With the season unfittingly over, I began to wonder about this team’s place in history at Kentucky. Without question, their impact on the program and fanbase went well beyond their on-court success and this year’s version of the Cats will be among the most fondly remembered. Of course, that doesn’t discount their performance on the floor, which was pretty damn good in its own right.
So, as I pondered the unbelievable ride that was this season, the question I found myself asking was: “Is this the best Kentucky team not to win the championship?”
First, let’s take a look at a rundown of some of the best UK teams not to raise the championship trophy at the end of the year.
1965-66 – Rupp’s Runts lost only once all year before their famous meeting with Texas Western in the championship. Only one team, outside of the Tennessee squad that beat them, came within 10 points of the Runts before the NCAA tournament and they spent the last month of the season ranked #1.
1969-70 – Once again Coach Rupp’s Cats fell only one time during the regular season before being upset by Jacksonville in the regional final. Dan Issel’s senior year and the one in which he set the single-game scoring record that Jodie Meeks broke last year.
1974-75 – This team beat previously undefeated Indiana to get to the Final Four before eventually falling in the title game to UCLA, the last game on the bench for John Wooden. The ’75 team knocked off Kansas, North Carolina and Notre Dame all by double digits and lost only five games the whole year.
1983-84 – The season known most for the way it ended, with a horrific 13-for-53 shooting performance and a loss to eventual national champion Georgetown, 53-40 in the Final Four. The Cats were unbeaten at home and ranked in the top six for the entire season.
1991-92 – Not necessarily the best rÃ©sumÃ© for this list with seven losses, but they’re the Unforgettables. They make the cut.
1992-93 – Pitino’s first Final Four team with Kentucky. 30-4 with a loss to Michigan in the FF in New Orleans, which I still haven’t forgiven Chris Webber for since I would have gotten to go to the title game had we won. The Cats avenged all three of the regular season losses they suffered, the most memorable of which was a 101-40 beatdown of Tennessee in the SEC tournament.
1994-95 – Still one of the toughest tournament losses to handle, as the Cats fell to North Carolina in the “Riddick Choke” game, one win short of the Final Four. The ’95 Cats beat their first three tournament opponents by an average of over 30 points before losing to Dean Smith and his evil Heels in one of the most frustrating games ever.
1996-97 – This one is particularly painful for me, as I still contend that had I not gone to my friend Jordan’s house to watch the championship game (instead of watching it at home like every other game that season) we would have taken down Arizona. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Eff you Miles Simon.
2002-03 – And finally there is Tubby’s best chance to win a second title and one of the most memorable teams of my lifetime. The 26-game win streak, undefeated run through the SEC and a great year by Keith Bogans were all for naught thanks to Dwyane Wade’s introduction to the world.
This year’s squad, in comparison, has the most wins of any non-title team with 35, and is the only one with two First-Team AP All-Americans. They were not supremely dominant, but were almost certainly more talented than any of the other teams on this list. So are they the best not to win a title? In the end, my heart says yes but my head says that my heart may be wrong. And what does that say? That I’m not qualified to answer the question. You, on the other hand, are. Take to the comments to discuss.
[Of course I looked all this up at Jon Scott’s website]