On March 19, ESPN launched SportsCenter Special: College Basketball's Greatest of All Time, a 64-player bracket celebrating the best men's and women's players ever.
ESPN writers and commentators will provide daily roundtables and predictions as the bracket advances through March 31. Below, writers John Gasaway, Heather Dinich and Myron Medcalf break down the Elite Eight in the East and West regions.
(9) Allen Iverson vs. (3) Larry Bird -- VOTE HERE
(9) Shaquille O'Neal vs. (10) Dwyane Wade -- VOTE HERE
Two 9-seeds and a 10-seed on this end of the Elite Eight -- which of these underdogs are you happiest to see still standing?
John Gasaway: Given the time of year, I have to say I'm happiest to see D-Wade still with us. While Shaq and Iverson never quite reached a Final Four, Wade made his name and his legend on that largest of college stages. His 29-11-11 points-assists-rebounds triple-double against No. 1-seed Kentucky in the 2003 Elite Eight still ranks as one of the most dominant performances ever recorded in a regional final. Never mind that double-digit seed, it's entirely fitting that Wade has survived and advanced this far.
Heather Dinich: I'm going with A.I. He was such a gritty guard, and his attitude came out on the court. So much of his reputation was built during his time in Philly, but true college basketball fans who remember his success at Georgetown know how he helped transform that program. He averaged 23 points, 4.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game over two years. John Thompson Jr. gave him an opportunity, and everyone there benefited from it.
Myron Medcalf: Definitely Shaquille O'Neal. Although he's one of the greatest players in the history of the game, in a weird way, he's often been viewed as a step behind the other greats at his position, especially in college because he didn't win a national title. But he was an athletic freak with a set of skills the game had never seen. Imagine if a player today averaged 24.1 PPG, 14 RPG and 5.2 BPG the way Shaq did as a junior at LSU. His LSU squad beat the great Loyola Marymount team and eventual champion UNLV during the 1989-90 season. They should have been a Final Four team, at least. But Shaq was the most dominant force in the game when he played.
The four remaining players on this side of the bracket were all NBA superstars. Pick one and tell us one thing voters need to know about their college career before they cast their ballots.
Gasaway: You know and love Iverson as an NBA legend for, among other things, his infamous and instantly viral thoughts on, shall we say, "practice." It is also true, however, that John Thompson's star was the two-time Big East defensive player of the year. At a time when the Big East was particularly rugged, Iverson could get down in the trenches and win against the toughest of opponents.
Dinich: It's probably hard to remember just how intimidating Shaq was at LSU, but imagine going against the Tigers' 7-foot-1, 294-pound center in college as he's going up for another one of his SEC-record blocks. You wanna be on the other side of that? In 1991, he became the first player to lead the SEC in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots in the same season.
Medcalf: I think folks should remember how rusty Larry Bird should have been when he dropped 32.8 PPG as a freshman at Indiana State in the 1976-77 season. He'd been a garbageman after leaving the University of Indiana just 24 days into the 1974-75 season. Bird, had he stayed, would have been a star for Bobby Knight's great Indiana teams of the '70s. But the future NBA legend missed two years of basketball, picked up a real job and then played as if he hadn't missed any time once he played at Indiana State.
Prediction time: Who advances to the Final Four out of these two matchups, and who are you voting for?
Gasaway: Bird is unstoppable. He has my vote, but even if he didn't he would be sailing into the Final Four. The other matchup is more tricky. I will both vote for Shaq and predict that he will notch a close victory over D-Wade. The big guy was fated never to reach the second weekend of the tournament, but he was in the most literal sense a game-changing college star on both sides of the ball who then only happened to go on to become one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Hard to bet against that résumé.
Dinich: I think Shaq and Bird advance, but I'm voting for Iverson. Look, if you're going to ask me to vote like a fan, I'm going to think like one, and all I can remember growing up with hoops is watching the Sixers (and the Bulls, of course). Iverson just always brought so much energy to the court; he was so fun to watch. He was also a complicated personality and a fascinating story, but Philly fans embraced it all and probably still do.
Medcalf: I love A.I., but you're not beating Bird. He's Larry Bird. That's the only thing worth considering in this convo. He gets my vote. He'll advance. And I'm not sure Shaq vs. Wade is that complicated either. Wade had a great career at Marquette and he's honestly one of the great testaments of perseverance in the game. But Shaq was a legend at LSU who put together one of the most dominant careers of the past 30 years.