Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Best Final Fours From A Talent Standpoint

In the past there have been some memorable Final Fours in college basketball history. I hate to date myself, but think back to 1982 and all the talent on the four teams that played. There were some, like last year, that were so-so. There were some that you really didn't want to watch because it was almost a foregone conclusion of who would win (2009 North Carolina). But they've all provided some fine memories.

I've provided a list, of my own opinion of course of the best Final Fours from a talent standpoint. That would be good college players, future pros, and McDonald's All Americans. Not all will agree, but I think it would be hard to argue. This only goes back to 1980, so because anything before that I wasn't born or vaguely remember, that would include the epic 1979 Bird vs. Magic showdown.

1982 Final Four- Houston, Louisville, Georgetown, North Carolina. When you look at the rosters of the teams involved you could've started a team from the four participants. And for those not in the know, Houston has a fine basketball tradition, it's just been kicked around for the better part of the last 20 years. This might be the best collection of talent in Final Four history.

The Tar Heels boasted Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, and James Worthy. They also had fine complementary players in point guard Jimmy Black and Matt Doherty. This is how Worthy got the moniker "Big Game James" as he was named most outstanding player.

Georgetown had a young beast in Patrick Ewing and shooting guard Eric Floyd who both enjoyed solid NBA careers. Fred Brown was a steady point guard, never mind the bad pass to Worthy. Eric Smith also enjoyed a good college career.

Houston had Phi Slama Jamma. The best college fraternity ever. They were probably the best team never to win a NCAA title, as they went to three straight Final Fours and made two appearances in the finals. Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, and Rob Williams all played in the NBA. Thing is, Olajuwon barely played on the 1982 team.

Louisville was always solid in the 1980's. Jerry Eaves, Charles Jones, Rodney McCray, Scooter McCray, Lancaster Gordon, Poncho Wright, and Milt Wagner. All enjoyed some time in the NBA and gave Georgetown all they can handle in the semifinals.

1990 Final Four- UNLV, Duke, Georgia Tech, Arkansas- As the season went on you knew UNLV was way more talented than any other team in the country. Reserves on that team could've been stars elsewhere. Man for man Arkansas was the only team that really could match their depth and athleticism. Duke was Duke and Georgia Tech had Lethal Weapon 3.

UNLV- Everyone knows about Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, and Stacey Augmon. But they also had lights out shooting guard Anderson Hunt and tough guys George Ackles, Moses Scurry, and David Butler and plenty of reserves that could've been major players elsewhere. They didn't have too many tough games. Not that they had a soft schedule, they just made it look easy when they had it going. Just check out how bad they made Duke look in the title game.

Duke- This team had Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Alaa Abdelnaby go pro. Thomas Hill had a cup of tea in the NBA as well. Greg Koubek and Billy McCaffrey were pretty good players too. They weren't able to got toe to toe with UNLV, but you gotta give the Devils their due.

Arkansas- Todd Day, Oliver Miller, and Lee Mayberry all went to the NBA. They also were the headliners for Nolan Richardson's 40 minutes of hell style of basketball and could've won almost any three on three tourney. Early that season they lost a tough road game to UNLV on the road, 101-93. This team was deep and athletic and though they couldn't beat the champs they could match up with UNLV man for man if you looked at their roster and know basketball. Lenzie Howell, Mario Credit, Ron Huery, and Darrell Hawkins were also key members of this team.

Georgia Tech- The arrival of Kenny Anderson took the Yellow Jackets to another level. Dennis Scott went from a first round gunner to a lottery pick and Brian Oliver took his game up a notch to wind up being a first round pick in the NBA draft. Big man Malcolm Mackey eventually progressed into a first round talent after he left Atlanta.

1992 Final Four- Duke, Michigan, Indiana, Cincinnati. There were some loaded teams in the 1992 edition. Bob Knight was still bringing in big time players at Indiana. Duke was the defending champion. Michigan had the Fab 5. And Cincinnati had JUCO's and transfers that played with a chip on their shoulder.

Cincinnati- Coach Bob Huggins took this band of so-called misfits and brought them to the Final Four. The Bearcats were led by point guard Nick Van Exel and backcourt mate Anthony Buford. This team also had swingman Herb Jones and center Corie Blount. Blount had a run in the NBA and Van Exel had a very good career after college.

Duke- As with Kenny Anderson in 1990, Grant Hill took the Blue Devils to another level. Duke was already good with Laettner, Hurley, Thomas Hill, and Brian Davis. Add Antonio Lang and Cherokee Parks to the mix and you can see why they had a repeat champion. Hill, Laettner, Hurley, Lang and Parks all ended up in the NBA. Hill is still playing in  Phoenix right now.

