Most Recent Posts
- Calipari will be honorary pace car driver for Kentucky Speedway NASCAR race
- Neal Brown on Mobley, Sanders, Miller, Borden, Shields, Kendrick, Timmons and more
- Humphrey “grateful” that Archie Goodwin got to play under John Calipari
- Brown says line, receiver are offensive recruiting needs; OL Kelly commits
- Goodwin getting “postive feedback” from workouts with various NBA teams
- Ohio twins will transfer from Pittsburgh to Kentucky
- Photo Gallery: Alex Poythress at Camp Cal
- Ohio RB Mikel Horton did all he could to help convince Georgia RB Boom Williams to commit to UK
Vaughtâ€™s note: For anyone who uses Twitter, you probably already know what a huge UK fan @ChristinaN_BBN is and accurate she was with many game predictions during UKâ€™s championship season. She has her own blog at http://successisnotrandom.wordpress.com/ and describes herself this way: â€œSports chick, Libertarian, writer, finance & tech girl. Older than my actual 22 years – I’m an old soul. University of Kentucky alumnaÂ #BBN forever.â€ Sheâ€™s contributed to vaughtsviews.com before and this weekend shares her thoughts on comparing UKâ€™s 1996 and 2012 national championship teams.
Now that the 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats have won the NCAA basketball championship fans and media alike are taking a look back to consider where this yearâ€™s team fits historically among the great teams of all time. It is always challenging to compare teams from different eras as there are so many things to consider. What is probably the easiest to see however is the relative dominance of a team among its peers; the teams it competed against during the season.
While I was only 6 years old at the time, I do have a few real-time memories of the 1996 Kentucky team winning the championship. Since then, Iâ€™ve watched video of almost all their games from that season as my dad recorded them. In order to help them survive the test of time, he made copies of of his originals for a backup, then transferred them to DVDs a number of years later. They have been watched a zillion times between him, myself, my brothers and our friends over the years and while not the greatest quality by todayâ€™s standard, it was great to be able to watch them and reminisce growing up.
On the days I couldnâ€™t get outside as a young girl to ride my bike, rollerblade or skateboard, watching old games in the summer was a much better alternative on a rainy day than Barbie dolls, Ninja Turtles or Rugrats! It was part of my introduction and endoctrination into the Big Blue Nation. I may not have many fresh memories of seeing and appreciating UK live then, but I have seen and marveled at them on Memorex. Those â€˜Cats were for real, and they were spectacular.
In the modern era, which Iâ€™m designating as since the shot-clock was introduced in the 1985-â€™86 season and the 3-point line the following year, no team has finished a season unbeaten. In fact every champion since then has had at least two losses.
Five teams had only two; 1992 Duke (34-2), 1995 UCLA (31-2), 1996 Kentucky (34-2), 1999 Connecticut (34-2), and 2012 Kentucky (38-2). Two additional champions (â€™78 Kentucky and â€™82 North Carolina) finished with only two losses since Indiana (32-0) was the last unbeaten team in 1976.
This means seven of the past 36 title teams accomplished equal or similar dominance. Prior to that, 14 out of 15 had two or fewer losses, five of which went unbeaten (UCLA in â€™64, â€™67, â€™72 & â€™73 and Indiana in â€™76). Interestingly, five of Kentuckyâ€™s eight championship teams had only two losses (â€™49, â€™51, â€™78, â€™96 & 2012).
To complete a season with as few as two defeats in a championship year, in my mind, means a team was at least somewhat dominant. Far beyond somewhat, 1996 Kentucky, rated by many as one of the best teams ever assembled, was supremely dominant.
Redemption:Â Â The Untouchables
Their first loss of the season was in just the second game, against what would be a similarly impressive Massachusetts team. At the time, Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino was trying to use shooting guard Tony Delk at the point guard position. After the ten-point loss to the Minutement, he saw that was not going to lead his team where they were expected to go. Upon moving Tony back to his natural position and starting junior Anthony Epps at the point with freshman McDonaldâ€™s All-American Wayne Turner coming off the bench, UK went on the longest single-season winning streak in school history.
These â€˜Cats were deep, with many interchangeable parts, and incredibly talented (seven future NBA 1st or 2nd round draft choices). Their full-court pressing style was hugely intimidating and often simply overwhelming. Among the next 27 games, only Indiana and Georgia would stay within single digits. They scored 100 points or more seven times. In fact, no better example of their sheer explosiveness could be shown than their performance in Baton Rouge versus LSU, where they went into the locker room having scored 86 points in the first half alone. They won all 16 SEC regular season games by an average of 24 points.
They eventually lost for the second time that season in the SEC Tournament Championship game to Mississippi State. They had pounded MSU earlier in the year on the road in Starkville by 18, but this time the Bulldogs â€“ who would reach the Final Four â€“ came out inspired and determined, and led 43-38 at the half.
Most everyone remembers Pitino benching a somewhat uninspired Antoine Walker for nearly all of the second half, seemingly resolute to watch his team to take a humbling loss as they were about to embark on the NCAA Tournament. Pitino would later say his team needed it because â€œeverything had come too easily for themâ€ during the regular season.
His team then proceded to rip through the first 4 rounds of the NCAA winning by an average margin of over 28 points per game. This included blowing out 10th-ranked Utah with Keith Van Horn & Andre Miller, and Tim Duncan-led Wake Forest. In the Final Four they would meet up again with UMass and National Player of the Year Marcus Camby (who is still playing in the NBA today) who had torched them for 32 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks in the previous meeting. They completed their title run and won UKâ€™s first championship in 18 years (sixth overall) by beating UMass 81-74, then Syracuse and their All-American John Wallace 76-67 in the final.
Rick Pitinoâ€™s best team won 34 of 36 games by an average of 22 points per game and completed an unbeaten 16-0 SEC regular season. The group had a school record 27-game winning streak during the year and won six NCAA Tournament games by an average margin of 21 points. They won two Final Four games by an average of eight points and were never seriously in danger of losing, never trailing in the second half of either game.
It was a truly dominant season in every way, one that solidified them as one of the all-time great teams. Leading scorer Tony Delk was named a first team All-American. Three players were chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft, a fourth was chosen in the second round. Three other players from that team would later be first round picks. It was a team that brought redemption to an elite program, just eight years removed from â€œKentucky Shameâ€ and severe sanctions. They would forever be known as â€œThe Untouchablesâ€ in Kentucky lore â€“ the schoolâ€™s greatest team ever.
(Next up, Part Two â€“ Excellence, Irrelevance, Hope)