Kentucky has had many great and talented teams grace the Rupp Arena hardwood throughout their illustrious history.
My personal favorite so far has been the 1996 National Championship team dubbed, "The Untouchables." Some of the accomplishments achieved by this fantastic team include:
- A sweep of the Southeastern conference schedule at 16-0, a feat which had not occurred in the SEC for over forty years.
- Their sixth NCAA title, which moved Kentucky ahead of Indiana into sole possession of second place behind UCLA.
- Winning a school record 27 consecutive games.
- Passing North Carolina to become the winningest program in NCAA history, a distinction Kentucky still holds today.
- An 86 point first half explosion against the LSU Tigers on January 16, 1996.
- The highest team Sagarin rating (103.26) ever achieved since the system went into use in the mid-seventies.
- An average winning margin of victory of more than 22 points per game for the entire season.
Now with all the hype surrounding John Calipari's first team at Kentucky, and assuming that preseason All-American Jodie Meeks withdraws from the NBA draft, here are player comparisons for two teams that seem to be pretty evenly matched on paper, talent wise.
'95-'96: Anthony Epps, Jr.; Wayne Turner, Fr.; Jeff Sheppard, Jr.
Epps was the experienced floor leader with a reliable deep shot, not a huge scoring threat. Turner was the super fast frosh with a great crossover, ability to find open teammates, but suspect jump shot. Sheppard subbed for both guard positions, could jump out of the gym, and really came into his own after redshirting the '96-'97 season.
'09-'10: John Wall, Fr.; Eric Bledsoe, Fr.; DeAndre Liggins, So.
Wall is an otherworldly athlete, can drive on anyone, unselfish, and almost surely gone to the NBA next year. Bledsoe is also a great athlete, very strong, can finish in traffic, and has a decent jumper. Liggins has shown flashes of brilliance, has steady jumper and should excel in the Dribble Drive Motion offense.
Advantage: '95-'96. Wall and company have the ability to surpass their predecessors, but the youngsters need to prove it first.
'95-'96: Tony Delk, Sr.; Derek Anderson, Jr.; Cameron Mills, So.
Delk was the leading scorer, all-american, and heart of the team. Anderson was a future NBA first rounder with very few holes in his game, Mills a sharpshooter who didn't see a lot of the floor.
'09-'10: Jodie Meeks, Sr.; Darnell Dodson, So.; Jon Hood, Fr.
Meeks is a scoring machine, great free throw shooter, defender, and all-american. Dodson can play the two or three, very athletic with good mid-range and deep shot. Hood can also play the two or three, high school high jump champion, good all around game.
Advantage: '95-'96. Two future pros plus a player instrumental to the '98 title team just too much for the newer 'Cats to overcome.
'95-'96: Antoine Walker, So.; Ron Mercer, Fr.; Allen Edwards, So.
Walker could do it all, shoot, rebound, pass, and played the point of the press. Mercer was another great player who broke out in the title game. Edwards was defensive specialist who saw considerable minutes.
'09-'10: Darius Miller, So.; Ramon Harris, Sr.
Miller is a great wing player poised to have an absolute breakout season. Harris exemplifies hustle, is a great defensive player, and does the little things teams need to be successful.
Advantage: '95-'96. Walker just left the NBA this past year, Mercer had a decent NBA career, and Edwards was another important player on the '98 team.
'95-'96: Walter McCarty, Sr.; Oliver Simmons, Fr.
McCarty was a long, shot blocking, clutch shooting, inside-out player who created constant matchup problems. Simmons was little used backup who played mostly during garbage time.
'09-'10: Patrick Patterson, Jr.; Perry Stevenson, Sr.
Patterson is a beast in the paint, will be a lottery pick in the NBA, and is the heart and soul of the team. "Swat" is a great shot blocker who when motivated can be one of the better players on the floor.
Advantage: '09-'10. Patterson spurning the league and returning will pay huge dividends for himself and for the team and Stevenson will be a quality, experienced role player.
'95-'96: Mark Pope, Sr.; Nazr Mohammed, Fr.
Pope was a steady and skilled big man with great rebounding instincts. Mohammed didn't get a lot of playing time, but matured into a very good player who still cashes NBA paychecks.
'09-'10: DeMarcus Cousins, Fr.; Daniel Orton, Fr.; Josh Harrellson, Jr.
Cousins is an absolute stud who can play the four or five, has great handles, and a good outside shot. Orton can also play inside-outside, great shot blocker, and has excellent post moves. Harrellson brings hustle, passing, and matchup problems to the table by stretching the defense with his three point shot.
Advantage: '09-'10. Along with Patterson will be the best frontcourt in the country hands down. Cousins and Orton will both be pros one day, and Harrellson in far fom being a slouch.
Overall, and until proven otherwise, in my opinion the '95-'96 team had more talent and performed better overall. After all, nine players from that roster played in the NBA. The current team has the ability the surpass them, but it will take teamwork, hard work, and a great coaching turn by John Calipari.
Rick Pitino turned in a masterful effort that year, meshing all the different personalities and creating great team chemistry. Calipari, however, has the same task in front of him that Pitino had, and is more than capable of accomplishing similar feats.
And boy, it sure is going to be fun to watch them try.