Their roster stocked with future NBA players, the Kentucky Wildcats started the year 25-0. They obliterated big-time programs in non-league play by obscene margins. One of their most hard-earned wins came against LSU.
John Calipari's 2014-15 Cats? After UK beat South Carolina Saturday in Rupp Arena to go 25-0, the answer is yes.
Yet the above description also applies to Adolph Rupp's 1953-54 Wildcats — the only other team in UK's regal history to stand 25-0 in a season.
Led by seniors Cliff Hagan (24 ppg), Frank Ramsey (19.6) and Lou Tsioropoulos (14.5), the '53-54 Cats were a juggernaut. Kentucky's average margin of victory for the season was 27.12 points a game. Only two teams, Xavier (six points) and LSU (seven), played the Cats within single digits.
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Last week, I asked Hagan, 83, via the phone from his home in Vero Beach, Fla., the key to such dominance. Noting that he, Ramsey and Tsioropoulos all played in the NBA, that he and Ramsey are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and that swingman Billy Evans played on the 1956 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, Hagan then chuckled.
"I say this in all modesty, we had talent," he said.
Ramsey, the longtime president of the Dixon Bank in western Kentucky, still keeps regular work hours at age 83. He said the '53-54 Wildcats had at least one similarity to the current Cats. They had the ability to match up with most any type of foe.
Against smaller teams, Rupp would start the 6-foot-5 Tsioropoulos, the 6-4 Hagan and 6-1 junior Evans (8.7 ppg) in the front court with the 6-3 Ramsey and 6-foot junior Gayle Rose (6.7 ppg) at guard.
Against bigger teams, Rupp would insert 6-7 sophomore Phil Grawmeyer (5.8 ppg) at center, play Tsioropoulos and Hagan at forward, and move Evans into the backcourt with Ramsey. Sophomore guard Linville Puckett (5.1 ppg) was also a regular contributor.
"We could match up with any kind of (foe)," Ramsey said. "We were a versatile team."
Also a much-practiced one.
As a result of investigations into the point-shaving scandals that rocked college basketball, including UK, in the late 1940s, the NCAA found that some Kentucky players from that era had received "improper financial aid."
The penalty the NCAA enforced against Kentucky was a "basketball schedule boycott for one year." It meant the 1952-53 Cats could not play any games.
Practicing all the time "was miserable," Hagan said. Still, Ramsey said the benefit of no games was that the ballplayers got a normal academic experience.
"I actually enjoyed that year off," Ramsey said. "There was more time to put into your studies. Lou, Cliff and I graduated. Some of the other guys were able to (eventually) get Master's degrees because of all the (academic) hours they were able to carry that year."
All that extra time for academics would come back to bite UK.
Kentucky finished the 1953-54 regular season 24-0, 14-0 in the SEC. LSU, led by future Hall of Famer Bob Petit, also finished 14-0 in the league. To determine the conference champion and the automatic entrant into the NCAA Tournament, the SEC set up a one-game playoff between the Wildcats and Tigers in Nashville.
UK prevailed 63-56. Yet LSU, not Kentucky, went to the NCAA Tournament.
The reason was a little-known NCAA rule. At that time, graduate students were not eligible for post-season competition. Hagan, Ramsey and Tsioropoulos — Kentucky's three best players — were in grad school.
Rupp put the kibosh on any idea of the Wildcats risking their unblemished mark in the NCAAs without their stars. So UK stayed home. LaSalle claimed the 1954 NCAA title — the same LaSalle that UK had beaten by 13 points in December.
With their full team, would it have been the Cats cutting down the NCAA nets?
"I have no idea," Ramsey said. "You get into a tournament, anything can happen in one game. Who knows?"
Said Hagan: "I don't know. If we'd run into a really big team, and I remember there being some out there, maybe that would have given us trouble."
The voters in the final Associated Press poll thought UK would have won the big trophy. They voted Kentucky No. 1 over the NCAA champs.
For six decades since, the claim to fame of the 1953-54 Wildcats has been as the most recent unbeaten Kentucky team.
Both Ramsey and Hagan say they are eager to relinquish that place in UK history to Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, the Harrison twins and Co.
"Absolutely," Hagan said. "Absolutely. I've been dying with some of these close games they've been playing."
Said Ramsey: "You bet, I want them to do it."