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The 2012 Kentucky Squad Or The ’96 Cats – Which Team Is Better?

Tyler B.

The general consensus amongst basketball “experts” or “historians” is that the 1996 UK hoops team will be remembered as one of the best college teams ever, and several list them #1. Neither expert nor historian, simply just a big hoops fan, I have them firmly pegged at #1.

The average margin of victory for ‘96 team was shocking (22), and offense startling (91.4 ppg). It carried incredible depth – 10 players on this team made an NBA roster at some point – and was armed with first-round talent, too. The 1996 NBA Draft took the #6 (Antoine Walker), #16 (Tony Delk), #19 (Walter McCarty) and #52 (Mark Pope) players from UK, and the 1997 NBA Draft called Lexington for the #6 (Ron Mercer) and #13 (Derek Anderson) picks. Their only two losses came against two teams that made the Final Four (UMass and Mississippi State), both losses avenged, and Rick Pitino was near the pinnacle of his Hall of Fame coaching career. All this evidence supports the reasoning behind the 1996 UK teams being one of the greatest ever.

So why such little national chatter about the chance of the 2012 Wildcats being the greatest college team ever if they cut down the nets in New Orleans? The 2012 average margin of victory is enormous (19.8), offense efficient, and the hallmark of this team is stifling defense (58ppg). And what about the team’s future Hall of Fame coach at the pinnacle of his career and the current crop of NBA prospects on the roster? According to the 2012 NBA Draft looks like this: Anthony Davis #1… MKG #7… Doron Lamb #16… Terrance Jones #18… Marquis Teague #21… Darius Miller #60. All those dots mean you’re supposed to think about what you just read for a minute…

So what if the 2012 team doesn’t lose again and ends the season as champs with a 37-1 record? A team that’s lone loss was a buzzer-beater on the road against Indiana? Let’s compare the stats between the ’96 and ’12 team. (***2012 Stats compiled before Mississippi State game***)

1996 Averages in 36 Games // 2012 Averages after 27 Games


33.2-68.3 (48.7%)

27.6-56.6 (48.7%)


7.38-18.61 *(39.7%)

5.74-15.07 (38.1%)


17.5-24.5 (71.3%)

16.9-23.5 *(71.8%)


*41.7 (+5.9)

39.4 *(+7.4)

Assists: *21.7513.6

Turnovers: 15.38*11.9

Blocked Shots: 4.8*9.2

Steals: *12.08 – 6.5

PPG: *91.4 – 77.8

Points Allowed: 69.4 – *58

Avg. Margin of Victory: *22 – 19.8



C – Anthony Davis: 13.9 // SG -Tony Delk: 17.8

SG – Doron Lamb: 13.8 // PF – Antoine Walker: 15.2

SF -Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 12 // C – Walter McCarty: 11.3

PF -Terrence Jones: 12.3 // SF – Derek Anderson: 9.4

SF – Darius Miller: 9.9 // SG – Ron Mercer: 8

PG – Marquis Teague: 9.6 // C- Mark Pope: 7.6

PF – Kyle Wiltjer: 7 // PG – Anthony Epps: 6.7

C – Eloy Vargas: 1 // SG – Jeff Sheppard: 5.5

PG – Sam Malone: 1 // PG – Wayne Turner: 4.5

SG -Brian Long: .2 // PF – Jarred Pricket: 3.4 



Point Guard: Edge 1996. This is actually a very fair comparison because both Anthony Epps and Marquis Teague were/are asked to be “game managers” before Nick Saban made the term popular. To further prove my point, when Delk moved to point he was better than Epps at times, similar to when Lamb takes the ball from Teague. I give the edge to Epps over Teague because of his experience; nearly 100 games of it before ’96 titles game. Additionally, Teague’s terrified of the open 3, and tends to play a bit loose with the ball in his hands, whereas Epps shot 40% from 3 in 1996.

*It also should be noted that Epps didn’t have the luxury of dropping a deuce anywhere within 20 feet of the rim and having Anthony Davis flush it.

