It’s good to be the king. And it’s good to be a Kentucky basketball fan.
Over the last 50 years the Wildcat faithful has witnessed some of the best teams to ever grace the hardwood. Obviously, the BBN will take their team above all others, but how do outsiders stack the best UK teams up against the competition? The college basketball staff at The Athletic has an answer to that question that will delight you.
Last week the sports media outlet ranked the 25 most dominant college basketball teams of the last 50 years. Four Kentucky teams finished in the top 15, starting with Joe B. Hall’s 1978 National Champions at No. 15. Like the 1978 team, the 2012 Wildcats only lost two games, finishing in the poll ranked No. 12, one spot behind a team that fell in the Final Four, the 38-1 Kentucky Wildcats from 2015. The 1991 Running Rebels from UNLV (No. 4) are the only team ranked higher that did not win a title.
Near the top of the list you will find one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Rick Pitino’s Untouchables from 1996 finish at No. 6. Brian Hamilton statistically puts into context that team’s greatness.
Enter: The Untouchables. Do we really need to say much more than that? Fine, we will. There’s plenty of material. A 27-game win streak, and exactly one loss after Thanksgiving week. A roster featuring nine players who would have NBA careers and flowed beautifully together at the college level; the Wildcats took more shots (2,461), made more shots (1,198) and scored more points (3,292) while dishing out more assists (783) than any other team in the country. Eight of the 10 players who appeared in at least 30 games shot 50 percent from the floor, and all of them were at 46 percent or better.
Kentucky also played some defense, leading the country in steals and finishing 11th in blocks, which would explain its plus-22 average scoring margin for the season. It won each of its first four NCAA Tournament games by at least 20 points and then avenged one of its two losses with a defeat of Massachusetts in the Final Four. It was Rick Pitino’s only national title in Lexington and the first since the 1977-78 crew won it all. Fairly amazing that Tony Delk was the team’s only player recognized with All-America honors. Or put another way: Kentucky was this good in a college basketball season that included Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Kerry Kittles as its most luminous performers at the top of their games. And The Untouchables outshone them all.
I was pleased to see one other UK team make a cameo. Bobby Knight long claimed that his 1975 Hoosiers were better than their undefeated successors. It’s a real shame Joe B. Hall’s Cats knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament in the ’75 Elite Eight, a real shame.