Because the current NCAA tournament is going so well, I would argue that this is the best time to look back at the conferences during the last year that the conferences are as we know them. The ACC was first. Next up: The Big East.
The rules are a bit different than they were for the College Football thing, largely because the very infrastructure of NCAA hoops is so markedly different than what football is.
Rule 1: Unless you are a transcendent figure, 1-year players don’t make the cut. I’m sorry. In the same way people with 1 great year don’t make the Hall of Fame, no one with 1 year is going to get on the list unless it was an immortal year that can’t even be fathomed.
Rule 2: For all conferences, we are doing this as they were at the start of this season. So Missouri is still in the Big 12, Syracuse is still in the Big East, and so on and so forth.
Rule 3: College and pro performance are measured equally. So you have to have played in the NBA and done at least reasonably well.
Before I go any further, a huge thanks to Basketballreference.com for both providing me with a list of where every NBA player went to college and their exhaustive references for stats.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are one of those programs that are defined, by and large, by the era that you think of them in. For a fan who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, the Bearcats are Oscar Robertson’s and Jack Twyman’s team. Plain and simple. For the 80’s and 90’s of Cincy basketball? Kenyon Martin, Nick Van Exel, and Bob Huggins. But really, if you asked even this current generation of Bearcats, they’d tell you it was disrespectful to be trying to somehow compare themselves to the only man who ever averaged a triple-double for an entire season and was arguably the best all-around guard for an entire decade. Oscar Robertson, the game’s tortured genius, is the all-time greatest Bearcat.
Connecticut: This is one of the programs that has mastered sending a specific type of player to the pros. If you’re a top-shelf wing player and you go to UConn, you will succeed. Caron Butler did. So did Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon, and Rip Hamilton. But the greatest Husky of all-time did it better than all of them. He was an underrated all-around player. Still is really. Because when you think of him, you think of a shooter par excellence. And you really should. Ray Allen is the greatest Husky of all-time.
DePaul: The funny thing about DePaul is just how underrated they are as a basketball factory, and yet, how much of the greatness that their city has produced has been taken away from them. Isiah Thomas? Went to Indiana. Derrick Rose? Went to Memphis. the Flyin’ Illini team with Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, and Stephen Bardo? All Chicago-area kids. And yet with that, there is such a glut of good high-school talent in Chicago that DePaul has done ok. Terry Cummings went there. So did Rod Strickland, and Quentin Richardson. But the greatest DePaul Blue Demon isn’t either one of those men. No the greatest DePaul Blue Demon was childhood friends with one of the men on our list. He was one of the game’s most underrated and most chill scorers. Ladies and gentlemen, a man who doesn’t get enough shine. Mark Aguirre is the all-time greatest Blue Demon.
Georgetown: And now we get to, perhaps, the toughest program to understand and evaluate. Think about what Georgetown was, and the long list of pros that they have created. Alonzo Mourning. Dikembe Mutombo. Patrick Ewing. Roy Hibbert. Much like Georgia Tech was a point guard factory for a long time, Georgetown is a big man factory. But the best Hoya of all-time isn’t one of those big men I mentioned. The best Hoya of all-time was a 6-foot combo guard who carried himself like he was a 6-9 power forward. The best Hoya of all-time is one of, if not the, greatest pure scorer of our era. The best Hoya of all-time is Allen Iverson.
Louisville: And now we begin to mix in the Big East interlopers. Make no mistake, Louisville was never the Big East during its initial rise to prominence. They were in Conference USA. And yet, for a very long time, they have been one of the better programs in the country. They’ve been a consistent tourney threat, and have produced more and better pros than you realize. Darrell Griffith was one. Junior Bridgeman too. Butch Beard for that matter. But the all-time greatest Cardinal is unlike any current pro player I can remember seeing (largely because his prime took place when I was still an apple in my mother’s eye.) But when you don’t know about a player, and what he was in his prime, you have 2 choices. You can either lie, and hope no one calls you on it. Or you can do your own research. Guess which one i did?
What I noticed when i watched this player was just how much he seemed to control the game. Rebounding and defense? He did that well. Outlet passing? He mastered it as well as anyone did not named Johnny “Red” Kerr or Bill Russell. Ladies and gentlemen, Wes Unseld is the greatest Louisville Cardinal of all-time.
Marquette: And this is the second nouveau Big East program. They weren’t in the Big East in the same way that programs before them and after them have been. But they’ve always been the haven for the underrated, for the guys who would blossom into something bigger. Jerome Whitehead was like this. So was Doc Rivers. But the greatest Golden Eagle was lightly recruited out of HS, and has now become one of the best guards of his era (maybe the best, depending on how you feel about Kobe Bryant.) He demolished a top-seeded Kentucky team with a triple double. He was the key to the resurgence of the Golden Eagles program. Ladies and gentlemen, Dwayne Wade is the greatest Golden Eagle ever.