Shooting Guard: Big Edge 1996: Tony Delk (AA, SEC POY and FF MOP), Ron Mercer (1st Team All-SEC Freshman and NCAA All-FF Team), Derek Anderson (NCAA All-Regional Team) and Jeff Sheppard could all play shooting guard very well. 2012 starts one of the best shooters in Kentucky history, Lamb, but take away his 48% stroke and you’re left with Vinnie “The Microwave” Wiltjer and Darius Miller. If Lamb and Delk scratch each other out Mercer, Anderson and Sheppard fill the gap nicely. Conversely, without Lamb the 2012 team has trouble getting points outside the paint.

Small & Power Forward: Edge 1996. Darius Miller, Kyle Wiltjer, MKG and Terrance Jones vs. a mixture of Antoine Walker (1st Team All-SEC, NCAA All-Regional Team), Derek Anderson, Waltah McCarty (2nd team All-SEC) and Ron Mercer. 1996 scored better from this position, but 2012 is more physical. Jones reminds me a lot of Walker in a variety of ways because you are/were never sure if the engine would crank up when the key turned in the ignition. Posturing and theatrics were/are big for both, as ‘Toine rocked his Shimmy and Jones loves the Blank Stare. I would pick Walker over Jones 100% of the time.

Even with the different skill sets, both Anderson and MKG, were/are the glue guys of their respective teams. But if we’re talking glue it should be noted that Anderson is Elmer’s and MKG is superglue. Anderson was a better pure scorer, but the rebounding, defense, toughness and leadership from MKG make him more valuable. And that’s difficult to write considering Anderson would come back in 1997 and be a leading candidate for player of the year before blowing his knee out mid-season. Wiltjer against McCarty is a very interesting and similar match-up… but McCarty played a decade in the NBA and Wiltjer, as much as I love him, plays like he’s got gout and is wearing ski boots. I give the edge to the 1996 team because the combination of Miller, Jones, Wiltjer and MKG has trouble scoring for long stretches.

Center: Giant Edge 2012. Because Anthony Davis has the potential to be the best defensive newbie in college basketball history the edge obviously goes to 2012. While Davis flies around the paint with his unibrow, looking like an Angry Bird swatting everything in the flight path of his wings, the’96 center position would give Davis trouble by moving him away from the basket.  While McCarty and Pope had the letter C, as in Center, next to their names, both were good shooters that would float around the three-point line for portions of games. Davis isn’t afraid to leave the paint on occasion to swat an outside jumper or 3, but he prefers to patrol the paint on the majority of defensive possessions.

1996  had enough frontline height to take away many of the 2012 lobs to Davis so he would have to use his rarely-seen post moves to score 16-18 points. On the glass Davis would gobble up loose boards, but what a treat it would be to see Davis and an equally gangly McCarty battle for a rebound. Two wet noodles trapped in a bowl fighting for a loose meatball is about all I can pitcture.

The edge at center goes to 2012 in every possible way unless Davis gets in foul trouble. UK’s only loss in 2012 came against IU because Davis got in early foul trouble, and Ole Miss put on a run when Davis left the court with early foul trouble, too. If Ole Miss and IU gave this team fits without Davis on the court the ’96 team would start doing work. Enough work that the 2012 team couldn’t recover?

Bench: Giant Edge 1996. When a team averages 91 points a game it’s clear the foot never comes off the gas on either end of the floor. It means a team must have incredible depth. The tenth man on the 1996 team had potential to reach double digits on any given night, and if a tenth man even exists on the 2012 team he might not be able to crack double digits after three hours in an empty gym.

