All-Time MSU Greats vs. All-Time UNC Greats: Who Would Win?

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)
Advantage: MSU

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)
Advantage: UNC

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)
Advantage: UNC

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)
Advantage: UNC

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)
Advantage: MSU

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)
Advantage: UNC

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)
Advantage: UNC

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!

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9 Responses to All-Time MSU Greats vs. All-Time UNC Greats: Who Would Win?

  1. Reggie Cahoon November 1, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    The comparison between Coach Smith and Coach Izzo is not valid because in Coach Smith’s early years only the ACC Tournament Champion was eligible to go to the NCAA Tournament. Even if you had the best team all season, lose one game in the ACC tournament and you were out of the NCAA Tournament.

  2. Herman Stephens November 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Ed Cota was productive, but Ty Lawson is and was a greater player.

    I assume you are considering pro careers. If not, I do not believe Magic was a point guard at MSU.

    Magic lost at Chapel Hill. Johnny Green lost in three overtimes to UNC in the NCAA tournament while UNC, with Rosenbluth, went on to wiin the National Championship against Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in – to my recollection -thee overtimes,

    Also hard to omit for UNC: Billy Cunningham, Brad Daugherty, Larry Miller (60+ point game in the ABA) and there others who could star in this game.

  3. Herman Stephens November 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Four more to consider for this game for UNC: Bob McAdoo (especially if you are considering pro careers), Al Wood (38 in NCAA semifinal against Ralph Sampson’s Virginia), Kenny the Jet Smith, J.R. Reid, There are yet several others that could play in this game to UNC’s advantage.

  4. Herman Stephens Dad November 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    Great write up and research. Can’t argue against any of the match ups really. However, I see Herman enjoys being very objective when it comes to this post. Thank you for taking the time to point out all of the UNC players that didn’t make the list (but should have because then MSU wouldn’t be able to win any match ups!). He isn’t going to rewrite the blog sir. But if he does, I’d tell him to include another handful of MSU greats.

    To make things clear: The author can put Magic at any position because he played EVERY position. And succeeded at them. The only position you could argue Magic would lose in this dream scenario would be against Jordan. And even then, that would be one heck of a fight.

    It really doesn’t matter that the players you listed lost to UNC how many ever times, because it’s all based upon one on one play. If the author went by those rules, MSU would have had zero advantages. Why would he waste his time writing that? How fun. “Steve Smith once lost to UNC in the 90′s, so Lennie should definitely win that one on one match up because he played for UNC in the 50′s” Solid logic.

    Again, nice piece of writing. Can’t wait to watch the Carrier Classic in person. Go Green.

    • Herman Stephans Brother November 3, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

      Hey Dad,

      Thanks for trying to save face for our family after Herman’s outburst. You know how he gets about his UNC basketball. I’ll try to get him to write up an article on the best UNC players vs the other best UNC players, so he can include everyone he wants and that way UNC wins all the games and matchups!

      I wish I could point out stats and drop names, but you know I’m not good at that. I’d rather go play around the world by myself in the driveway.

      I can’t wait for the game- Atmosphere is going to be cooler than I can possibly imagine. Thanks again for taking me with you!

      GO GREEN

  5. Herman Stephens November 3, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    How could I have left out Rasheed Wallace and Jery Stackhouse? Rashad McCants, Rick Fox and Brendan Haywood could also impact this game. And Jawad Williams put 20 points and 8 rebounds on the card against MSU in the 2005 Final Four.

  6. tDanB November 3, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Epic Fail.

    1. In college Respert pwns Jordan.
    2. Rosenbluth over Smith? Really? ignorance at its best.
    3. Dean Smith over Tom Izzo. Izzo has turned down more NBA offers than Smith has had orgasims. you know why dipshit? Because Smith was a one trick pony and everyone new it. He couldn’t coach shit. Izzo= anyone, anytime, anywhere, PP-TPW.

    Deal with it loser.

  7. dhill November 7, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    Epic Fail, tDanB

    hope you’re ready to see msu stomped to the ground and pissed on by the heels. lets see how izzo’s coaching impacts the game against the best team in the nation. go heels!

    Deal with it loser.

  8. WMspartan November 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    Excellent breakdown. Spartan Nation apologizes for that loser post. You guys have an excellent team and will most likely run by a very young Spartan team, but this should be fun to watch no matter what. Go Green!


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