March Madness: The ultimate all-time NCAA tournament starting five
March Madness, the greatest tournament in sports, has created its fair share of legends over the years.
We’re not talking about guys that had a good game or two, but rather those that consistently performed to the absolute peak of their powers as they carried their respective teams through the Big Dance.
Well, we’ve decided to put them on the same team. That’s right; we’ve created the ultimate March Madness starting five, taking the top performers in the tournament’s history and going through each position to create the best possible team.
Point guard: Magic Johnson
With his leadership, basketball IQ, versatility due to his size and pure passing ability, Magic Johnson was the ultimate floor general for Michigan State.
Johnson spent two seasons in East Lansing and led the Spartans to an Elite Eight his first year and a National Championship in his final season. Johnson was simply sensational en route to the 1979 title. He posted a triple double of 29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the semifinal and again led the way with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the finals.
Talk about a clutch performer. Johnson is the perfect guy to lead our ultimate team.
Shooting guard: Oscar Robertson
Close your eyes for a second and imagine Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson running the floor together. Awesome and downright scary, isn’t it?
Robertson was flawless filling the role of combo guard at Cincinnati. He could light it up (33.8 career PPG), do the dirty work (15.2 RPG) and distribute the ball (7.3 APG in his final season) all with such ease.
Robertson never won a championship at the collegiate level, but still experienced plenty of tournament success during his three years. He led his team to two Final Fours and won seven tournament games. Among his best tournament performances: 24 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists against Kansas State in the 1959 Elite Eight and 43 points and 14 rebounds against Kansas in the 1960 Elite Eight.
Small forward: Larry Bird
With skilled passers like Magic and Oscar on this team, putting an elite shooter like Larry Bird on this team almost doesn’t seem fair.
In 1975, Bird took his talents to Indiana State where he transformed a program that had never made the tournament prior to his arrival to a true championship contender. With Bird leading the way and posting absurd averages of 28.6 points (53.2 percent shooting from the field), 14.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, the Sycamores entered the 1979 tournament undefeated.
After knocking off Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas in the first three rounds, Indiana State faced off against DePaul in the Final Four. Bird put together one of the great performances in NCAA tournament history against the Blue Demons, posting 35 points on 84.2 percent shooting from the field with 16 rebounds and nine assists in a victory. The perfect season wasn’t meant to be as the Sycamores fell to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the championship game, but Bird sure made is mark on the tournament and established himself as one of history's best shooters.
Power forward: Christian Laettner
With Laettner, we’re adding to our team an experienced, clutch and dominant player.
Laettner’s tournament resume: four final fours, three title game appearances and two national championships. He holds multiple March Madness records, including most points scored (407), most free throws made (142) and most games won (21). Laettner was a winner.
When you think about clutch moments in NCAA tournament history, Laettner’s shot against Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight is one of the first to come to mind. The turnaround J was a thing of beauty and capped off a 31-point game on 10-of-10 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 shooting from the line for the Duke star. Two years prior Laettner also hit a game-winning jumper in the Elite Eight against UConn. This was a guy that came alive when the pressure was at its highest.
He was also simply an offensive savant. For his career – yes, his career – Laettner shot 57.4 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from beyond the arc. He could score from just about everywhere on the court, an especially valuable trait for a big man.
Center: Lew Alcindor
The final piece in this starting five might be its best. There’s a heck of a case to be made that Lew Alcindor is the greatest college basketball player of all-time.
In three seasons, he was named Player of the Year twice, won three national championships and three Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament honors.
With his dunking ability and his excellent post moves, including his famous skyhook, Alcindor was unstoppable. So much so that dunking was actually banned after the 1967 season until 1976 because Alcindor was scoring too often on dunks.
For his career, Alcindor averaged 26.4 points on 63.9 percent shooting from the field and 15.5 rebounds per game. Incredibly so, his numbers were even greater in the biggest games. He averaged 30.3 points on 71.6 percent shooting from the field and 18 boards in his three national championship game wins.
With Alcindor in the mix, our ultimate team is complete. This team has it all; distributors, low-post scorers, outside scorers, rebounders and a collective length and athleticism to defend at a high level. Basketball perfection.