Lots of questions persist about which team is better…the 1996 Kentucky team or the 2012 version. KSRCollege.com’s Jonathan Schuette broke it down, and also noticed the striking similarity in the Sports Illustrated cover photos after both titles. For more similar posts (and the kids over there have been killing it in this past week), check out KSRCollege.com:
We as fans always have to know who the best is; it’s the very premise of competition. It always has to be known who the best players, coaches, and teams are. That’s why we give out awards to individuals and teams; to determine who is the very best. But, how do you determine who the best player, coach, or team is when you’re comparing them to different generations of competitors? Now that the most recent squad of ‘Cats has taken home the school’s 8th National Title the ever eternal question will be raised, which of our Wildcat Champions are the best of all time? Recently I’ve been seeing on various internet forums that some people have been comparing this year’s Wildcats to Rick Pitino’s 1996 Kentucky squad. Both teams are certainly excellent basketball teams that dominated college basketball in their respective years, so I thought it would be interesting to examine which team was better using advanced tempo-free statistics. To make the comparison of Kentucky’s most recent champions I used John Scott’s amazing Kentucky Basketball statistics site, Bigbluehistory.net. To draw the conclusion of which team was the best I calculated each teams’ Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, and Strength of Schedule* to determine who’s Efficiency Margin is the largest. Strength of Schedule is important because it tells you how impressive the individual teams’ efficiency margin is (0 in the strength of schedule column is average, the higher the number the tougher the schedule). The below table holds the data gathered.
(I included the 1998 national champions as a control in the experiment to give a reference at just how effective the 1996 and 2012 teams are. The pre-1996 champions are not included because there isn’t enough data to form advanced statistics for those years).
As you can see the 1998 edition of the Wildcats is considered the “worst” of the recent championship teams (if there is such a thing as being the worst champion). They have the lowest efficiency margin of all of the recent champions, outscoring their opponents by a total of 0.182 points per possession (that’s still excellent). The 1998 team accomplished this margin against a very difficult schedule, with a rating of 9.85 (ranking 9th nationally in 1998). Even so, their efficiency margin is still last in the group by a considerable margin so they are considered the “worst” of the past three champions statistically.
Now we get to the real debate; who’s the better team 1996 Kentucky or 2012 Kentucky? Both teams only lost two games and rolled to the National Title, but just who was better? According to the data the 1996 Wildcats would come out on victorious in this fictitious matchup. Even though this year’s ‘Cats outscored their opponents by colossal 0.253 points per possession, the 1996 Wildcats outscored their opponents by an even more astounding 0.276 points per possession. Those margins are nearly equal and put both teams safely into “All-Timer” category but the 1996 version of the Wildcats is that much more impressive because they did it against a more difficult schedule with a rating of 10.06 (ranking 13th nationally in 1996). Compare that rating to this year’s Kentucky team who “only” played a schedule with a rating of 7.93 (ranking 18th nationally). Both teams were certainly some of the best teams that the college basketball world has ever seen, but the 1996 Untouchables get the nod as the best Wildcats because they did it better against better competition.
When it comes to comparing teams we all have our ways that we find to be the most effective; the most professionals, the most wins, the fewest losses, or even whose coach is better. But, to really examine who is objectively the best you have to know how well a team played against their respective competition. Even though the 1996 and 2012 Wildcats are All-Time teams, the 1996 squad was just a force that was even more special. (One could argue that this year’s Wildcats were even more impressive given the fact that they dominated the game with a squad filled by inexperienced freshman, but that’s another argument for another day). But, given the fact that the’96 squad had a larger efficiency margin and played the toughest schedule, I give them the nod as best Wildcats of all time.
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*Strength of Schedule is a formula developed by the fine folks at basketball-reference.com