ESPN made a 64-person “Best College Basketball Player of All Time” bracket to pass the time during the suspension of all major sports leagues as Covid-19 continues to spread globally. It was a fun idea, and included both men’s and women’s players who were, for the most part, properly placed on the bracket. Breanna Stewart, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Christian Laettner and Bill Walton were No. 1 seeds. But Michael Jordan won. This isn’t right.
Jordan isn’t the best college basketball player of all-time. He isn’t the best men’s college basketball player of all-time. He wasn’t even the best player at UNC the only year he won the NCAA tournament — James Worthy was.
Jordan’s college career doesn’t measure up to what legend Breanna Stewart did at UConn. Yet Stewart fell in the bracket to Allen Iverson. The winner for the bracket was determined by fan votes on Twitter, and that’s the first problem.
Jordan won just one NCAA championship and one player of the year award, paling in comparison to Stewart’s four championships and three player of the year awards. Jordan was a very good college player, but he was not the GOAT because of what he did at UNC. This is not a hot take, folks.
Stewart had a way better college career than Jordan
I’ll get to the players who can actually hold an argument to Stewart’s throne later, but comparing Stewart’s four years at UConn to Jordan’s three with the Tar Heels is comical.
In four years, Stewart won four championships, four Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four awards and three Naismith Player of the Year trophies. Her team went 151-5 in the four seasons she played. In the 2013 NCAA championship game, UConn beat runner-up Louisville by 33 points. In 2014, the Huskies went undefeated in the regular season and beat Notre Dame in the final by 21 points. In 2015, they lost one game in the regular season and knocked off Notre Dame in the final again by 10 points. And in 2016, UConn went undefeated again and beat Syracuse to win a fourth-straight title by 31 points.
For her career, Stewart averaged 17 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent shooting from three-point range (as a 6’4 forward), grabbed eight rebounds and dished three assists per game. She also averaged three blocks and two steals per night. Her senior season, she averaged 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists, four blocks in 29 minutes per night while shooting 57 percent from the field and 41 percent from deep. She logged those numbers while playing next to Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck her entire career, too. They were picked No. 2 and No. 3 in the WNBA draft after Stewart in 2016.
Stewart checks every box for the GOAT argument. She has the numbers. She has the rings. She showed up in the biggest games, too.
Jordan was obviously incredible, but nowhere near the GOAT
Jordan only played three years at UNC, winning a title as a freshman playing next to Worthy. He was the team’s third-leading scorer behind Sam Perkins then, scoring 14 points with four rebounds and two assists. To win the title, the Tar Heels beat the Georgetown Hoyas by one point, with Jordan scoring 16 points on 13 shots, and Worthy scoring 28 on 17 shots.
In his second year, Jordan became the team’s best scorer at 20 per game with six rebounds without Worthy, but UNC fell in the Elite Eight. No. 4 seed Georgia upset No. 2 UNC, 82-77, as Jordan’s 26 points on 23 shots weren’t enough.
In his third and final year, Jordan remained UNC’s best player and became the national player of the year, scoring 20 points with five rebounds per game. But UNC was upset by No. 4 Indiana, 72-68, in the Sweet 16, as Jordan scored just 13 points on 14 shots.
For his collegiate career, Jordan averaged 18 points with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Overall, Jordan had a great college basketball career, but cemented his legend by becoming one of the most dominant pro athletes of all time.
He doesn’t have the college resume of Stewart. He isn’t even close.
There are better arguments against Stewart as the best college player ever
I think Stewart is the best player to ever grace a college basketball floor, but there are arguments to be had for Bill Walton, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Cheryl Miller. Her best opponent is probably Alcindor, who later became known as Abdul-Jabbar.
Alcindor won three NCAA championships, three Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four awards and two national player of the year awards in three seasons at UCLA. He wasn’t eligible to play in his first year due to a rule that prohibited freshmen from playing on the varsity team. But his freshmen team beat the varsity (which was ranked No. 1 in the country) in a game, 75-60, in which he scored 31 points with 21 rebounds.
For his college career, Alcindor averaged 26 points with 16 rebounds and shot 64 percent from the field. Full statistics weren’t taken back then, so we don’t know the extent of his numbers. But he was damn good. Maybe as good as Stewart, and definitely better than Jordan.