Thomas/Davis delivering more than Shaq/Roberts
Shaquille O'Neal and Stanley Roberts were two of the most intimidating centers LSU -- and for that matter, the country -- has ever seen.
They were big. They had power. But they might not have meshed quite as well as Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas. This comparison isn't about the potential talent. It's not fair, nor is it even realistic ever to draw a parallel in talent with Shaq and Baby. It's not even close in college and won't be similar in the NBA.
But Shaq and Roberts never advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament during the Shaq years (1989-92). Davis and Thomas, though, have led the Tigers to the Final Four and have LSU positioned as one of the favorites with Florida to cut down the nets in Indianapolis on Monday night.
So, what's the difference?
O'Neal and Roberts, who also played with guard Chris Jackson to add to the overall talent on those LSU teams, might not have had the chemistry of Davis and Thomas, who have known each other since they were kids.
"They play well together because there is no jealousy within the relationship, none whatsoever," LSU coach John Brady said Monday. "The key is that there is no envy with the two of them."
But this relationship is more than the two of them simply being in concert on the court. They complement each other maybe better than any pair of forwards in the field.
Davis, a large man at 6-foot-9 inches and 310 pounds, was the SEC player of the year. He can take his game outside and inside. He made a dagger of a 3-pointer again Texas in the Elite Eight, going 11-of-19 from the floor for 26 points in that game. Thomas, a lanky 6-9, 215-pounder, was the SEC freshman of the year. He might not have the deep shooting range of Davis, but is a sensational shot blocker and rebounder. He had five rejections against Duke in the Sweet 16 (along with his 13 boards) and swatted three more against Texas in the Elite Eight (along with 21 points and 13 rebounds). Brady said both players can take their defender off the dribble, too.
"The two of them are winners," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said of Davis and Thomas. "Thomas feeds off of Big Baby's attention so much. Thomas gets all the junk, cleans everything up. Big Baby is agile, much more so than Stanley Roberts was."
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings coached against both sets of frontcourt powers. He has dueled with this crew in the SEC this season and went up against Shaq and Stanley when he was an assistant at Kansas.
"Early in their career, those guys got in each other's way," Stallings said of Shaq and Roberts. "The defense is stretched further with Thomas and Davis. It's a tandem that is problematic in every way because they complement each other so well. Thomas is back there to fix any mistakes, even if you get past Garrett Temple [on the perimeter]. They are an underrated defensive team.
"You can try and put a body on Glen, but it's hard to get past him," Stallings said. "The emergence of Tyrus Thomas has changed them from a really good SEC team to a team that could win the national championship."
Former LSU head coach Dale Brown, though, says its hard to compare the twosomes, even though Shaq and Roberts also only played together for one season (in 1989-90, when the Tigers ultimately lost in the NCAA Tournament's second round to Georgia Tech).
"[Davis and Thomas] are two totally different players. Thomas is more like a kid I had like DeWayne Scales. Shot blocking, powerful, long-armed. Stanley and Shaquille were [both] so much bigger than Glen. Personality-wise, he does remind me of Shaquille."
Regardless, the Duke and Texas players seemed stunned by Thomas' talents. Remember, he didn't play for the final two weeks of the season because of a high left ankle sprain. There was legitimate concern that he wouldn't be ready to go for the NCAA Tournament. Even with him, the Tigers nearly needed Darrel Mitchell's 3-pointer to escape against Texas A&M in the second round. Still, Thomas was extremely efficient in the first two games of the Tournament, going a combined 6-of-8 from the field with 11 boards and six blocks.
But in the Sweet 16, the redshirt freshman (who suffered a neck injury that kept him out last season) took off, literally and figuratively.
One NBA player personnel director who watched Thomas in Atlanta told ESPN.com that he should stay in school and become more refined as an offensive player so he could become the No. 1 overall pick. But if Thomas does come out after this season, he would shoot to the lottery, "at the minimum."
"It's more than running and dunking and jumping to play at that level," Brady said of Thomas. "There was some talk that the New York Knicks wanted to take him No. 1 but I wouldn't trust the evaluation of a team that has the highest payroll and one of the worst teams.
"Secondly, Tyrus can't go to a bad team in the NBA and make that team better," Brady said. "That would be the worst environment for him. He's 19 years old and would have to go to a veteran team. He's not ready to go and be a dominant player, not emotionally or physically."
One thing is certain: Thomas is heading to Indianapolis this week, where he'll team up with his buddy Big Baby to try to lead the Tigers to a national title. That's something Shaq and Stanley never did.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.