Any sports fan loves to play these games: what would happen if Michael Jordan, in his prime, played LeBron James one-on-one for a Big Mac, or who would win a game of H-O-R-S-E between Larry Bird and Dwight Howard?
In light of the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic, my imaginative side got brewin’ and I asked myself, “What would happen if we put together a team composed of all-time UNC greats and put them head-to-head with a team of all-time MSU greats? Who would win that battle royal?”
It was a difficult task to embark on. After all, both schools have a storied history of greatness. UNC comes to the ring with five national championships, 35 ACC championships and 18 Final Fours. MSU, while not nearly as decorated, has two national champions, eight Final Fours and 12 Big Ten championships underneath their belts.
So, let’s pit each team and let them duke it out in a completely imaginative game that is sure to spark some debate.
Starting Point Guards: Phil Ford (UNC, 1974-1978) vs. Magic Johnson (MSU, 1977-1979)
This was a super difficult match up to break down. Phil Ford had a stellar career at UNC that included becoming a three-time All American, National Player of the Year and earning an Olympic Gold Medal in the 1976 games. Magic, well, was Magic. Arguably the greatest basketball player that ever put on the green and white uniform, Magic led the 1979 Spartans to their first national championship while being named MVP for the tournament and Big Ten MVP that year. While Ford gets the edge in career points per game (18.6 ppg vs. Magic’s 17.1 ppg), and UNC did beat out Michigan State in the 1978-1979 season 70-69, the undeniable x-factor has got to be Magic’s size advantage and unbelievable transition offense game. A 6’9” point guard running a fast break with the vision that he had was one of the all time hardest facets of the game to stop.
Starting Shooting Guards: Michael Jordan (UNC, 1981-1984) vs. Shawn Respert (MSU, 1991-1995)
Another tough match up. We all know about Michael Jordan’s professional career (the shoes, the championships, the sheer domination of the game, and becoming the greatest player to ever step onto the NBA hardwood). But his collegiate career was sensational as well. Jordan was ACC Rookie of the Year in 1982, National Player of the Year, John Wooden Award winner, Adolph Rupp Trophy winner and ACC Player of the Year all in 1984. Shawn Respert’s career wasn’t too shabby either – 21.3 points per game, two-time All American, and MSU’s all-time leading scorer. However, Michael Jordan’s sheer talent and skill cannot, and never will, be matched by anyone. Plus, Jordan’s experience of winning an NCAA Championship his freshman year, let alone hitting the game winning shot, gives him a major x-factor in the experience category, especially considering Respert didn’t even make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his career.
Starting Small Forwards: Lennie Rosenbluth (UNC, 1954-1957) vs. Steve Smith (MSU, 1987-1991)
If you’re not a UNC fan, you’ve probably never heard of Lennie Rosenbluth. Lennie was a baller. His freshman year, he led the Tar Heels in scoring by averaging 25.5 points per game and 11.7 rebounds to boot. In his sophomore year, his scoring increased to 26.7 points per game and, as a senior he won the NCAA championship and averaged 28.0 points per game. He was named one of the top 50 ACC players of all time and was named one of the 100 greatest college players of all time. Steve Smith was not a bum by any means. He averaged 18.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game over his career, while gaining accolades such as 1991 Big Ten Scoring Champion and being named a two-time All American. I’m going to have to give the edge to Rosenbluth on this one for experience and being a two-way player – not only could he fill it up from anywhere on the court (mind you, this was before the three-point line was implemented), he could also rebound.
Starting Power Forwards: Antawn Jamison (UNC, 1995-1998) vs. Greg Kelser (MSU, 1975-1979)
It’s hard to find a Tar Heel that had a more prolific career than Antawn Jamison. He averaged 19 points and 9.9 rebounds per game over his career and, in 1998, won the Naismith Trophy, the Wooden Award, the Oscar Robertson Trophy, the Adolph Rupp Trophy and ACC Player of the Year. “Special K” Greg Kelser had a great collegiate career as well. He averaged 17.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game over his career and was an All American while marching his way to becoming the all-time rebound leader in MSU history. Additionally, he was a member of the 1979 NCAA Championship team and played a pivotal role on it. However, the edge has got to go to Jamison. Jamison purely dominated the NCAA and in 1998 was arguably the best player on one of the best UNC teams ever.
Starting Centers: James Worthy (UNC, 1979-1982) vs. Johnny Green (MSU, 1957-1959)
This one is sure to spark up a controversy. Everyone knows James Worthy: National Player of the Year, NCAA Tournament MOP, stellar NBA career and an NCAA Championship while averaging 14.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game over his illustrious career. Has anyone out there ever heard of Johnny Green? Let me tell you about him. Johnny was a walk-on and very well might be the greatest NCAA basketball player to never have been recruited. He averaged 16.9 points and 16.4 rebounds per game over three seasons in the late 1950s. He could rebound “like a giant hawk snaring sparrows,” as one sportswriter described it. Johnny could leap through the ceiling if he was asked to. Bob Cousy, one of the greatest NBA players of all time, said, “The guy was beautiful. What can I say about him? He was remarkable, fantastic, incredible!” That more or less sums it up.
Bench: Charlie Scott, Ed Cota, Sam Perkins, George Glamack, Tyler Hansbrough, Raymond Felton, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter (UNC) vs. Jay Vincent, Scott Skiles, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Terry Furlow, Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph (MSU)
Any of these bench players for both teams could make a convincing argument to be in the starting lineups. Tyler Hansbrough has 41 records at UNC, Terry Furlow once averaged 31.0 points per game, Vince Carter, well, was Vince Carter and Mateen Cleaves was a three-time All American. But when push comes to shove, there is just way too much talent stock piled onto this UNC bench for it to even be a contest. Ed Cota was the only player in NCAA history to record 1,000 points, 1,000 assists and 500 rebounds in a season, Sam Perkins was an NCAA Tournament Champion and George Glamack had the second deadliest hook shot ever (only behind the great Kareem Abdul-Jabarr). The advantage definitely has to go to UNC on this one.
Coaches: Dean Smith (UNC, 1961-1997) vs. Tom Izzo (MSU, 1995-Present)
OK. This is tough and I can only give the edge to Dean Smith simply because, as it stands, he is one of the greatest coaches to ever man the sidelines. Tom Izzo is well on his way. His 2000 National Championship, 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, six conference championships and six Final Four appearances are outstanding considering he is on his 17th year of coaching. Dean Smith’s teams, however, won 17 ACC championships, 13 ACC tournaments, went to the NCAA tournament 27 times, appeared in 11 Final Fours and won two NCAA National Championships. When he retired after his 36 seasons, he walked off the court with the most all-time wins, only to be passed up by Duke’s Mike Kryzyzewski and Indiana/Texas Tech’s Bobby Knight.
Just for fun’s sake, let’s multiply Izzo’s stats by two to see if he kept this pace up, where he would be in 34 years in comparison to Smith’s 36 seasons:
National Championships: Smith – 2, Izzo – 2
Tournament Appearances: Smith – 27, Izzo – 28
Final Four Appearances: Smith – 11, Izzo – 12
Finals Appearances: Smith – 5, Izzo – 4
Conference Championships: Smith – 13, Izzo – 12
Division Tournament Championships: Smith – 13, Izzo – 12
Wins: Smith – 979, Izzo – 766
It’s pretty similar across the board, if you ask me. Tom Izzo could trump those numbers when he decides to hang ‘em up if he keeps up this torrid pace in the Big Ten, but for now, Dean Smith cannot be beat.
When all is said and done and this “game” is over, I think UNC would come out victorious in a highly competitive, quadruple overtime thriller.
Let the debate begin!