trying (with little success) to be a point guard, but he was actually a valuable shooting guard who earned Most Improved Player honors as a Pacer.
Howard, still hanging around at age 37 with the Heat thanks to his rebounding presence, is a far cry from the dangerous scorer who earned an All-Star berth with the Bullets.
Webber was devastating in his prime with the Kings—27.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game in 2000-01—before injuries sent him on the fast track to retirement.
5. UCLA, 1967-68
C Lew Alcindor, F Mike Lynn, F Lynn Shackelford, G Lucius Allen, G Mike Warren
Improving on a defending NCAA champion is rarely an easy proposition, but the 1967-68 Bruins had the ultimate ace in the hole: 7’2” sophomore Alcindor, in his first year (in that era) of varsity eligibility.
The future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an instant success, averaging 29 points and 15.5 rebounds a game for a team that boasted a pair of other first team All-Americans in guards Allen and Warren.
Unsurprisingly, the formula worked to near-perfection, as a single loss to Houston and Elvin Hayes was the only blemish on UCLA’s second of what would become seven consecutive championship seasons.
Lynn and Shackelford failed in brief pro trials, while Warren left basketball to become an actor (starring on Hill Street Blues, among others).
Allen became a successful combo guard with the Bucks, averaging as many as 19.1 points, 5.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds.
The iconic Kareem, who changed his name after his second NBA season and first NBA title, won that championship as a Buck and five more as a Laker while totaling a record six MVP awards between the two teams.
4. San Francisco, 1954-56
C Bill Russell, F Mike Farmer, G Carl Boldt, G Hal Perry, G K.C. Jones
In a move very much ahead of its time in the heavily-segregated world of college hoops, San Francisco coach Phil Woolpert defied prejudice with three black starters: Jones, Perry, and the peerless Russell (who averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds a game over his college career).
The move paid off in spades, with the Dons earning back-to-back national titles—including the first-ever undefeated championship in 1956—and winning 55 consecutive games with this lineup (plus five more in 1956-57 after Russell and Jones graduated).
Farmer played seven years as a reserve with the Knicks and Hawks, averaging as many as 6.4 boards a night.
Point guard Jones averaged 4.3 assists a game for his Celtics career, but it was his stifling defense that allowed him to make the Hall of Fame with a career average of just 7.4 points per game.
It didn’t hurt that Jones was reunited with Russell, as the former won eight NBA championships and the latter a record 11 in Boston.
Russell’s own Hall of Fame career has been well documented, but it’s still worth pointing out that at 6’9” (and playing against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond), he averaged 22.5 rebounds a game for his career, leading the league five times.
3. Houston, 1982-83
C Akeem Olajuwon, F Larry Micheaux, F Clyde Drexler, G Michael Young, G Alvin Franklin
Often cited as the best team never to win an NCAA championship, Houston’s high-flying squads of the early 80’s earned the nickname Phi Slama Jama.
Micheaux (dubbed Mr. Mean) and the shot-swatting Olajuwon made plays on defense, but it was the explosive dunks of Olajuwon, Drexler and Young that defined the team.
Phi Slama Jama would reach the Final Four three times with three slightly different lineups, but never came out on top. The 1983 edition came closest, falling in an unforgettable title-game upset to NC State on Lorenzo Charles’ buzzer-beating dunk.
Drexler became a perennial All-Star in Portland, then returned to Houston to help fellow Hall of Famer Olajuwon (who changed the spelling of his name to Hakeem after turning pro) and the Rockets win their second NBA title.
Olajuwon, for his part, won three blocks titles, two rebounding crowns, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, an MVP and two championship rings in Houston.
2. Ohio State, 1959-60
C Jerry Lucas, F Joe Roberts, F John Havlicek, G Larry Siegfried, G Mel Nowell
As deep as Ohio State’s lone NCAA champions were, the team’s fortunes rested squarely on the broad shoulders of sophomore Lucas.
An incomparable rebounder who would’ve been a deadly three-point shooter had that shot existed at the time, Lucas averaged 26.3 points and 16.4 boards in leading the Buckeyes to the title.
OSU returned to the championship game the next two seasons with a similar lineup, but lost both times to Cincinnati.
Siegfried became a reliable reserve for Bill Russell’s Celtics, winning five titles while twice leading the league in free throw shooting.
Lucas averaged 15.6 rebounds a game for his 11 NBA seasons, the fourth-best figure in league history. He won a title as a Knick, but the best years of his Hall of Fame career came with the Cincinnati Royals (now known as the Kings).
Havlicek went from Lucas’ shadow in Columbus to Russell’s in Boston, but after several years as history’s best sixth man, he took over as the Celtics’ star in his own right.
Hondo holds the Boston franchise record with 26,395 career points (12th in league history), and he also earned All-Defensive recognition eight times in his Hall of Fame career.
1. North Carolina, 1981-82
C Sam Perkins, F James Worthy, F Matt Doherty, G Michael Jordan, G Jimmy Black
Dean Smith’s first national title team boasted exceptional depth on offense, with two outstanding passers—underrated PG Black and future Tar Heel coach Doherty—complementing its three first-class scorers.
Worthy, Perkins and Jordan combined for 44.4 points a night, with senior Worthy earning Final Four MOP honors thanks to a 28-point effort in the title-game win over Georgetown.
Perkins, a 6’9” center with a dead-eye jump shot, would become a valuable NBA starter, mostly for the Mavs and Sonics. Worthy got plenty more championship experience, winning three rings in a Hall of Fame career with the Showtime Lakers.
And Michael Jordan, a freshman when he knocked down the game-winning jumper to beat the Hoyas…became Michael Jordan.