NCAA Tourney Opponent Mount Rushmore

At some point in the second half of USC’s beatdown of KU, the announcers mentioned how Evan Mobley could be a “generational talent.” Although I would argue that everyone on USC’s team looked like a generational talent against the Jayhawks, it did get me thinking about some of the all-timers that Kansas has ended up playing in the NCAA tournament over the years.

Obviously by virtue of being a basketball blue-blood and currently ranking third in all-time NCAA tournament appearances with 49, KU has had its fair share of opportunities to go against some of the greats of the game. Since the Jayhawks’ first NCAA tournament appearance in 1940, KU has played against Hall of Fame inductees including Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Adrian Dantley, Mitch Richmond and Jason Kidd; NBA MVPs including Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, NBA champions such as Byron Scott and Draymond Green, cult heroes such as Mugsey Bogues and Maurice Lucas, and even future Hall of Famers such as Anthony Davis and Grayson Allen. (Kidding on Allen – just making sure you’re paying attention…)

I decided to look at KU’s NCAA tournament runs with an eye towards identifying four opponents that would rank among the top basketball players of all-time. Although this “Mount Rushmore Exercise” may be a bit overused, I like the symbolism and simplicity of it; I even like how there’s a built-in debate prompt of, “Does Teddy Roosevelt really belong on there?”

Again, this only focuses on players KU faced in the NCAA tournament, so greats like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant and many others aren’t included. Additionally, this isn’t necessarily highlighting the best performances against KU in the NCAA tournament, so Glenn Robinson’s 44 point explosion in 1994, Cuttino Mobley unceremoniously ending Paul Pierce’s career at Kansas (by the way, Cuttino is no clear relation to Evan, but I now want to avoid playing anyone with the last name of Mobley in the tournament from here on out), VCU’s Jamie Skeen scoring 26 and helping to dispatch the top-ranked Jayhawks in 2011, and several others aren’t included, either.

Without further ado…

OSCAR ROBERTSON, CINCINNATI – 1960: A fairly easy choice to include The Big O given that he is one of the top 15 players of all time and among the most versatile to ever play. Despite his abilities, Roberson at times seems to be forgotten among the list of all-time greats – or at the least solely encapsulated by his triple-double stat line from the 1961-62 NBA season. Perhaps this is in part because of his well-documented, prickly personality, or because he “only” won one title. This is unfortunate because despite all of his accomplishments on the court, his work off – or even in – the court was just as impactful.

Bridges scored 22 points in their matchup; unfortunately for KU, Robertson scored 43 and Cincinnati won 82-71.

TIM DUNCAN, WAKE FOREST – 1994: Duncan was a freshman and not yet Tim Duncan! when KU beat Wake Forest, but the future greatest forward of all time still led the team with 16 points and showed flashes of his dominance to come. It’s funny to think back on the knock of Duncan in college, that despite how good he was, he wasn’t good enough to win a title. Five NBA championships and three Finals MVP awards later, I think it’s pretty safe to say that he had the last laugh…

It was KU’s Big O vs. The Big Fundamental in 1994.

STEPHEN CURRY, DAVIDSON – 2008: Steph was the story of the tournament in 2008 and despite the focus & constant hounding by Jayhawk defenders still managed to score 25; all KU fans still remember the feeling of relief that he wasn’t able to take the last shot. Although I doubt too many people anticipated the greatness Curry would achieve in the NBA, it was still mind-boggling that the Minnesota Timberwolves passed on him twice! in the 2009 draft. Even more mind-boggling is that the greatest shooter in history is already a top 15 player of all time and still has a chance to climb higher.

The Shooter of the Greatest Shot and The Greatest Shooter in History have each won three championships…when you count Chalmers’ NCAA title.

BANANA BOAT’ TEAM MEMBERS THAT JUST MISSED THE CUT – 2003: Although I would rank Dwyane Wade as the better player, I contemplated both he and Carmelo Anthony for the fourth, “up-for-debate” spot on KU’s NCAA Tournament Mount Rushmore. I also like the outcome of KU’s 2003 Final Four against Marquette waaaaay more than the one against Syracuse…

BILL WALTON, UCLA – 1974: If this was a Mount Rushmore of “What Ifs?” Walton would be a no-brainer given the extent of his injury-plagued career. Despite those injuries however, the Hall of Famer is still considered to be one of the top 10 NBA centers of all-time as well as one of the greatest collegiate players to ever lace ’em up. As no opposing player ever seemed to be able to stop him – he was stopped by just his health – Walton gets the nod just barely over Wade for the fourth and final, “Teddy Roosevelt? Really?” spot.

Walton won the Final Four battle against Morningstar in 1974, but unlike Bill, Roger’s son played for his alma mater.

So there you have it: The Mount Rushmore of players KU has faced in the NCAA tournament that are also in the pantheon of the greatest players in the history of basketball. A group that has won 11 NBA Championships, 6 NBA MVP awards, 36 NBA All-Star nods, 2 NCAA Championships, 5 Final Four appearances and 9 first team All-American awards.

I think those four plus just about anyone, of any level, could win about any game they played. This is one of the many things that is fun following Kansas – it’s not just that we’re among the best teams in basketball, it’s that we also get to enjoy watching us compete against the best players in basketball. Well, it’s more enjoyable when we win, that is…

Rock Chalk!

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