Best Players In March Madness History
16. Stephen Curry, Davidson
He averaged nearly 26 points as a sophomore, helping the Wildcats to a 26-6 regular-season record in 2008. He went absolutely crazy in the tournament by draining insanely long-range shots and making some of the top teams look silly. Curry hit eight 3-pointers and notched 40 points in No. 10 seed Davidson's first-round win over No. 7 seed Gonzaga. After a slow first half vs. No. 2 Georgetown, Curry went off for 25 in the second to take down the Hoyas almost single-handedly.
Stephen Curry, Davidson
Another 33-point effort sealed his legendary status against No. 3 seed Wisconsin as little Davidson made it to the Elite Eight. "His run really encompassed all that was great about March Madness," says Greg Anthony, CBS Sports' lead college basketball analyst. "The baby-boy look coupled with the assassin's killer instinct! I just recall thinking that no one should be able to shoot the basketball like that, then I remembered his dad and it became clear that we were watching greatness."
15. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston
Olajuwon is the last player to be named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament from a losing team. That was following his 1983 championship loss to an N.C. State team that won on an airball-turned dunk in the final seconds. (Check it out in Best Buzzer Beaters.) Then known as "Akeem," he had 20 points and 18 rebounds, but because of that defeat it's easy to forget how fun Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and the rest of Phi Slamma Jamma -- the so-called dunking fraternity -- were to watch.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston
"Olajuwon led his school to an 88-16 record and three straight Final Four appearances from 1982-84," says Randy McClure, executive editor of Rush the Court. "Although he never cut the nets down during his three-year career -- losing to Michael Jordan's North Carolina Tar Heels in the semifinals in 1982, N.C. State's miracle run in the championship game in 1983, and Georgetown's Patrick Ewing in the same spot one year later -- he was a dominant post force on both ends of the floor."
14. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse
One year was all Melo needed to give Syracuse and legendary coach Jim Boeheim their first national title in 2003. Anthony led the Orange in every offensive category in the regular season: Scoring, rebounding, minutes played. Once March Madness rolled around, Melo again put the team on his back. His 33 points against No. 1 seed Texas set a Final Four record for most by a freshman. In the title game against Kansas, Anthony had 20 points and 10 rebounds in a snug 81-78 victory.
Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse
It was no question he would win the Most Outstanding Player award. "I called his game when they won the regional finals to move onto the Final Four as a freshman,” says Gus Johnson, Fox Sports lead college basketball play-by-play announcer. "He was a boy who was playing as a man among everybody else. College was just way too small for him before he turned pro." (Be strong, energetic, and healthy like you were at 25!)
13. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
Few players have had more tournament agony. As a freshman, Ewing almost helped Georgetown win it until Michael Jordan stuck a dagger of a shot to give North Carolina the lead in the closing seconds. "What a lot of people don't know is that Ewing actually considered quitting basketball before his junior year when his mother passed away," says Tom Hager, author of The Ultimate Book of March Madness.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
Luckily for Georgetown and coach John Thompson, he stayed and outdueled Olajuwon in the 1984 title game. He was named the Most Outstanding Player, menacing the lane with 15 total blocks. It was the only title Ewing would ever win, though, as the very next year as a senior, another heralded Hoyas team stunningly lost to Villanova in the championship. (Fans always love rooting for the underdog: 16 Greatest March Madness Upsets that busted brackets across the country.)
12. Larry Bird, Indiana State
Larry Legend was born at little Indiana State. It could have been with the Indiana Hoosiers, but Bird couldn't adjust to the "big city" of Bloomington. So for the Sycamores, he averaged a humble 30 points during his three seasons, and they rolled into the 1979 title game against Michigan State without a loss. He rolled in his first four games of the tournament, but Bird's 19 points weren't enough to top Magic Johnson in the highest rated college basketball game ever during the championship.
Larry Bird, Indiana State
However, it was the antithesis of a rivalry that would only grow. "No other player can claim to have carried a team to the extent of Larry Bird," says Andy Katz, senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com. "Bird had to lead Indiana State to a title game with talent that wasn't equal to Michigan State. Bird's NCAA Tournament play was the precursor to one of the greatest careers and eras in the NBA." (Discover these four proven tips on how to win your next pickup game.)
