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When Giants Ruled the Tournament

From Bob Kurland to Patrick Ewing traditional back-to-the-basket big men have played a pivotal role, towering over the low post—and their often helpless opponents. For years the center was the centerpiece, and no team could harbor championship hopes without a true titan blocking the basket on one end of the floor and scoring at will on the other

WILT CHAMBERLAIN, Kansas
As a sophomore the 7-foot Chamberlain averaged 29.6 points in the regular season and then a tournament-high 30.3. Proclaiming that Chamberlain was "not going to give us the jitters" in the title game, North Carolina guard Tommy Kearns jumped center against Wilt, and the Tar Heels triple-teamed him. He still scored 23 points and had 14 rebounds, but North Carolina prevailed in triple overtime.

BILL WALTON, UCLA
Walton dominated at both ends of the floor as a sophomore in '72 and again in '73, averaging tournament highs of 16.0 and 14.5 rebounds. His defense—along with his two-year Final Four points total (115)—brought the Bruins their eighth and ninth titles in 10 years, and his three-year tournament field goal percentage (68.6) remains a record.

LEW ALCINDOR, UCLA
The only three-time most outstanding player, the 7' 2" Alcindor had the highest tournament scoring average (26.5) in '67, the highest rebounding average (16.0) in '69 and—despite opponents' best efforts to bait him—stayed out of foul trouble in three title games, which the Bruins won by an average of 19.3 points.

BILL RUSSELL, USF
"We can stop him only by keeping the ball away from him," La Salle coach Ken Loeffler said of Russell before facing San Francisco in the '55 finals. Loeffler's plan failed; Russell grabbed 25 rebounds to key USF's 77--63 win. The next season he helped the Dons stretch its winning streak to 55 and repeat as champ.

BOB KURLAND, Oklahoma A&M
The 7-footer LIFE magazine described as "balanced and coordinated in spite of his height" won titles for coach Henry Iba in 1945 and '46 and led the tournament in scoring (21.7 and 24.0 points per game, respectively) both years. Kurland was also one of the first to effectively use what LIFE called the "dunk shot."

BILL SPIVEY, Kentucky
Spivey dominated the game in 1950-51, averaging 16.3 rebounds as the I Wildcats won Adolph Rupp his third championship. Had the 7-footer played as a senior, UK might have repeated. But Spivey was injured and later implicated in a point-shaving scandal.

KENT BENSON, Indiana
A three-time All- America, 6' 11" Big Red anchored the Hoosiers' 32-0 1976 title squad, the last undefeated team in college basketball. He led IU in rebounding in the '76 Final Four and scored 25 points in the championship win over Michigan.

AKEEM OLAJUWON, Houston
Phi Slamma Jamma lost the 1983 and '84 finals, but the Dream averaged tournament highs in rebounds both years and was the top scorer (20 points) in the '83 loss to N.C. State. Olajuwon was the last player from the losing side to be named MOP.

PATRICK EWING, Georgetown
Ewing led the Hoyas to the title game in three of his four seasons. His team came up short in 1982 and '85, but in '84 the Hoya Destroya got the better of fellow 7-footer Olajuwon and Houston, winning the much-hyped matchup of All-America centers 84-75.

JERRY LUCAS, Ohio State
After leading the Buckeyes to the championship—and winning MOP honors—in 1960, the 6' 8" Lucas followed up with sensational junior (24.9 points and 17.4 rebounds) and senior (21.8 and 17.8) seasons that both ended with title-game losses to rival Cincinnati.

FINAL FOUR MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYERS

Until the mid-80's, centers (IN BOLD) had an outsized impact on the Big Dance

YEAR

PLAYER, POSITION, COLLEGE

1939

Jimmy Hull, F, Ohio State

1940

Marvin Huffman, G, Indiana

1941

John Kotz, F, Wisconsin

1942

Howie Dallmar, G, Stanford

1943

Kenny Sailors, F, Wyoming

1944

Arnie Ferrin, G-F, Utah

1945

BOB KURLAND, C, Oklahoma A&M

1946

BOB KURLAND, C, Oklahoma A&M

1947

GEORGE KAFTAN, C, Holy

1948

CROSS ALEX GROZA, C, Kentucky

1949

ALEX GROZA, C, Kentucky

1950

Irwin Dambrot, F, CCNY

1951

BILL SPIVEY, C, Kentucky

1952

CLYDE LOVELLETTE, C, Kansas

1953

B.H. BORN, C, Kansas

1954

Tom Gola, G-F, La Salle

1955

BILL RUSSELL, C, San Francisco

1956

Hal Lear, G, Temple

1957

WILT CHAMBERLAIN, C, Kansas

1958

Elgin Baylor, F, Seattle

1959

Jerry West, G-F, West Virginia

1960

JERRY LUCAS, C, Ohio State

1961

JERRY LUCAS, C, Ohio State

1962

PAUL HOGUE, C, Cincinnati

1963

Art Heyman, G-F, Duke

1964

Walt Hazzard, G, UCLA

1965

Bill Bradley, F, Princeton

1966

Jerry Chambers, F, Utah

1967

LEW ALCINDOR, C, UCLA

1968

LEW ALCINDOR, C, UCLA

1969

LEW ALCINDOR, C, UCLA

1970

Sidney Wicks, F, UCLA

1971

HOWARD PORTER, C, Villanova

1972

BILL WALTON, C, UCLA

1973

BILL WALTON, C, UCLA

1974

David Thompson, G, N.C. State

1975

RICHARD WASHINGTON, C, UCLA

1976

KENT BENSON, C, Indiana

1977

Butch Lee, G, Marquette

1978

Jack Givens, F, Kentucky

1979

Earvin Johnson, G, Michigan State

1980

Darrell Griffith, G, Louisville

1981

Isiah Thomas, G, Indiana

1982

James Worthy, F, North Carolina

1983

AKEEM OLAJUWON, C, Houston

1984

PATRICK EWING, C, Georgetown

1985

Ed Pinckney, F, Villanova

1986

PERVIS ELLISON, C, Louisville

1987

Keith Smart, G, Indiana

1988

Danny Manning, F, Kansas

1989

Glen Rice, F, Michigan

1990

Anderson Hunt, G, UNLV

1991

CHRISTIAN LAETTNER, C, Duke

1992

Bobby Hurley, G, Duke

1993

Donald Williams, G, North Carolina

1994

Corliss Williamson, F, Arkansas

1995

Ed O'Bannon, F, UCLA

1996

Tony Delk, G, Kentucky

1997

Miles Simon, F, Arizona

1998

Jeff Sheppard, G, Kentucky

1999

Richard Hamilton, G, UConn

2000

Mateen Cleaves, G, Michigan State

2001

Shane Battier, F, Duke

2002

Juan Dixon, G, Maryland

2003

Carmelo Anthony, F, Syracuse

2004

EMEKA OKAFOR, C, UConn

2005

SEAN MAY, C, North Carolina

2006

JOAKIM NOAH, C, Florida

2007

Corey Brewer, F, Florida

PHOTO

SHEEDY & LONG (WALTON)

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RICH CLARKSON/NCAA PHOTOS (ALCINDOR)

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RICH CLARKSON/NCAA PHOTOS (BENSON)

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RICH CLARKSON/NCAA PHOTOS (OLAJUWON)

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RICH CLARKSON/NCAA PHOTOS (LUCAS)

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AP (CHAMBERLAIN)

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AP (RUSSELL)

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HUGH MORTON (KURLAND)

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THE COURIER-JOURNAL (SPIVEY)

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MANNY MILLAN (EWING)

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JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BASKETBALL FLOOR)