Year after year, it seems like the talk in college basketball always revolves around guards. We’re told that great guard play is what wins in March. In fairness, that’s usually true, especially over the last couple of decades. But we shouldn’t forget that college basketball has given us plenty of dominating big men over the years.
A player who can overpower people in the paint can change games and elevate a team. While truly dominant big men have been a little rare, let’s take a look at five of the best we’ve ever seen since the year 2000.
5. Kevin Love, UCLA
Love’s only season at UCLA sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, in part because he was on the West coast and not enough fans got to see him until the NCAA Tournament. Of course, during the Big Dance, Love carried the Bruins all the way to the Final Four. By season’s end, Love had earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors, not to mention being named first-team All-American.
In 23 of his 39 college games, Love recorded a double-double, helping him average 17.5 points and over 10 rebounds per game. However, Love stands out from some of the other great big men of his era because he was more than just a force in the paint. He dished out close to two assists per game and shot 35% from 3-point range. Love also shot 77% from the free-throw line, which is impressive for a young big man. Few freshmen big men are able to display a skillset like Love showed off at UCLA, which is why he went on to become a top-5 pick and NBA all-star.
4. Michael Beasley, Kansas State
There are a lot of college players who bring passion and intensity to the court, but few have ever matched the intensity level that Beasley played with during his only season at Kansas State. He got after it like no one else and became one of the most dominant players in the country during the 2007-08 season. He broke 17 Big 12 records, 30 Kansas State records, and set the college basketball record for most double-doubles by a freshman with 28.
Needless to say, Beasley averaged a double-double that season, scoring 26.2 points per game, which was third-most in the country, and hauling in 12.4 rebounds per game. He was an animal once he got the ball in the paint, which allowed him to shoot 53% from the field. People also forget that he had a decent outside game and a good shooting touch, shooting 38% from 3-point range and 77% at the free-throw line. Beasley also accumulated his fair share of blocks and steals during the season, getting the job done on both ends of the court.
3. Greg Oden, Ohio State
Most expected the monstrous 7-foot tall Oden to dominate college basketball from Day 1, and that’s exactly what he did. When he got to Ohio State, Oden already looked like a 10-year NBA veteran. Without exaggeration, he looked like a man among boys at the college level. Without him, the Buckeyes would have had a great team, but Oden gave them an element that couldn’t be matched by any team Ohio State played. That’s why the Buckeyes went nearly three months without a loss, winning 22 in a row until losing to the dynastic Florida Gators in the national championship game.
As for Oden, he produced the kind of numbers you’d expect from a player who was physically a level above the competition. He averaged over 15 points per game while making 62% of his shots. He didn’t quite average a double-double, coming in at 9.6 rebounds per game. However, he also averaged more than three blocks per contest, controlling the paint on both ends of the floor. That season, Oden and Kevin Durant were named First-Team All-Americans, becoming the third and fourth freshmen to earn that distinction back when it was still a rarity. Of course, that would be the peak of Oden’s career. After being the top overall pick, injuries prevented Oden from dominating the NBA the way he did in college.
2. Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Davis remains one of the most unique big men in college basketball history. He was a late-bloomer in terms of his growth. When he got to college, he had the skill set of a guard who was suddenly in the body of a big man. He was able to block shots at one end, run the floor like a guard, and then finish at the rim on the other end of the court. Despite being a little skinny at the time, Davis averaged 4.7 blocks per game in his only season at Kentucky. It’s his defensive presence in addition to his skills on the offensive end that help separate him from most of the top big men in the college game.
On the offensive end of the floor, Davis shot 62% from the field while averaging 14 points per game. He also hauled in over 10 rebounds per outing to average a double-double while also showcasing good passing skills and a fair amount of range on his jump shot. The records Davis set and accolades he received in his only college season are too numerous to name. However, he was the consensus Player of the Year, as well as the SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Most importantly, he was the biggest difference-maker on a Kentucky team that won the national championship with Davis earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.
1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Let’s face it, Griffin was an athletic freak of nature during his days at Oklahoma. He was strong, powerful, and could leap out of the gym. It certainly helped that Griffin stayed in college for two years because he was close to unguardable during his sophomore season with the Sooners. He averaged close to 23 points and over 14 rebounds per game that season. Of course, even if you add in his totals from his freshman season, Griffin still averaged a double-double per game over his two college seasons.
Griffin is perhaps best remembered during his college days for his amazing, almost acrobatic dunks. They weren’t just flashy, his dunks also exemplified his incredible strength that no other college player could match. However, Griffin was far from just an athletic dunker. He dished out over two assists per game during his sophomore season while also knocking down a few perimeter shots. When all was said and done, Griffin was Big 12 Player of the Year and National Player of the Year in 2009, setting him up to be the top overall pick in the NBA Draft.