11. Bill Bradley, Princeton
More than 70 schools offered Bill Bradley a scholarship, but he chose Ivy school Princeton. Not having a scholarship didn't deter Bradley, as he was a three-time All American. After his junior year, he captained the U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal then shined even more as a senior. He helped the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in 1965, where he averaged 43.5 points and set a scoring record of 58 points against Wichita State in the tournament's consolation game.
Bill Bradley, Princeton
"He was something else. He could be a one-man show a lot of the time with a style like a Reggie Miller or Ray Allen," says Bill Raftery, Fox Sports lead college basketball analyst. "He was always busy without the ball, coming off screens and setting his man up." He'd go on to do much less interesting things -- like becoming a U.S. Senator. (What is the Secret to Athletic Success? Stop comparing yourself to the competition.)
10. Elgin Baylor, Seattle
One of the all-time greats that regularly gets overlooked, Baylor originally began his college career at the College of Idaho. He averaged over 30 points per game and tore down 20 rebounds per game his first season, but decided to transfer to Seattle University when his coach was fired. Following a season on the sidelines, Baylor left his mark on the college game, being named second-team All-American his first year with Seattle and first-team his second season.
Elgin Baylor, Seattle
“Elgin Baylor was one of the first combo guard/forwards whose elite athleticism made him impossible to defend,” says McClure. Seattle was ranked 18th heading into the 1958 tournament, and little was expected from it. But Baylor, a junior, scored 27 points per game in his five tournament games and put the Chieftans in the title game against Kentucky. He missed 23 of 32 shots against Kentucky in the loss -- still scoring 25 points with 19 rebounds -- but was named Most Outstanding Player.
9. Christian Laettner, Duke
Many loved him, and many detested him. But you can't deny Christian Laettner’s imprint on college basketball. "One of the great performers in the clutch in hoop history," says Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN. "Laettner didn't care whether you liked him. He just wanted to win, and he wasn't afraid of losing."
Christian Laettner, Duke
Just look to our list of the Best Buzzer Beaters in March Madness history for evidence of his clutchness, and you'll find Laettner there -- twice. It wasn't just big shots that he hit on the big stage. He played in four consecutive Final Fours -- winning in 1991 and 1992 -- and he holds NCAA Tournament records for points (407) and games played (23).
8. Danny Manning, Kansas
Larry Brown was lucky his Jayhawks even made the 1988 tournament. His team battled injuries all year but limped into the field as a No. 6 seed with 11 losses. Luckily he had Danny Manning. "Danny was always productive, but he was so unselfish it took him a long time to grow comfortable with being great," says Mike DeCourcy, a college hoops writer for Sporting News. "At the core, he really was a 6-foot-11 point guard.
Danny Manning, Kansas
"But Kansas needed him to be a 6-11 forward who was okay with scoring all the points if necessary. He figured that out just in time." In the championship game against conference rival Oklahoma, Manning recorded 31 points, 18 rebounds, 5 steals and 2 blocked shots. It capped a career where he led Kansas to the Final Four in 1986 and a regional semifinal in 1987.
7. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
Ohio State's 1960 national title team -- the only one in school history -- was loaded with players like John Havlicek and Bobby Knight, plus they averaged over 90 points per game despite not having a 3-point line. But few had the overall raw talent of a young Jerry Lucas.
Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
As a super sophomore -- his first year playing since freshman weren't allowed to play varsity -- Lucas poured in 24 points per game during the Buckeyes' tournament run and grabbed a mind-boggling 16 rebounds per contest. "He may be the best rebounder besides Kevin Love I ever saw," says Raftery. Lucas would help lead Ohio State to two more title game appearances only to be beat by Cincinnati twice.
6. Magic Johnson, Michigan State
Magic is six spots higher than Larry for a good reason: He won the 1979 championship. While his 24 points and seven rebounds were impressive against Bird -- who struggled in the final game -- many point to the triple-double against an overmatched University of Pennsylvania in the semifinal contest as the game that truly made "Magic" shine. "Magic helped define with Bird a generation of fans in the NBA and to some extent in college basketball," says Katz.
