In a lot of ways, it is completely unnecessary and unfair to compare college basketball to the NBA. As similar as the two sports may be, there are enough differences between the two that you might as well compare apples to oranges.
For these reasons, it is far more common for a person to love college basketball and hate the NBA than it is for a person to love the NFL and hate college football.
For one thing, players in the NBA are so much bigger, stronger, and faster that it’s almost like comparing JV and Varsity. Additionally, the longer NBA 3-point line creates more space for the professionals and makes it much more difficult to guard individuals one on one. And the shot clocks are different, the jump ball rules are different, and even the traveling rules are different.
The most important difference, however, is that the college game is actually far more physical OFF the ball than the NBA game.
David Stern and the NBA higher ups want the their wonderful athletes to play fluidly and beautifully. Because of that, defenders aren’t allowed to simply grab or bump any offensive player that dares to run through the lane. Duke and Butler fans know very well that the college game is hugely different in this aspect.
Interestingly enough, this difference between college and NBA basketball may be one of the larger, less-recognized reasons that the 2004 USA Olympic Basketball team didn’t bring home the gold.
The international game is much more similar to college than it is the NBA, and you could tell that the NBA guys in 2004 simply weren’t used to being grabbed, bumped, scratched, and pulled at every single turn.
Insert Coach K into the equation a few years later, and all of the sudden, Kobe, Westbrook, and everyone else is hounding Spain all over the floor. Coach K’s aggressive and physical defensive style that he teaches at Duke was in a lot of ways directly responsible for the United States bringing home the gold.
All of these differences make the games hard to compare. When we do compare them, we end up treating people unfairly.
When Tyler Hansbrough was manhandling the ACC, there was little that opposing fans could do to disparage him. That is, unless they started spouting off about how bad he would be as a pro. Of course, this became one of the biggest story lines of his senior year.
Rather than appreciate a guy who worked hard, maximized his talent, and scored at will in the college game, the media began to criticize his “short arms,” lack of athleticism, and inability to be as good at the next level.
Were they right? Of course they were. But why should that matter?
Tyler Hansbrough was about as dominant as you could possibly be at the college level. Why did it matter that he would likely be a perennial bench player at the next level?
Other players, like Paul George, simply aren’t made for the college game. As soon as the floor opened up and individual skills mattered more at the next level, George began to blossom – and will undoubtedly become a better pro than he ever was in college.
This naturally brings us to Rick Barnes – a coach who has gotten out of the Sweet Sixteen exactly twice while at Texas even though he has arguably had one of the greatest collections of talent anywhere.
This got me thinking: which coaches have gotten the LEAST out of their talent? Which schools really HAVE put out the best pros in the last fifteen or so years? Are the stereotypes still true?
The old adage is that Duke players are much better collegians, but UNC players become NBA stars. Of course when you compare Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, and Rasheed Wallace to Christian Laettner, Danny Ferry, and other Duke busts, the stereotypes seem to be true. But after some deep research, the stereotypes for those schools seem to have been reversed as of late.
So, what school has put out the most talent? Let’s rank the schools from 10 to 1. Tomorrow, we will enjoy a March Madness-style tournament and see who would come out on top. (Update: Click here to see the final rosters and Jon’s bracket.)
Important note: this is only for CURRENT players…I don’t care how good Vince Carter may have been once…how good is he now?
[Editor’s note: In this post, Jon leaves out Wake Forest. Upon further reflection, he not only includes them, but has them all the way up at #4.]
#10 – Butler Bulldogs
Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack.
This may seem like shameless homerism, and it is. But trust me, there are really only nine legitimate teams…and every list has to feature ten items, right?
Plus, I’m pretty sure that Brad Stevens could figure out some way to keep any game close … even if he only had two players.
#9 – Ohio State
- Kosta Koufos
- Jared Sullinger
- Daequan C0ok
- Evan Turner
- Mike Conley
- Byron Mullins
This team is weak and lacks any true stars. However, it is still quite an accomplishment to have six legitimate players in the NBA at once.
