As we creep closer and closer toward the close of the 2010-19 decade, various media outlets are publishing their own spins on top rankings of teams over the last ten years, ranging from the professional ranks to college.
This week, Rob Dauster of NBC Sports compiled his own list of the best college basketball teams of the decade, with the focus of the rankings being how good each team was on-court from top to bottom, not how they ended up playing in the NBA or how good they looked on paper.
With that criteria in mind, three of John Calipari’s teams at Kentucky finished in the top five.
Right near the top of the list? Kentucky’s 38-1 Final Four team that came this close to going undefeated during the 2014-15 season.
2. 2015 Kentucky
RECORD: 38-1 (18-0 SEC)
WHAT THEY WON: SEC regular season title, SEC tournament title, lost in the Final Four
WHO WERE THE STARS?: Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis
I think there’s a very strong case to make that this Kentucky team is the best team in college basketball history that didn’t win the national title. There was so much talent on the roster that, if you remember, Coach Cal had to talk about ‘platoons’ as much as possible to try and keep everyone happy. They legitimately went 10 deep. Devin Booker, who is one of the top five young scorers in the NBA, came off the bench. That is an embarrassment of riches for one roster.
And what made this team so good is that they were unquestionably the best team in the country on the defensive side of the ball that season. The only two teams that have posted better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers in KenPom’s database were Texas Tech in 2019 and Louisville in 2013. When you have a team with that much game-changing talent – remember what Karl-Anthony Towns did to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight? – that is willing to sacrifice minutes, accept roles and defend the way they defended, it’s the Coach Cal masterpiece.
It’s unfortunate that they didn’t win the title.
Because if any team deserved a 40-0 record, it was this group.
The next? Calipari’s national title team from the 2011-12 season.
3. 2012 Kentucky
As it stands, Kentucky had the consensus National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis, surrounded by a perfect compliment of young talent (Teague, Kidd-Gilchrist) and wily veterans (Lamb, Jones, Miller). They finished the season as one of the nation’s elite offenses, and defensively, Davis took them to another level. Fun fact: Kentucky finished the 2012 season with the highest block rate of the decade. The only teams in the KenPom era that bettered them were a couple of the UConn teams in the mid-00s.
This group also changed college basketball in a pretty significant way. This proved that national titles could be won with rosters built around the best freshmen in the sport. The one-and-done era was already in full swing, but this win turned each and every recruiting class into an arms race. Arizona jumped in the mix. Kansas jumped in the mix. Even schools like LSU, or Missouri, or Cal tried to replicate what Kentucky did in 2012.
I think there’s an argument to be made that this team was the most influential team of the decade.
Rounding out the top five is the class that started it all under Coach Cal.
5. 2010 Kentucky
RECORD: 35-3 (14-2 SEC)
WHAT THEY WON: SEC regular season title, SEC tournament title, lost in the Elite Eight
WHO WERE THE STARS?: John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller
John Calipari’s first season with the Wildcats really set the tone for what we would get from him during his tenure.
For starters, Cal brought in an absolutely electric recruiting class, headlined by John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, arguably the two best recruits that season. Throw in Eric Bledsoe and add a sprinkle of the veteran presence that came from Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller, and suddenly Cal had a roster that included five NBA players – including two top five picks and four lottery picks in total. That team would go on to win both SEC titles before falling short of the Final Four when they went 4-for-32 from three in the Elite Eight against West Virginia.
And in the decade since, he’s had as much success as any coach in the country, even if there is only one title to show for it.
Here is the entire top-10 list from NBC Sports:
- 2018 Villanova
- 2015 Kentucky
- 2012 Kentucky
- 2019 Virginia
- 2010 Kentucky
- 2012 North Carolina
- 2015 Duke
- 2015 Wisconsin
- 2011 Ohio State
- 2013 Louisville*
- 2010 Duke
- 2014 Wichita State
- 2016 Villanova
- 2017 North Carolina
- 2019 Duke