I don’t know, maybe it is the young person in me, but I think a large majority of people when asked what is the best UK team of all-time would argue either the 1996 or 2012 teams. Maybe some older fans would argue teams from the late 1940’s should be considered, but the 1996 and 2012 teams dominated the competition in a deeper integrated NCAA and won more games in the NCAA Tournament, plus all of the NBA talent on each of those teams. So, putting together a post about those 2 teams would be fairly uninteresting. But what about the 3rd best team in UK history?
I think you can make an argument for a multitude of teams, so in true college basketball fashion, I bracketed what I considered the 32 best candidates for the bronze medal, and then seeded and bracketed them. For the next 5 days we will whittle them down until we have just 2 remaining. To be considered for one of the 32 spots, my criteria were the team had to do at least 1 of these things:
-SEC Champions or SEC East Champions
-SEC Tournament Champions
-NCAA Tournament 1 or 2 seed
-Final Four Appearance
If a team couldn’t complete at least 1 of these tasks, they probably wouldn’t deserve consideration anyway. Now, I will give you who I think would win in a fictional game between teams, BUT you have the chance to change my mind. If a convincing enough argument is put into the comments section I will change my pick for the next round tomorrow. Now, one last thing when considering which team you think would win a game. It goes without saying that players in the 1950’s were slower and less athletic than players today. So, for the sake or argument, let’s assume those older players’ skills have developed to the level of the modern player. The 1993 UK team would probably beat every UK team before 1970 if they actually played. Just for this post, take that out of play:
(1) 1948-49 (32-2, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Ralph Beard, Alex Groza)
(8) 1987-88 (27-6, #2 seed, Rex Chapman, Ed Davender)
BTI Pick: The 48-49 squad trounces the sophomore Chapman’s team.
(2) 2009-10 (35-3, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins)
(7) 1967-68 (22-5, SEC Champs, Mike Casey, Dan Issel)
BTI Pick: Nobody in the post could handle Cousins. I go with the 09-10 team.
(3) 1996-97 (35-5, NCAA Runner-Up, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson)
(6) 1976-77 (26-4, SEC Champs, Jack Givens, Rick Robey)
BTI Pick: A now healthy Anderson the difference maker here. ’97 squad wins by 10.
(4) 2002-03 (32-4, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, Keith Bogans, Gerald Fitch)
(5) 1951-52 (29-3, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey)
BTI Pick: Closest game of the tournament. Bogans doesn’t sprain ankle, hits buzzer beating game winner.
(1) 1997-98 (35-4, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #2 Seed, Jeff Sheppard, Nazr Mohammed)
(8) 1961-62 (23-3, SEC Champs, Cotton Nash, Larry Pursiful)
BTI Pick: The closest 1-8 game, but the 1-seed squeaks out the win, probably in a comeback.
(2) 1947-48 (36-3, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Ralph Beard, Alex Groza)
(7) 2004-05 (28-6, SEC Champs, #2 Seed, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Sparks)
BTI Pick: Love Chuck Hayes, but the ’48 team won a gold medal. Beard and Co. win by 15.
(3) 1965-66 (27-2, NCAA Runner-Up, SEC Champs, Pat Riley, Louie Dampier)
(6) 1994-95 (28-5, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, Tony Delk, Rod Rhodes)
BTI Pick: Rod Rhodes implodes on foul line late, Rupp Runts win by 2.
(4) 1953-54 (25-0, SEC Champs, Declined NCAA Bid, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey)
(5) 1956-57 (23-5, SEC Champs, Johnny Cox, Vernon Hatton)
BTI Pick: The only undefeated team in the tournament stays that way. ’54 team moves on.
(1) 1977-78 (30-2, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, Jack Givens, Rick Robey)
(8) 2000-01 (24-10, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #2 Seed, Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans)
BTI Pick: Tayshaun vs. Givens on the wing in a classic. Give me the ’78 champs though.
(2) 1957-58 (23-6, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, Vernon Hatton, Johnny Cox)
(7) 1949-50 (25-5, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Bill Spivey, Jim Line)
BTI Pick: Old-timers game. Spivey mismatch leads to big upset. I take the 7th seeded ’50 team.
(3) 1983-84 (29-5, Final Four, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 seed, Melvin Turpin, Kenny Walker)
(6) 1945-46 (28-2, NIT Champs, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, Wah Wah Jones, Ralph Beard)
BTI Pick: Center’s delight here. Healthy Sam Bowie + Walker/Turpin more than enough.
(4) 2010-11 (29-9, Final Four, SEC Tourney Champs, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones)
(5) 1991-92 (29-7, SEC East Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #2 Seed, Jamal Mashburn, John Pelphrey)
BTI Pick: The lowest seeded Final Four team bounced in Round 1 by Unforgettables.
(1) 1992-93 (30-4, Final Four, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, Jamal Mashburn, Travis Ford)
(8) 1998-99 (28-9, SEC Tourney Champs, Scott Padgett, Heshimu Evans)
BTI Pick: ’93 team presses better, shoots better, just better. Win by 17.
(2) 1950-51 (32-2, NCAA Champs, SEC Champs, Bill Spivey, Shelby Linville)
(7) 1980-81 (22-6, #2 seed, Sam Bowie, Dirk Minniefield)
BTI Pick: This was Bowie’s first injury season. Tight game, Spivey wins it at end.
(3) 1974-75 (26-5, NCAA Runner-Up, SEC Champs, Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner)
(6) 1979-80 (29-6, SEC Champs, #1 Seed, Kyle Macy, Sam Bowie)
BTI Pick: John Wooden not coaching, refs not there to bail out ’80 team. Grevey scores 35 in win.
(4) 1985-86 (32-4, SEC Champs, SEC Tourney Champs, #1 Seed, Kenny Walker, Winston Bennett)
(5) 1969-70 (26-2, SEC Champs, Dan Issel, Mike Pratt)
BTI Pick: Issel scores 40, Pratt pours in 25. ’86 squad wins by 7.
OK, if you see a game that you think would have gone differently than I predicted, use the comments section to convince me otherwise.