If Greg Oden and Michael Redd could make it back from injury and actually be competent, this team might have a legitimate eight man rotation.
#8 – North Carolina
- Tyler Zeller
- Tyler Hansbrough
- Danny Green
- Harrison Barnes
- Ty Lawson
- Ed Davis
- Rasheed Wallace
- Jerry Stackhouse
- Vince Carter
- Marvin Williams
- Raymond Felton
- John Henson
You probably thought they would be much higher, didn’t you? Well, it’s definitely possible for them to move up, especially if Ed Davis, Harrison Barnes, and John Henson continue to show improvements and grow into the players they could possibly be. Barnes could even one day add some star power to the group that is deep but lacks any All-Star level talent.
As it is currently, however, Ty Lawson is the only guy on the entire team that scares you; and in the NBA, a team without a real star is a team without a real future.
#7 – Kansas
- Nick Collison
- Thomas Robinson
- Paul Pierce
- Kirk Hinrich
- Mario Chalmers
- Darrell Arthur
- Drew Gooden
- Marcus Morris
- Markieff Morris
- Brandon Rush
- Josh Selby
While Kansas is not quite as deep as UNC, they make up for it with legitimate size and star power.
Those who thought Paul Pierce was washed up last season have clearly been surprised by his All-Star level play this season. Chalmers and Hinrich are legitimate starters in the NBA, and Thomas Robinson adds HUGE upside at the 4.
Collison, Arthur, and Brandon Rush are all solid role players for their current teams and would do whatever it takes to make this Kansas team roll.
#6 – UCONN
- Andre Drummond
- Emeka Okafor
- Rudy Gay
- Ray Allen
- Kemba Walker
- Caron Butler
- Ben Gordon
- Rip Hamilton
- Hasheem Thabeet
- Jeremy Lamb
This team is nearly a mirror image of Kansas, with the sole exception that it’s star small forward, Rudy Gay, is at the peak of his powers rather than the tail end of his prime like Pierce.
Drummond and Okafor add legitimate size, even if they will never scare you from the free throw line. Allen will still space the floor better than anyone, and Walker would be a legitimate scorer if he ever had teammates.
Add Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, and Rip Hamilton off the bench, and this team would scare a lot of teams.
#5 – Duke
- Elton Brand
- Carlos Boozer
- Luol Deng
- JJ Redick
- Kyrie Irving
- Shane Battier
- Chris Duhon
- Mike Dunleavy
- Gerald Henderson
- Grant Hill
- Austin Rivers
- Kyle Singler
Gone are the days when Dukies didn’t make good pros.
Kyrie Irving is already a top ten or fifteen player in the league, and he is a better point guard than anyone not named Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook.
JJ Redick has quietly become a starting guard in Orlando that teams all over the NBA are trying to trade for as we speak. Deng is a fringe All Star, and while a front line of Boozer and Brand would be small and slightly washed up, they would both space the floor enough to make this team terrifying to defend.
Off the bench, this team has legitimate pieces that would fill in nicely. Battier and Hill are still defensive stoppers, Dunleavy is a fantastic shooter, and Henderson and Rivers would be instant offense off the bench.
The fact is, every single one of these players plays legitimate minutes on his current NBA team, and as much as you might hate Duke, this team would be solid from top to bottom.
#4 – Florida
- Joakim Noah
- Al Horford
- David Lee
- Corey Brewer
- Chandler Parsons
- Marreese Speights
- Bradley Beal
- Mike Miller
- Udonis Haslem
Let’s just call this team “Big Man U” from now on.
Maybe this team wouldn’t make any sense on paper. Maybe this team wouldn’t be able to advance the ball past half court. Maybe this team would have more floor spacing problems than any team in basketball history.
But maybe, just maybe, this team would be unguardable. And my could they defend. What if the Gators could play zone? A back line of Noah, Horford, and Lee would be impenetrable while Brewer and Parsons would add a length up top that the Syracuse Orange would be jealous of.
