In lieu of an actual NCAA Tournament this month, ESPN has been running a 64-person bracket to determine the greatest player in college basketball history. We’ve reached the Sweet 16, with a number of upsets behind us.
In both the East and West Regions, the No. 1 seeds have been eliminated already. In the West, No. 9 Allen Iverson, a Georgetown great, beat UConn’s Breanna Stewart, one of the greatest women’s basketball players in recent memory and a No. 1 seed in this bracket.
The East was home to an even more monumental upset, given the sterling career of the top seed. No. 9 Shaquille O’Neal, a titan in the game but less so for his college career, knocked off No. 1 Lew Alcindor, the three-time UCLA national champion who went on to become an NBA legend with a new name: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
ESPN’s top college hoops analyst is not thrilled with the pick. Jay Bilas obviously respects Shaq as a player, but Kareem is hard to argue against as the best, or certainly one of the 16 best, college players of all time. He tweeted his thoughts about the voting on Wednesday.
ESPN’s bracket of the 64 Greatest Players in College Hoop history is great. But, come on. Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is the greatest college player EVER. Period. No reasonable debate. To even suggest otherwise is foolish. @espn @CollegeGameDay @kaj33 pic.twitter.com/8MUZRw6Dxa
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 25, 2020
Later on, he backed up his stance during a SportsCenter appearance. Via 247Sports:
“He’s the greatest offensive weapon in the history of the game,” Bilas said. “He led UCLA to three national championships and let’s be blunt, it wasn’t because the other players were so great. They were very good, but it’s because they had Lew Alcindor and everybody else didn’t. Wherever Lew Alcindor went to college, they were going to win three championships and he was going to be the most outstanding player, wherever he went.
“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the greatest players ever and he had a magnificent college career, but I just don’t see how you can choose no titles and no final fours over three titles, three MVPs and without question, the best player of his or any era. That was an oversight on the part of the voters.”
Elsewhere in the bracket, we have some fun matchups. East No. 6 Kemba Walker, who had one of the great solo postseason runs ever for UConn, takes on No. 10 Dwyane Wade, who fell two wins short of a similar run with Marquette in 2003. O’Neal, fresh off his controversial win, gets Kentucky great Anthony Davis, a four-seed in this bracket who helped deliver John Calipari his only national title.
Out West, Iverson faces No. 13, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who took down two-time Wooden Award winner out of Virginia, Ralph Sampson.
The best matchup of these two regions is No. 2 Bill Russell vs. No. 3 Larry Bird. Both had legendary small-school college basketball careers before becoming among the greatest NBA players ever, so the name recognition bump may not be so severe here for the more casual college fans voting.