Best All-Time SEC Basketball Team
The 1996 Kentucky Wildcats were the best all-time SEC basketball team.
Known as "The Untouchables", the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats steamrolled through their opposition en route to a 34-2 overall record, a perfect 16-0 record in the SEC regular season (the first time that had been accomplished in 40 years), and the NCAA Basketball National Championship.
The dominance displayed by Kentucky basketball over the course of the '95-'96 season, and the future NBA talent that emerged from that lineup, make this the greatest team in the history of Southeastern Conference basketball, and quite possibly, the greatest college basketball team of all time.
Entering the 1995-96 season, Head Coach Rick Pitino had experienced significant success in his first 6 seasons coaching at the University of Kentucky. He had already taken a team that was 13-19 in 1988-89, the season prior to his arrival, and turned it into a national power once again.
In that 6 year stretch, UK had won 4 SEC basketball tournaments, had finished the season ranked in the top 10 AP voting 5 times, and had appeared in a Final Four. But a National Championship, 18 years and waiting, remained a long-coveted prize in Lexington.
The season began with a win over annual ACC power Maryland. But then, in the second game of the season, UK stumbled, losing 92-82 to the University of Massachusetts. Following that defeat, however, UK went on a 27 game winning streak that encompassed the entire Southeastern Conference regular season schedule, and also included non-conference wins over teams such as Indiana, Louisville, and Georgia Tech. UK then rolled to easy victories in the SEC tournament over Florida and Arkansas before losing the SEC Tournament final to the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Interestingly, both of the UK's losses that season came against teams that ultimately also made the 1996 NCAA Final Four.
Following their defeat in the SEC Tournament final, the Wildcats turned their attention to the NCAA Tournament, where they received a #1 seed in the Midwest region. UK rolled through the early rounds of the tournament, beating San Jose State, Virginia Tech, Utah, and Wake Forest by 20 or more points each en route to the Final Four, and a rematch with one of the two teams that defeated them earlier that season, the University of Massachusetts.
In the UMASS game, the Wildcats were finally tested. However, UK ultimately proved to be too much for the feisty Minutemen, and managed a hard fought 7 point victory.
In the other semifinal, the upstart Syracuse Orangemen defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs, preventing UK from the opportunity to avenge their only other loss that season.
In the NCAA Championship game, UK fought off a game effort by Syracuse and ultimately managed a 76-67 victory over the Orangemen to finally capture a National Championship, ending the 18 year drought and giving Head Coach Rick Pitino his first as a Wildcat.
When all was said and done, what truly set this team apart was its depth of talent. To that end, the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats boasted 9 players that eventually went on to play in the NBA. That list included the tri-captains of Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, and Mark Pope, along with Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Nazr Mohammed, Jeff Sheppard, and Wayne Turner.
And at least one independent observer counts this team as the greatest NCAA College Basketball Team ever. Sports statistician Jeff Sagarin gave the 1996 University of Kentucky Wildcats the highest rating he has ever given a team, even beating out the undefeated 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Here's another opinion that the 1996 UK Wildcats were the Best All-Time College Basketball Team.
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