This one's the ideal post for arguing among hoops fans. Except when you get to the top – then there's little room for debate.
Counting down from 25, they've hit George Mikan (DePaul), David Robinson (Navy), Calvin Murphy (Niagara), Austin Carr (Notre Dame) and Tim Duncan (Wake Forest). The top 20 starts with Bob Kurland (Oklahoma A&M, now State) Elgin Baylor (Seattle U), Ralph Sampson (Virginia), Tom Gola (La Salle) and Patrick Ewing (Georgetown).
Nice start. All of those players except Murphy were unanimous choices for the All-America team, while some – Mikan, Sampson – were unanimous choices for three seasons. Some might disagree with the order (I think Kurland's too high), but they're all worthy.
The fun part about these lists is everyone has their version.
A few seasons ago, SI.com had nearly 30 writers write essays on their picks for the greatest college player of all time. Check out each one when you have time. They're thoughtful, impassioned pieces that sum up why the college game is so dammed great.
Here's another list for the top 100 players, but it only has arguments made for the top 20. The rest is a list.
Also worth reading are these two items from ESPN on their "Mount Rushmore" of college hoops. (Click here for the second version.) Paired with those are: the most dominant individual college seasons, and the best Big Dance performances.
So who will be in the top 15 of ESPN's list? Here's how I'd rank 'em.
(Note: The list likely won't include Ralph Beard, a three-time All-American at Kentucky. His role in a point-shaving scandal is a no-no for something like this. After all, they left O.J. off the football list.)
15. Scott May, Indiana. If not for a broken arm in 1975, May would've had two NCAA titles to his résumé, instead of only having that perfect 1976 season.
14. Elvin Hayes, Houston. Another dominator down low, Hayes' 1968 season – 36.8 ppg, 18.9 rebounds – is impressive. More so? That win against Lew Alcindor and UCLA, one of the few times Alcindor's team ever stumbled.
13. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State. Lucas never ended a season without playing in an NCAA title game. Also a unanimous three-time All-American, who averaged 24.3 ppg and 17.2 rpg for his career.
12. Michael Jordan, North Carolina. His NBA career surely influences this pick, but MJ also dominated during his junior season, was a two-time unanimous All-American and there's that famous shot as a freshman.
11. Magic Johnson, Michigan State. Left after just two seasons, but was arguably the best college point guard we've ever seen.
10. Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas. The Stilt could probably be higher – he was a two-time All-American and averaged 29.9 ppg and 18.3 rebounds in two seasons – but I wish he would've stuck around longer.
9. Christian Laettner, Duke. Hate him or love him, there's not denying Laettner as one of the game's greatest players. He played in four Final Fours, won two of 'em and was the player behind one of the sport's greatest upsets (UNLV in '91) and its greatest game (Kentucky in '92).
8. Larry Bird, Indiana State. I wish he and Bob Knight could've made it work. But I'll take the three brilliant years as a Sycamore, where he willed a true mid-major to the title game and snagged Player of the Year – over Magic – in the process.
7. Danny Manning, Kansas. My pick – over Laettner – for the best player in the modern era. Manning, a unanimous All-American in '87 and '88, could score, rebound, defend … you get the idea. Danny and the Miracles had no business beating Oklahoma for the 1988 title.
6. Bill Russell, San Francisco. Centers dominated college hoops during the 40s and 50s, and Russell was the best of the lot. His Dons rarely lost (71-8 in three seasons, 57-1 in the final two) and he averaged nearly as many rebounds (20.3) as points (20.7) for his career.
5. Pete Maravich, LSU. The game's greatest scorer. He had a permanent green light and he used it, averaging 44.4 ppg for his career. Put it this way: He has 400 more career points than the guy in 2nd place, Freeman Williams, who went for more than 30 a game himself.
4. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati. Put simply, the game's best all-around player. The Big O is one of two players to have a Final Four triple-double, but somehow never won a title himself.
3. Bill Walton, UCLA. Will always be the second-best center in UCLA history, but that's no dig. Walton's Bruins once won 88 straight games, he once made 21-of-22 field-goal attempts in the 1973 Final Four and was an
paralleled unparalleled passer out of the low post. Why isn't he No. 2? Because he lost to my guy at No. 2.
No. 2 David Thompson, N.C. State. Thompson's mystique (he snagged a quarter off the top backboard!) and on-court ability are enough to cement his place in the game's lore, but when the 1974 Wolfpack team beat UCLA – after beating Maryland in the ACC Tournament – it vaulted him into legendary status.
No. 1 Lew Alcindor, UCLA. The perfect college player. He had an unstoppable shot, was an underrated defender and the greatest winner we've seen in the college game. UCLA was 88-2 in his three seasons, won three NCAA titles and – because of Alcindor – set the standard for all college dynasties.
There's my list. What's yours?