Could Kentucky defeat an NBA team? No. But are they the best team of the past decade?
By: Kels Dayton
The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats are clearly the best team in college basketball. It’s not even close. Kentucky has the best player (Anthony Davis), another top-five NBA draft pick (Michael Kidd-Glichrist), two other first-rounders (Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague) and a loaded bench.
Now, the question many people have been asking is, “Could Kentucky defeat a bad NBA team?”
Of course not. The worst team in the league in 2012 are the Washington Wizards, and they would run these Wildcats by 30 points–in D.C., in Rupp, on the moon- wherever.
Remember, UK may have four or five NBA players, but an NBA team has 13 NBA players. I know…it’s like a riddle or something. But seriously, how stupid can you be?
But are the Wildcats the best team of the past decade? We say–emphatically–no.
There are at least five other national champions that have taken the court since 2002 who would take down the Wildcats. They’re listed below. (And don’t forget 2009 Connecticut, 2008 UCLA, 2008 Memphis, 2008 North Carolina, 2006 Florida, and 2005 Illinois, all of whom would have given Big Blue a serious run).
2009 NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (33-4, Def. Michigan State 89-72 in Nat’l Final)
C Tyler Hansbrough (20.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, Nat’l Player of Year)- Now a key reserve for Indiana Pacers (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
F Danny Green (13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg)- Now with the San Antonio Spurs (8.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
F Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg)- Now plays professionally in Europe
Key Reserves: F Ed Davis (6.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg)- was the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, now a reserve for Toronto Raptors
TEAM OVERVIEW: The ’09 Tar Heels were the clear-cut class of college basketball in 2009, winning 33 games and obliterating everyone in their path on their way to the national title. The Heels rolled through the NCAAs, defeating opponents by an average of 20.1 points per game and embarrassing Michigan State, 89-72, in the title game in Detroit. Point guard Ty Lawson was the fastest man in college basketball, and has turned out to be a rising star in the NBA. Big man Tyler Hansbrough is a Carolina legend, and has turned out to be a pretty good NBA player in his own right. In all, the Heels had six players who are currently on NBA rosters.
WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: This team is much more experienced, and every bit as talented. Tyler Hansbrough‘s muscle and indomitable will inside would neutralize the ever-improving Anthony Davis, who despite all his physical gifts would have a heck of a time trying to guard Hansbrough. Carolina also had tremendous length in Ed Davis and F Tyler Zeller coming off the bench, and a pair of terrific three-point shooters in Danny Green and the rattlesnake-deadly Wayne Ellington on the wing.
FINAL SCORE: 2009 North Carolina 95, 2012 Kentucky 85
2008 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (37-3, Def. Memphis, 75-68 in Nat’l Final)
G Mario Chalmers (12.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.1 rpg, 2.5 spg)- Big-shot Mario was a defensive dynamo. Now the starting point guard and a three-point specialist for the Miami Heat (9.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg)
G Russell Robinson (7.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.0 spg)- One of the great defensive guards in Kansas history. Now plays in the NBDL.
C Darnell Jackson (11.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg)- Heart and soul of this Jayhawks team. Now plays for the Sacramento Kings (currently injured).
F Brandon Rush (13.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg)- Terrific defender and scorer, and unselfish passer. Now a key player with the Golden State Warriors.
F Darrell Arthur (12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg)-Athletic, polished big man would be a very tough matchup for Kentucky. Now a key reserve with the Memphis Grizzlies.
G Sherron Collins (9.3 ppg, 4.1 apg)- Collins was a reserve in name only. Played in crunch time for Kansas, remains a legend with the Jayhawks for clutch steal and three-pointer in title game, 2009 first-team All-American. Signed a rookie contract with Charlotte Bobcats. Now plays in Europe.
C Sasha Kaun (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg)- Played big minutes for the ‘Hawks. Now plays professionally in Europe.
F Cole Aldrich (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)- Had a coming-out party in ’08 Final Four. Now a reserve with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
TEAM OVERVIEW: The ’08 Jayhawks had six–count ‘em–six players who saw time in the NBA. Five still remain on NBA rosters. This was an incredibly balanced team, with all four of the five starters averaging in double figures. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson made up probably the best defensive backcourt in the past decade in college hoops, and Sherron Collins was a big-time scorer and distributor coming off the bench.
The Jayhawks were absolutely loaded up front, with NBA guys Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, and Cole Aldrich and key cog Sasha Kaun roaming the paint. This was probably the best defensive team of the past decade, and Kansas won the national title in a year in which Kevin Love’s UCLA team and Derrick Rose’s Memphis team each participated in the Final Four. The overall talent level in college hoops was better in ’08, as all four number one seeds reached the Final Four. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how good this Kansas team was is to point out that it led virtually the exact same North Carolina team you just read about 40-12 at one point in the National Semifinal game.
WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: Like the ’09 Tar Heels, this team was far more experienced than this year’s Kentucky squad. 2008 Kansas was absolutely menacing in the backcourt, and overpowering up front. The Jayhawks had so much balance and power that any one of their top eight guys could go for 25 and 10, but they played with such a cohesiveness and a togetherness that that never happened. Kansas would wear down today’s Wildcats and force them to shoot deep jumpers. They’d control the pace of the game, and pull away at the end in a decisive victory.
FINAL SCORE: 2008 Kansas 82, 2012 Kentucky 69
2007 FLORIDA GATORS (34-5, Def. Ohio State, 84-75 in Nat’l Final)
G Taurean Green (13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg)- Led the team in scoring, spent 3 seasons in NBA. Now plays in Europe.