Magic Johnson, Michigan State
"His showtime antics and re-defining a position drew an immense amount of attention in that era.” He was a guard in a forward's body, making him unstoppable at the time. (Here are the 5 unorthodox strategies that could boost productivity and lead to success.)
5. Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas
Chamberlain only had one run in the tournament, and he did the most he could to get Kansas a title. But there's only so much a 7-foot-2 sophomore can do when he’s getting triple teamed and verbally abused. In 1957, Chamberlain took a heavily favored Jayhawks squad to a 23-team tournament. He scored 36 points in an overtime win over SMU and then 30 points against Oklahoma City to reach the Final Four -- all the while hearing racial barbs slung his way.
Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas
A blowout of San Francisco took them on to face No. 1 seed North Carolina. Despite the championship being played essentially at home in Kansas City, Chamberlain was "held" to 23 points and 14 rebounds as the Tar Heels won 54-53 in the only triple-overtime NCAA Tournament contest with a strategy of triple-teaming and holding the ball as much as possible. Wilt would win Most Outstanding Player that year, and then go professional after his junior season.
4. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati
For the time, the "Big O" was just a step ahead and did everything well -- guarding, passing, shot selection. He won the national scoring title each of his three years at Cincinnati. Unfortunately, a title was the only thing that eluded Robertson in college. The Bearcats made back-to-back NCAA Final Four appearances in 1959 and 1960, losing to Cal each time in the semifinal round. But Robertson was known for his triple-doubles, and he delivered in a third-place game against Louisville in 1959.
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati
It was the first triple-double in Final Four history with 39 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. "Some who were around when he played, including me, still think he might have been the greatest all around player ever," says Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports play-by-play announcer. Now when you see combo guards/forwards, remember that it started with Robertson.
3. Bill Walton, UCLA
Walton was the workhorse of John Wooden's and UCLA's 88-game winning streak in the early 1970s. He and his flowing red locks of hair won three straight college player of the year awards, and he won two national titles. But when we brought up Walton's name and the NCAA Tournament, most experts pointed to his dazzling performance against Memphis State in the 1973 championship game.
Bill Walton, UCLA
His 44 points on a 21-for-22 outing is all the proof one needs to show Walton's dominance. "So many of the 21 baskets Walton made were essentially dunks that it sort of numbed you to the reality of how brilliantly he was playing," says DeCourcy. "Go back and watch it now, four decades later. He was being defended hard by legit big guys -- Larry Kenon and Ronnie Robinson -- and Walton made some dazzling shots. No one’s ever played better in the NCAAs."
2. Bill Russell, San Francisco
Most people only think of Bill Russell when it comes to his 11 NBA championship rings. But he was a force even in college with the University of San Francisco Dons. "Russell won the 1955 and 1956 national titles with San Francisco, and helped the team win 55 consecutive games," says Hager. He was Most Outstanding Player in 1955, and in the second of his national championships, the 6-foot-10 Russell poured in 26 points and notched 27 rebounds in the title game against the University of Iowa.
Bill Russell, San Francisco
For his college career, Russell averaged over 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. His long limbs also made him a force defensively. "I don't think I've ever seen anybody like him,” says Raftery. "Defensively it was like he had three or four arms.” Another sign that Russell couldn’t be stopped: the NCAA widened the lanes and eliminated goaltending after he went pro.
1. Lew Alcindor, UCLA
Exactly how dominant would the UCLA Bruins have been if Lew Alcindor -- you know him now as Kareem Abdul Jabbar -- been allowed to play as a freshman? So let's just list the accolades for his three years on varsity: three time national college player of the year, three NCAA Championships, three Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards.
Lew Alcindor, UCLA
The NCAA essentially banned the dunk because of Alcindor. (He was smart enough to perfect the also indefensible hook shot.) "He might be the best offensive player with his back to the basket of all time," says Raftery. "He made his time at UCLA worth it." And he didn’t shy away on the big stage of the Final Four. He averaged 18.8 boards and 25.7 points in his six games. Nobody can match him.