Mon Nov 30 03:06pm EST
As the decade winds down, The Dagger will celebrate the past 10 years of college basketball with various top 10 lists. Today, we at look at the 10 best players of the 2000s:
No. 10: St. Joseph's 2004. In so far as it's fair to say the modern college hoops game has parity, it's fair to say St. Joseph's incredible run in 2004 was the true harbinger of that parody. St. Joe's started two NBA-level guards in national player of the year Jameer Nelson and dead-shooting off-guard Delonte West, and most people forget about center Pat Carroll, who handled much of the team's interior dirty work. But really, St. Joe's' run was all about those guards, and in a sport that sees upsets on a daily basis, the duo's 27-0 regular season and Elite Eight tournament puts them among the best -- and certainly most exciting -- squads of the decade.
No. 9: Michigan State 2000. Michigan State started the decade with dominance, featuring two future NBA guards in Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson and even a young Jason Richardson, who came off the bench and played 15 minutes a game for Izzo's title-winning team. Peterson went on to become a consistent role player in the NBA, and though Cleaves never amounted to much after his collegiate days, there's no dispute that his place in his team's 2000 title run will leave those Spartans in the memory bank for quite some time.
No. 8: Syracuse 2003. Everyone remembers Carmelo Anthony, and for good reason; his one-and-done stopover at Syracuse helped Jim Boeheim net his first NCAA game after decades on the job. Melo's 33 points in a 2003 Final Four win over Texas set a record for freshmen in the NCAA tournament. He was that good. But the team itself was deep and athletic; Hakeem Warrick is as athletic a player as any in the past decade, and sharpshooting point guard Gerry McNamara hit six 3s in the first half of the team's title win over Kansas. Never has Boeheim's zone been so athletic and so fierce, and rarely has college basketball seen such tournament dominance from such a young team.
No. 7: Illinois 2005. It feels like Illinois deserves to be higher on this list, and they might -- the only thing preventing them from being the No. 1 team of the decade was also only their second loss, a 75-70 defeat in the NCAA title game to a similarly dominant North Carolina team. The Illini tied an NCAA record for wins in a single season with 37, and their 15-point comeback with four minutes remaining in the Sweet 16 will go down as one of the most entertaining college hoops games of all time. It's a shame this team didn't bring a much-needed non-Final Four banner back to Champaign (in Champaign, they hang Final Four banners for lack of anything better), because they were more than good enough to do so.
No. 6: Maryland 2002. Maryland, on the other hand, did bring its fans -- and its beloved hometown coach Gary Williams -- a banner in 2002, topping Mike Davis' surprising Hoosiers in the NCAA title game. This team featured one of the best players in the country, Juan Dixon, while point guard Steve Blake ran the show and power forward Chris Wilcox dominated in the paint. Maryland's program has taken something of a nosedive since, but for a while, Williams coached an elite national power, and the Terps have the hardware to prove it.
No. 5: UConn 2004. There are good, talent-loaded teams in Storrs every year, but 2004's was a cut above. A glimpse at the roster starts with guard Ben Gordon, who led the team in scoring; center Emeka Okafor, who was so dominant the tournament committee gave UConn a No. 2 seed over fears that his back wasn't 100 percent; and power-forward play from Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone, which made the Huskies the most dominant interior team in all of college hoops in 2004 -- and perhaps the decade.
No. 4: North Carolina 2005. North Carolina wasn't the only team to beat the 2004 Illini -- Ohio State stole a win in the last game of the regular season at Value City Arena -- but entering the 2005 NCAA tournament, UNC was the only team people figured could beat Illinois on any given night. It was. Sean May, Raymond Felton, and Rashad McCants gave the Tar Heels a dominant collegiate trio, while young forward Marvin Williams came off the bench and flashed so much talent he was drafted No. 2 overall a few months later despite having never started a single game. This stat is still baffling, but that's what happens when you have a team so good you can bench the No. 2 overall pick AND face a 37-1 team in the national title game and not only have a chance to win, but actually be favored. Enough said.
No. 3: North Carolina 2009. And yet, what North Carolina did in 2005 wasn't quite as impressive as what Roy Williams' team did in 2009. The Tar Heels were dominant all season, though they suffered the occasional letdown loss (a loss to Maryland here, an apathetic ACC tourney loss to Florida State there), but when the tournament rolled around, no one touched the Heels. The following are the results of UNC's six tourney games on the way to last season's title: 101-58, 84-70, 98-77, 72-60 (that one was over Oklahoma, which featured national POY Blake Griffin), 83-69, 89-72. Those last two were over Villanova and Michigan State in the Final Four, two teams that had taken down Pittsburgh, Louisville and a host of other national powers between them. Quite simply, no one could touch the 2009 Tar Heels, and that has more to do with the Tar Heels than with everyone else.
No. 2: Duke 2001. Duke's 2001 roster is similar to North Carolina's 2005 and UConn's 2004 in that one look at the talent on hand can make a man's eyes bleed. The Dukies started Jason Williams at guard, Shane Battier at forward, Carlos Boozer at center, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. on the wing. They won each of their tournament games by double figures. They were really, really, really good, possibly Coach K's best team. Given Coach K's history, that's saying something.
No. 1: Florida 2007. Topping the list is Florida's 2007 team, which took a risk. Led by close friends Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taureen Green, the Gators won the title in 2006 and could have elected to cash out while they were still ahead. Instead, the Gators returned for another year. Things went accordingly: The Gators, 35-5, won the SEC regular season and tournament titles, outscored opponents by an average of 17.5 points per game, and shot a national-best 52.6 percent from the field. And, of course, they won another NCAA title. Al Horford was a star, but the Gators were the best because they dominated 1-5 (including sharpshooter Lee Humphrey). Few college players would have gambled like the Gators, but the bet paid off, and the Gators will go down in history for it.