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Top 10 duos in college basketball history

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

March 9th, 2021

With March Madness just around the corner, we’ve taken a deep dive into the college basketball record books to research some of the top one-two punches in the history of the game. Many of these duos led their schools to national titles before going on to bigger and better things, while others left their marks in other undeniable ways.

Before we start, one note: Longevity matters here. That’s why you won’t see one-and-done duos on this list. When so many big names have teamed up to win multiple national titles, it feels wrong to put players who competed in just one college season next to them.

Enough talk! Here’s our list of the top 10 duos in college basketball history.

10. Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, Butler

It’s very tough for smaller schools to make runs in the NCAA tournament. However, Butler made it to two straight national title games in 2010 and 2011 with Howard and Mack as its two most recognizable players. Both are currently playing overseas, but this was a case where the whole proved far greater than the sum of its parts.

9. Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymount

Yep, this hurts. Gathers and Kimble anchored one of the most exciting mid-major programs in NCAA history. In a breakneck-paced offense that proved far ahead of its time, these two led the Lions to two NCAA Tournament appearances before Gathers’s tragic death ahead of the 1990 tournament. Kimble and LMU proceeded to get all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to UNLV (more on them later).

8. Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, Houston

The two eventual Hall of Famers first served as the cornerstones of Phi Slama Jamma in the early-1980’s. Drexler left for the NBA after the 1983 season and the historic loss to NC State, while Olajuwon stuck around for the 1983-84 campaign and got to another title game, where Houston ran into the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas.

7. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, UConn

UConn had made respectable runs in 2002 and 2003, getting to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in those years. However, everything clicked for the Huskies in 2004, and Okafor and Gordon were big reasons why. UConn won 14 of their last 15 games, including the championship contests in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. After cutting down the nets, Okafor and Gordon went second and third overall in that year’s NBA draft.

6. Paul Hogue and Tom Thacker, Cincinnati

Newer college basketball fans likely don’t know these names, but Hogue and Thacker played key roles in one of the sport’s most underrated dynasties. Cincinnati made the Final Four every year from 1959 to 1963, and Hogue and Thacker helped lead them to national titles in 1961 and 1962. Thacker was also around for the 1963 tournament, where the Bearcats led Loyola Chicago by 15 points in the second half before falling victim to a historic comeback.

5. Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, UNLV

The Runnin’ Rebels turned college basketball on its ear. With a roster full of future NBA players and colorful coach Jerry Tarkanian at the helm, UNLV shredded Duke to win the 1990 national title. Johnson and Augmon (along with Anderson Hunt, the 1990 tournament MVP) helped lead the squad to a 45-game winning streak, one that ended when Duke avenged the 1990 blowout in the 1991 Final Four.

4. Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, Florida

Brewer’s spot could easily be filled by fellow Gator Al Horford, but Brewer gets the nod due to his Final Four Most Outstanding Player honor following Florida’s second consecutive national title in 2007. The Billy Donovan-led Gators went 68-11 in those two seasons, and all three players were top-10 picks in the 2007 NBA Draft.

3. Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, UCLA

It’s very tough to pick just one duo from the John Wooden Era, but we’ve landed here. Walton and Wilkes anchored the UCLA teams that racked up most of the program’s 88-game win streak, and that stretch included national championships in 1972 and 1973. Walton was eventually enshrined in the Hall of Fame, of course, but Wilkes had a stellar pro career as well. He won four NBA titles and was named to three All-Star teams between 1974 and 1985.

2. Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley, Duke

Many will swear by this duo as the best of all-time, and there’s reason to feel that way. Laettner and Hurley never missed a Final Four at Duke and won a pair of national titles. Laettner’s buzzer-beaters remain part of NCAA lore, while Hurley set the all-time record for career assists (one that may not be approached in an era of one-and-done stars). It takes a very, very special tag team to keep these two off the throne…

1. Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, San Francisco

…but you go tell these guys they weren’t the best. Go on. We’ll wait.

Russell and Jones first teamed up at USF in the mid-1950’s. While Jones was a star player in his own right, Russell was so dominant defensively that the NCAA widened the lane in an attempt to make things tougher on him.

It didn’t work. The Dons won 55 consecutive games across two seasons and won national titles in both 1955 and 1956. Perhaps most remarkably, of the 29 wins San Francisco tallied during the 1955-56 season, only two were by single-digits, and they dusted UCLA, Utah, SMU, and Iowa by an average of 14 points per game in that year’s NCAA tournament.