It seems that the cool thing to do these days is compare this year's championship squad to past championship teams. I can't imagine how much internet space has been taken up by debates over the 2012 UK team vs. the 1996 team; in fact, as I type this, I'm hosting an imaginary scrimmage between the two in my head (Anthony Davis just swatted a Ron Mercer shot into the stands). Proving that sportswriters are just like us, The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy and his colleagues are on trend, ranking the top ten National Championship teams
(from the expanded bracket era). The 2012 Cats came in at number seven
thanks to Cal's blend of undeniable talent, unexpected maturity, and a consistent senior to steady the ship.
The Sporting News writers break down each squad by their "go-to guy," rotation, defining number, legacy, and tournament run. DeCourcy nails it when he says the reason the 2012 Cats were so good is that they didn't have one "go-to guy," ala Christian Laettner, but instead, a whole team of consistent scorers, the most clutch of them being senior Darius Miller:
Each of the Wildcats showed he could play under pressure, and each delivered essential plays when called upon.
If there was one constant, it was Miller, the senior who did not start, of whom Davis said, “When we get in tough situations, he calms us down and tells us what to do. He's a great leader, leads the team. That's what he does at crunch time, tells you what to do.”
That's all fine and dandy, but what about the 1996 team, which trumps the 2012 Cats in most of these debates? Well, The Sporting News agrees, naming Rick Pitino's squad the number one all-time college basketball champion
. Here's the complete list:
10. 2001 Duke
9. 1994 Arkansas
8. 2009 North Carolina
7. 2012 Kentucky
6. 1995 UCLA
5. 2007 Florida
4. 1999 UConn
3. 2008 Kansas
2. 1992 Duke
1. 1996 Kentucky
The Sporting News' Steve Greenberg writes that when it came down to it, the '96 Cats were in a league of their own:
But the Untouchables, as coach Rick Pitino would nickname them, had too much talent–too much athleticism–to be denied the program’s first national title in 18 years, finishing 34-2. They had four players–Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer–who were so versatile Pitino could deploy them any way he wanted. And they had a leader, senior guard Tony Delk, who could bury a big shot more reliably than anyone Pitino had coached since Billy Donovan at Providence. And that includes the New York Knicks.
The 2012 and 1996 teams were similar in their breadth of talent, smothering defense, and effortless offense. Greenberg writes that the legacy of the '96 team was its message to the college basketball world that Kentucky is back. Two years later, Tubby took the Cats back to the title again, with only two players left from the '96 rotation in Wayne Turner and Jeff Sheppard. As we reluctantly say goodbye to our own championship squad and hello to a new crop of Cats, I can't help but feel there is a similar stretch of glory days ahead of us.
What do you make of The Sporting News' rankings?
Would you put the 2012 Cats higher?