On offense, Lee and Parsons are both much better shooters than people think, and there would be mismatches all over the place. Noah would be sprinting around setting screens, and other teams would be exhausted midway through the third quarter. If they absolutely NEEDED shooting, they could bring Beal and Miller off the bench to try and catch fire.
Even though they don’t make 100% sense on paper, this is the team that nobody wants to play come March.
#3 – UCLA
- Kevin Love
- Matt Barnes
- Aaron Afflalo
- Russell Westbrook
- Jrue Holiday
- Darren Collison
- Luc Mbah a Moute
- Trevor Ariza
- Baron Davis
Maybe this team should be higher. Regardless, this team is stacked and terrifyingly athletic.
Westbrook is a top 5 player in the league, and Chris Paul remains the only PG you’d rather have than him. ove is the league’s best rebounder when healthy, and he is also a prolific scorer.
While you weren’t looking, Jrue Holiday has developed into one of the best PGs in the league and could make a legitimate case of being the All Star starter for the Eastern conference. Afflalo and Barnes are plus defenders and would space the floor for Holiday and Westbrook.
Off the bench, this team just keeps coming at you with athleticism, defense, and aggression. Collison and Mbah a Moute are about as annoying as it gets on the defensive end. They would give opposing benches nightmares.
Really, this team only has one problem – it’s coached by Ben Howland.
#2 – Texas
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- Tristan Thompson
- Kevin Durant
- Avery Bradley
- DJ Augustin
- Daniel Gibson
- Maurice Evans
- Jordan Hamilton
- PJ Tucker
- Dexter Pittman
- Cory Joseph
This team is not as deep as Florida, Duke, or even UCLA. Fortunately for them, they have Kevin Durant – the second greatest player in the world and possibly one of the greatest scorers ever.
Even better, if you look at this team as a puzzle, it actually makes sense.
Aldridge gives them one of the top 5 post presences in the league down low. Thompson is a hustler who would rebound and set screen after screen for Durant. Bradley would make it his personal mission to shut down the other team’s best wing every single game, and he’s able to do so. Augustin, while not a scoring threat, would do a decent job of getting everyone involved.
The bench is loaded with role players that are willing to do whatever is asked of them. And oh yeah, they still have Kevin Durant. (But oh yeah…they still have Rick Barnes.)
#1 – Kentucky
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Anthony Davis
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
- John Wall
- Rajon Rondo
- Eric Bledsoe
- Tayshaun Prince
- Patrick Patterson
- Jodi Meeks
- Chuck Hayes
- Doron Lamb
- Keith Bogans
This team would absolutely lead the league in bricked wide-open jump shots, technical fouls, aspirin taken by their coach during a game, and unintentional comedy.
However, when all that washed away, you would still have a terrifyingly athletic team with legitimate stars, size, and depth.
Cousins, for all of his cons, tries hard every night and is already a top five rebounder and post scorer. Davis is a star in the making, Kidd-Gilchrist is already a defensive stopper, and Wall is one of the five most athletic people in the league.
Rondo would run the show, and even though he would refuse to shoot late in games, it probably wouldn’t matter.
Eric Bledsoe is by far the best bench player in this tournament, and the Wildcats probably don’t have a single weakness other than outside shooting. It would definitely be possible for them to lose in March Madness – one poor shooting performance would definitely derail their hopes – but in a best of seven series, there is no doubt that they would eventually wear down their opponent and come away with the win.
So, who you vote as #1?
[Note: The poll includes Wake Forest, who Jon left out in this post, but discussed here.]
Bonus: High Schoolers
- Dwight Howard
- Kevin Garnett
- LeBron James
- Kobe Bryant
- Brandon Jennings
- Tyson Chandler
- Josh Smith
- JR Smith
- Andrew Bynum
- Lou Williams
- Monta Ellis
- Amare Stoudemire
- Al Jefferson
Uh…nevermind. I think we all know who would win this tournament.
Which of the 10 teams above do you think would be the best? Which would win a March Madness-style tournament?