Ever since the beatdown of Kansas in November and the conversation of 40-0 began, a popular topic amongst fans and radio shows is where this team would/could/will rank amongst the best teams in UK history. Let’s not even go into college basketball history because that is a conversation so splintered and difficult to measure that it’s almost pointless to have. But we all follow and love this basketball program and I think we have a greater understanding of the best teams in UK history and so this conversation is valid. First off, let’s acknowledge who is even in the conversation for best team in UK history. And I should say that I don’t think you necessarily have to win the national title to be in this conversation:
1948-49 (32-2, National Champs)
1950-51 (32-2, National Champs)
1953-54 (25-0, Did not participate in tournament)
1965-66 (27-2, National Runner-Up)
1977-78 (30-2, National Champs)
1995-96 (34-2, National Champs)
2011-12 (38-2, National Champs)
2014-15 (38-0, ??????????????)
Those would be my Top 8. Now how do we decide who the greatest of all-time is? Below would be my criteria and how I whittled it down:
1. THE NUMBER OF WINS DOESN’T MATTER BUT THE NUMBER OF LOSSES DOES
-While winning 40 games in a season is an incredible accomplishment, most teams in college basketball history haven’t even had the chance to win 40 games. So I don’t choose one team over another for the number of wins. But, the number of losses does matter. You will see above that none of the teams I listed lost more than 2 games in a season. Take a modern team, the 2009-10 team with John Wall and Co. That team could probably beat any team in UK history on a given night. But the fact of the matter is they lost 3 games that season. So because of this I don’t include them on the list. Same goes for the 1948 (3 losses), 1958 (6 losses), and 1998 (4 losses) national champions. At some point you have to say the greatest teams don’t lose too many games. And in my mind, over 2 losses is too many.
2. THE ERA MATTERS
-No offense to teams in the pre-1960’s college basketball, but they were not playing against everybody. The fact that college basketball teams of that era only played against half of the population matters to me. Would the 1949, 1951, or 1954 teams have lost more games if African-Americans had been playing throughout college basketball? No way to know. But what I do know is that a game that is dominated by African-Americans now did not have that group of people back then and thus those records are tainted in a way. Thus, I eliminate 1949, 1951, and 1954 from the conversation.
3. MARGINS OF DEFEAT MATTER
-Obviously this team, if they go undefeated, would have no defeats but the other teams left in my thought process have 2 a piece. So I think the margin of those defeats, if those defeats took place at home/road/neutral and to whom those losses occurred to matter. For 1966, the losses were by at Tennessee by 7 and to 3rd ranked Texas Western by 7. The 1978 team lost at Alabama by 16 and at LSU by 1. The 1996 team lost to 5th ranked UMASS (neutral) by 10 and 25th ranked Mississippi State by 11. The 2012 team lost at Indiana by 1 and to Vanderbilt (neutral) by 7. Point being, the 2012 and 1966 teams probably had the “best” losses, while the 1978 team had the worst. I eliminate the 1978 team because of the 16 point loss to unranked Alabama.
4. HOW YOU FINISH MATTERS
-So the 1966, 1996, and 2012 teams are left. How they performed in the NCAA Tournament matters to me. It is the last impression you leave on a season. So obviously since the last impression the 1966 team left was a loss by 7 to a team they were favored over eliminates them from the discussion. So how about the 1996 and 2012 teams and their tournament runs. In 1996, they won games by 38, 24, 31, 20, 7, and 9. That is an average margin of victory of 21.5. The 2012 team won it’s tournament games by 15, 16, 12, 12, 8, and 8. That is an average margin of victory of 11.8. So in that respect, the 1996 team gets the nod. For informational purposes, the 2015 team currently has a tournament margin of victory of 19.3.
Going by my standards above, I think the 1996 team is currently the greatest team in UK history. They played in a top era of college basketball, their losses were respectable and their tournament run was the best of the group mentioned. But, if this team completes the run on Saturday and Monday, there is no doubt they are the greatest to me. They are playing in a similar era of college basketball as the 1996 team (maybe a little worse) but they will have also lost 2 fewer games. Their tournament run has been similar to the 1996 team although unless they blowout both Final Four opponents that margin will likely drop. But the fact of the matter is they will complete an undefeated season having to play more games than in 1996. They will have to likely go through two 1-seeds to win that title. They will do so with a starter injured early in the season. And the additional pressures that college basketball players have to deal with today over 1996 (social media) matters. And no, I will not simply say they completed the best SEASON in UK history. I will call them the best TEAM in UK history.