Much like Florida State, Notre Dame is widely, and correctly, credited as a football school. But on the hardwood, they’ve gotten some good work done too. Orlando Woolridge went there and did well. So did noted agitator Bill Laimbeer. But the greatest Golden Domer is also one of the most unconventional players of the modern era. A workmanlike forward who scored back-to-the-basket despite being shorter than most modern 2 guards. He did all of this while traveling from team to team, his best work being done as the best player on the Utah Jazz before Stockton and Malone showed up. Also, he was a linchpin on the pre-title pistons although his trade remains controversial. Adrian Dantley is the all-time greatest Golden Domer who played hoops.
Pittsburgh: The funny thing about Pitt basketball is that it always gets overshadowed by Pitt’s football program. As it should be, honestly. The Pitt football program has produced buckets of hall of famers. The Pitt basketball program, on the other hand, really doesn’t have that legacy. The only guys here are the walking trade Chris Gatling, 2-time all-star Billy Knight, and this man. This man will give fans of the NY Knicks hives, cold sweats, and perhaps even projectile vomiting. But make no mistake, he was a very good player. It’s not his fault that the thing he’s most remembered for is not a shot he made, but rather a shot he didn’t make. Charles Smith is the greatest Pitt Panther of all-time.
Providence: The funny thing about Providence is that they are the one school that was sheltered and protected in a way that none of the charter members of the Big East were. When the conference reshaped itself, the conference higher-ups went out of their way to ensure that Providence would be saved. And with good reason. They produced some really solid pros. Marvin “Bad News” Barnes for one. Perennial low-post player Otis Thorpe, and the captivating Ernie DiGregorio. But the best Friar of all-time can also share another distinction. He was the last player-coach. And a heck of a point guard it should be noted. The greatest friar of all-time…. Lenny Wilkens.
Rutgers: This is another one like DePaul above it. New Jersey is such a hoops hotbed that Rutgers being unable to do more with all of that talent is kind of sad. Usually, when I’ve done these, I’ve been able to list a few other candidates for the spot. I can’t do that here. There is literally nothing. But there is someone. He was a sort of good NBA player. Not great. But you could do worse. Roy Hinson is the all-time greatest Scarlet Knight.
St. John’s: The Red Storm, and earlier on the Redmen, have been to a large extent New York City’s college team. That’s a pretty big feat. And they’ve had certainly enough NBA players to back up the play. Mark Jackson repped St. Johns. So did Ron Artest. But the winner of this is the triggerman for one of the coolest NBA teams of the 1990’s. He was one of those handful of guys who clearly got better as a direct result of Don Nelson’s small ball offense. The greatest Red Storm player ever was Chris Mullin.
Seton hall: Much like Rutgers, Seton Hall is one of those programs that should, by any measure, be better than they are. They are sitting in a tremendous high school basketball gold mine, and they haven’t been able to find the key to unlocking it. I mean, Samuel Dalembert has been a solid NBA defensive center. Eddie Griffin’s career was tragically cut short. But other than that, not a lot. So when I tell you that a Seton Hall Pirate put together a career of 4 straight All-NBA first teams, and 4straight all-star selections, you’d be hyped. Just one problem. That career started in 1948 and ended in 1955. Despite that, though, there’s really no other option. The greatest ever Seton Hall Pirate: Bob Davies.
South Florida: This athletic department barely has any history. So to somehow try and find the best player in the history of this college seems ridiculous. But it has to be done. And really, there is no other choice than multi-year NBA rotation player Chucky Atkins. He’s not a great player. In fact, you could argue, that he’s the worst player for any school on this list. But he’s good enough to be the greatest-ever South Florida Bull.
Syracuse: This is one of the better programs not just in the Big East, but in the country. Jim Boeheim started it as a player alongside one of the men who could be on this list, Dave Bing. Then he built it with the help of Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, and Derrick Coleman. But the man who took him over the top was the first-ever 1-and-done player on any of these lists. Remember at the top of this list I said that if you were a 1-and-done player you would have to put together a truly transcendent run to be on this list? Well guess what? This player did that. He was not a factor, because that somehow diminishes this. Rather he was the factor in Syracuse winning their 1st national title. Ladies and gentlemen, Carmelo Anthony is the greatest player to ever wear the Syracuse Orange.
Villanova: ‘Nova has always been one of the leading lights of the Big 5, the collection of Philly schools that are united only by their shared tenancy in the City of Brotherly Love. Nothing else binds them except that. And yet, ‘Nova has also served another purpose: In the early days of the NBA, when territorial picks were all the rage (a gambit the NBA should go back to, but that’s a story for another day), the ‘Wildcats were the feeder system for the old Philadelphia Warriors. Wali Jones was the beneficiary of this. But with all due respect to him, and Kerry Kittles, the greatest Wildcat of all-time was another product of the feeder system. Paul Arizin is a 15,000-plus point scorer. He retired with the 3rd-most points in NBA history. He is the greatest Wildcat ever.
West Virginia: You know how there are certain conferences in the NCAA that are 1-bid leagues, and no one thinks about accepting any other bid? West Virginia is that conference. Jerry West is so far and away the best player in the history of this school that trying to put other people in front of him is an insult. Jerry West, the all-time greatest Mountaineer.