G Lee Humphrey (10.3 ppg, .459 3-pt FG Pct)-Sharpshooting guard now plays in the NBDL.
C Joakim Noah (12.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg)-Defensive menace, outstanding college player. Now starts for the Chicago Bulls.
F Corey Brewer (13.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg)- Solid defender, versatile scorer. Now with NBA’s Denver Nuggets.
F Al Horford (13.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg)-Best NBA player on this team. Great young forward with the Atlanta Hawks, although injured this year.
TEAM OVERVIEW: Has everyone forgotten about this Florida team, which won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007? The Gators boasted three NBA players in their starting lineup, two of whom have gone on to outstanding careers in the league. Joakim Noah and Al Horford have both carved up quite a niche in the NBA, with Noah being a starter and defensive stalwart on the best team in the league (record-wise), and Horford twice earning a spot in the All-Star game.
WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: These Gators would punch Kentucky in the mouth. 2006-07 Florida became the first team since 1991-92 Duke to repeat as national champions, and they were loaded with juniors and seniors, which is an anomaly in today’s college game. Florida had the size to overwhelm young Anthony Davis on the backboard, and sharpshooting Lee Humphrey was always there to knock down the big 3 when the Gators needed it. Although they had a habit of playing down to their competition, this Gators team showed up when it mattered most. They were just too good for the 2012 ‘Cats.
FINAL SCORE: 2007 Florida 82, 2012 Kentucky 73
2004 CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (27-6, Def. Georgia Tech, 82-73 in Nat’l Final)
G Taliek Brown (6.3 ppg, 7.5 apg, 3.9 rpg)- Maybe the best floor general in UConn history; uncanny defender. Now playing in Canada.
G Ben Gordon (18.5 ppg, 4.7 apg)- Gordon was the go-to scorer on this team, and the Huskies’ best offensive player. He now balls with the Detroit Pistons.
C Emeka Okafor (17.6 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.1 bpg, First team All-American)- Okafor was the best player in college basketball in 2004. He was taken with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, and now plays for the New Orleans Hornets.
F Rashad Anderson (11.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg)- Sharpshooting sniper for UConn in ’04, could catch fire and hit 9 threes in a row. Also a money crunch-time shooter.
F Josh Boone (5.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)- Boone was just a freshman in ’04, but he became a big-time presence down low as the season wore on. Played four seasons with the Nets, now plays in Europe.
TEAM OVERVIEW: Anyone who watched college basketball in 2004 remembers that the Huskies were far and away the best team in America. UConn rolled through the NCAA Tournament, winning its first four games by margins of 17, 17, 20, and 16. The Huskies also barreled No. 3 Georgia Tech in the national championship game, leading by as many as 22 points in a convincing 82-73 victory. UConn was balanced both inside and out with Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor, and became the first team since Kentucky in 1996 to go from Preseason No. 1 in September to national champion in April.
WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: Once again, UConn was much more experienced than the Wildcats are, and the Huskies may have been just as talented. Okafor was as dominant a force as there has been in the past decade in college basketball. Connecticut had six players who went on to play in the NBA, and has four who are still balling there eight years later. Point guard Taliek Brown would abuse Marquis Teague in the backcourt, and Gordon is a better player than anyone Kentucky can put on the wing. (Yes, that includes Kidd-Gilchrist). Remember, Okafor and Gordon went No. 2 and No. 3 in the NBA Draft that year, and Villanueva was a lottery pick the following season.
FINAL SCORE: 2004 UConn 79, 2012 Kentucky 77
2003 SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN (24-5, Def. Kansas 81-78 in Nat’l Final)
G Gerry McNamara (13.3 ppg, 4.4 apg)- Only a freshman in ’03, McNamara hit a record six three-pointers in the NCAA championship game.
G Kueth Duany (11.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)-Duany was a good shooter, but had the size at 6-6 to match up with UK’s Kidd-Gilchrist or Jones on the wing.
C Craig Forth (3.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)- His size (7-1) would provide the biggest challenge to Davis, but Forth wasn’t a great collegian.
F Carmelo Anthony (22.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg)- The only name that really matters on this team, outside of McNamara. NBA superstar with the New York Knicks.
F Hakim Warrick (14.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg)- Just a sophomore that season, but came away with the biggest play in Syracuse history with his block on Kansas’ Michael Lee with 3 seconds to play. Now plays for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
Key Reserves: G Josh Pace (4.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), G Billy Edelin (9.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
TEAM OVERVIEW: This wasn’t the best team in 2003, but Syracuse came together at the perfect time behind freshmen Gerry McNamara and Carmelo Anthony, who remains the lone one-and-done college superstar to lead his team to an NCAA championship. McNamara was a clutch shooter, and would go on to become one of the greatest guards in Syracuse history. He didn’t have a great professional career, and is now a Syracuse assistant, but McNamara was just plain scary in the big spot in college. Anthony of course led the way for this Syracuse team, coming through with a historic NCAA Tournament performance, averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: This is the best matchup of all of the teams we’ve listed. Much like 2012 Kentucky, ’03 Syracuse was loaded with talented freshmen and sophomores. Kentucky may have more NBA talent, but there’s little chance that any of the Wildcats will turn out to be as good as Carmelo Anthony in the pros. The ‘Cuse was just as long inside as Kentucky is, with Warrick, Anthony and Forth flanking the front line. Even Duany had size, and he was a capable defender. Throw in McNamara‘s shooting ability and propensity for making big plays, and Syracuse takes out the ‘Cats in an awesome game.
FINAL SCORE: 2003 Syracuse 85, 2012 Kentucky 84