Scoring for Top-10 on each rosters

C – Anthony Davis: 13.9 // SG -Tony Delk: 17.8

SG – Doron Lamb: 13.8 // PF – Antoine Walker: 15.2

SF -Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 12 // C – Walter McCarty: 11.3

PF -Terrence Jones: 12.3 // SF – Derek Anderson: 9.4

SF – Darius Miller: 9.9 // SG – Ron Mercer: 8

PG – Marquis Teague: 9.6 // C- Mark Pope: 7.6

PF – Kyle Wiltjer: 7 // PG – Anthony Epps: 6.7

C – Eloy Vargas: 1 // SG – Jeff Sheppard: 5.5

PG – Sam Malone: 1 // PG – Wayne Turner: 4.5

SG -Brian Long: .2 // PF – Jarred Pricket: 3.4

Tougher Schedule: Edge 1996. On average the 1996 squad played a better team.

1996 Opponent Averages in 36 Games // 2012 Opponent Averages after 27 Games

FG-FGA: 24.5-59.3 *(41.5%) // 21.2-58.6 (36.2%)

3FG-3FGA: 5.03-15.8 *(33.6%) // 5.4-17.2 (31.6%)

FT-FTA: 14.8-22.19 *(67.1%) // 10-15 (66%)

Rebounding Average: *35.8 // 32

Assists: *13.52 // 10.3

Blocked Shots: *3.91 // 3.4

Steals: *7.1 // 5.5

PPG: *69.4 // 58

Turnovers: 22.2 // *12.8

Coaching – 1996 Pitino or 2012 Cal: TBD. After the 1996 title season Pitino’s resume had Final Four visits with UK ’93 and Providence ’87. If Cal wins a title this year his resume includes Final Four trips with UMass (1996), Memphis (2008) and UK (2011 and 2012). Is Pitino a better coach than Cal simply because Mario Chalmers hits a 3?

Swaggle: Giant Edge 2012. Cal is the coolest guy on the block, and when he throws parties Jay-Z, Drake, Ashley Judd, LeBron, World Wide Wes and maybe Kate Upton show up. He’s the CEO of the most recognizable college basketball brand in the world. He’s expanded the UK brand into China, raised money for Haiti and coached the team of another country in the off-season. During the NBA lockout its best players – even those with no affiliation to UK – came to his office to practice, and each year the best high school seniors send resumes to Cal’s desk in hopes of attending his Basketball Executive Program.

In reference to the UK hoops teams the last two years, Kentucky Senator and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Cal “creates more millionaires than a Wall Street firm.” Well, I can do him one better. In the world of college basketball in 2012, an innovator and PR man like no other college coach before him, Cal’s like the late Steve Jobs running the Harvard Business School. Simply put, in 2012 Cal “gets it.” Pitino “got it” like no other coach back in 1996, but he also eventually got Karen Sypher.

So after scribbling nearly 2,000 words comparing the two teams I think it’s finally time to pick a “better” of the two. The biggest fear of a winner take all game is always the opponent shoots the lights out for the better part of it, and when that happens a usually great defense that suffocates a team to death around the 60-point mark is left helpless. There is no effective defense to employ when five or six guys are hitting shots from all over the court, regardless of who is guarding them. And those five or six guys hitting shots from all over the court, all on one team and in nearly every game, wore the 1996 UK jersey.

Exclusive of averaging 91 points per game, the ’96 Cats won their first four tournament games by at least 20 points and no team came closer than seven. They made a great defense look very vulnerable, and that’s exactly what they would do to the ’12 team. If both teams played each other 10 times I believe the ’96 team wins seven, but what if they played just once? 

Kentucky 1996 – 77

Kentucky 2012 – 68

*Just for pleasure, Digger, Bobby Knight and Jimmy Dykes would call the game.

Tyler B. works as a communications specialist for a Louisville, Kentucky company.  A lifetime SEC fan – long before it became “acceptable” to cheer for every team in the conference – he plans on writing several books about college football that have a fantastic chance of never being written. 

Our Overtime section is a collection of columns, opinions and posts from outside parties.  The views expressed on this page do not reflect those of

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Ski Homes Online
Ski Homes Online

Hard to say which team is better, lots of variables, pros and cons of both.  The 1996 squad will definitely be remembered as one of the best forever!  Enjoy watching!


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