Over the last 4 days, we have whittled the 32 best UK teams of all-time down to 2. OK, maybe not the 32 best teams. That’s because I think most (and by most, I understand some disagree) would agree that the 1996 or 2012 team was the best in UK history. Those 2 teams would likely be considered the 2 best teams in UK history. But I think there were a wide variety of teams that could have arguments for 3rd. I seeded, bracketed, and then played out how a tournament would look. For a reminder of the previous 4 days, you can check out these links:
Now, as tournaments often can happen, sometimes the 2 best teams don’t make the final. But in this case, before the tournament was ever seeded and bracketed (by somebody else I should add), I would have picked the ’78 title team and ’97 runner-up team as the 2 best teams not from 1996 or 2012. So, I am glad the bracket has worked out and you all have agreed with my assessment that those 2 teams deserve to be in the finals. Because keep in mind:
IF A CONVINCING ENOUGH ARGUMENT HAS BEEN MADE IN THE COMMENTS, I WILL AWARD THAT GAME TO THE TEAM I DIDN’T PICK. In fact, that happened 3 different times during the tournament, so you know it’s possible.
What’s not going to happen is if you don’t pay attention to this statement: Of course the players of the 1970’s are not as good as the 1990’s. If the skills were not the same, this game would likely be a 10-15 point win for the Mercer-led Cats. But, for the sake of argument, assume that players’ skills have developed to the level of the modern game. So, Louie Dampier would be considered a better player than Wayne Turner, etc etc.
With that said, let’s take a look at the final:
1977-78 (30-2, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, Jack Givens, Rick Robey)
Road to the Finals
beat (8) 2000-01 (24-10, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Tayshaun Prince)
beat (5) 1991-92 (29-7, SEC East Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Jamal Mashburn)
beat (3) 1983-84 (29-5, Final Four, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Melvin Turpin)
beat (1) 1992-93 (30-4, Final Four, SEC Tourney Champs, Jamal Mashburn)
1996-97 (35-5, NCAA Runner-Up, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson)
Road to the Finals
beat (6) 1976-77 (26-4, SEC Champs, Jack Givens, Rick Robey)
beat (2) 2009-10 (35-3, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins)
beat (1) 1948-49 (32-2, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Ralph Beard, Alex Groza)
beat (3) 1965-66 (27-2, NCAA Runner-Up, SEC Champs, Pat Riley, Louie Dampier)
BTI Pick: Kyle Macy vs Anthony Epps, Truman Claytor vs Ron Mercer, Goose Givens vs Scott Padgett, Rick Robey vs Jared Prickett, Mike Phillips vs Nazr Mohammed, James Lee vs Cam Mills/Wayne Turner off the bench. Those are the matchups. I would say that the ’97 team has an advantage at the guards spots together, especially considering the depth off the bench at those positions. Macy might have been the best overall guard of the bunch, but in 1978 that was a sophomore Kyle Macy, maybe not at his full potential. I think Anthony Epps could have at least hung with Macy. And certainly Mercer was a better player than Claytor. But at the 3-4-5 spots, it appears that 1978 have the advantage. Certainly Givens and Robey are clear advantages and I would take Phillips over Mohammed, but that would be a very close battle.
So, how does it play out? Well, Rick Pitino teams needed great guards to make perimeter shots, cause turnovers, and keep the pace fast. This team had a great player to lead that charge in Anthony Epps. The problem is, as shown in the 1997 title game, is a good scoring guard point guard can counteract that, and the ’78 Cats have that in Macy. In 1978, Macy averaged over 12ppg while also accumulating 5.5 apg. He was the kind of guard who would give Anthony Epps problems, a la Miles Simon and Mike Bibby.
Certainly Ron Mercer has a chances for a big game, but as much as Mercer provides, Goose Givens likely equals that out. And the final difference maker in this game would be Robey. He works over Prickett all night long, easily records a double-double, and givens the ’78 team weapons on the perimeter, wing, and post. In the end, I believe the 1978 squad should be considered the 3rd best team in UK history, and beat the 1997 team 82-77.