Michigan- Fab Five. That pretty much sums up this team. Even though they've been taken out of the record books and the banners have been taken down, all of it still exists primarily because I watched it on TV and saw their feats take place with my own eyes. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King all had time in the NBA. Big man Eric Riley also hung in the league for a few years. They also had former Michigan Mr. Basketball Michael Talley coming off the bench. It was about the Fabs, but they were had a few pieces outside of them.

Indiana- This team was loaded with McDonald's All Americans and a few pros. This was a team Bob Knight should've won with. Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, and Alan Henderson all went to the NBA. Eric Anderson had a productive college career. Damon Bailey was an Indiana schoolboy legend. Pat Graham was a good college player. Chris Reynolds was a bulldog at point guard. Just about that whole roster contributed and were highly recruited high school players. Just think what might have been had Lawrence Funderburke actually followed through to his committment to Indiana.

2001 Final Four- Arizona, Michigan State, Maryland, Duke- I guess this wouldn't be a conversation if Duke weren't in it. The Blue Devils had Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones, and Jason Williams. Arizona boasted one of the, if not the best backcourt in the Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner. Michigan State came back for their third straight Final Four and Maryland had a very good run that year.

Arizona- At the time the Wildcats were known as Guard U. since they turned out so many top notch backcourt players. They had Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner. Richard Jefferson was one of the most lethal players in college. Eugene Edgerson did all the dirty work. And don't forget Luke Walton, Loren Woods, and Michael Wright. They came up short to Duke in the final game. But a majority of this roster ended up in the NBA or were Mickey D's All Americans. If it wasn't for Duke they would've won the title or maybe Maryland.

Michigan State- Even though they lost they're emotional leader in Mateen Cleaves this team was very good. The Spartans had some decorated high school players on this team and future pros. Zach Randolph was a one and done player. Jason Richardson was two and out. Charlie Bell was a good player at State and is still playing in the league as well. They also had Marcus Taylor, who left too early and Duke transfer Mike Chappell.

Maryland- The Terps had a very strong team and although they seemed to have some epic gags against Duke you couldn't sell them short. They weren't the most decorated players but gave max effort and some of them eventually ended up in the pros. Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Terrence Morris, and Juan Dixon all played in the NBA. The Terps did come back and win it all the next year after falling to Duke in the semifinals the year before.

Duke- With a team that had Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams, and Dahntay Jones, it's a wonder that they actually lost any games at all. Casey Sanders wasn't chopped liver coming out of high school and he barely played. It wasn't a cakewalk for the Blue Devils as they had to mount as massive comeback against Maryland in the semifinals. As you can see they had a lot of pros currently playing right now.

2007 Final Four- Florida, Georgetown, UCLA, Ohio State. This is a year that nearly rivals 1982 in the number of pro players from the Final Four teams. Whether it turns out as many great players remains to be seen. But there was a lot of talent that hit the floor in 2007.

Florida- The Gators were on the back end of their two year run after years of underacheiving. Talent was never a problem as Billy Donovan procured some of the best talent there is. Whether it was all ethical is a different story. Corey Brewer, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah were all first round picks. Reserve Mareese Speights played another year for the Gators and was a first round pick for the Philadelphia 76ers. Taurean Green was a second round pick and Chris Richard has been in and out of the league. Walter Hodge and Lee Humphrey were solid backups and Hodge is playing overseas.

Georgetown- The Hoyas made a return to the Final Four led by NBA draftees Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. DeJuan Summers also is playing in the NBA and Vernon Macklin was a huge recruit coming out of high school. Patrick Ewing Jr. played here and has been in and out of the NBA. This team put Georgetown back on the college basketball map.

UCLA- The Bruins made the second of three straight trips to the Final Four. They had talent to win it, they just happened to run into better teams in the Final Four. Russell Westbrook is All-Star material in the NBA. Arron Afflalo has been a good NBA player and was a first round pick. Darren Collison is an up and coming point guard for the Indiana Pacers. Josh Shipp was a good player but injuries got in the way. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is currently with the Milwaukee Bucks and was a second round pick. Only if they had a big man that could score.

Ohio State- The Thad Five. Coach Thad Matta has been reeling in top talent to Columbus since he took over. This was the class that started it all. Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, and Greg Oden were all first round picks. David Lighty looks like he could wind up being a serviceable NBA player. The bench with Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Ivan Harris, and Othello Hunter provided quality depth.

In sheer numbers this could be 1982 all over again, but they'll need a lot of help to get to the level the 1982 teams were. That was the greatest Final Four since 1980. There have been some great ones and some great talent, but you can't beat the fact that there were some big time Hall of Famers, champions, and great players in that group.   

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