Duke Blue Devils

Pitino: Duke rivals 1996 Kentucky team

17 February 2016: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski (left) talks with Grayson Allen (3) during a break. The University of North Carolina Tar Heels hosted the Duke University Blue Devils at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in a 2015-16 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball game. Duke won the game 74-73. (Photograph by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire)
Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire

Rick Pitino coached Kentucky to a national title 20 years ago and now the Hall-of-Fame head coach thinks he may have found college basketball’s best team since.

Speaking Monday on the College Hoops Today Podcast, Pitino elaborated on why he feels this season’s version of the Blue Devils could wind up being on par with the 1996 Kentucky team.

“They’ve got a fifth-year guy (Amile Jefferson) who’s a terrific rebounder and basketball player and they’ve got great shooting, great coaching and a great system,” Pitino said. “They’ve got it all. They’re very deep and they’ve got two of the best in Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles — the one-and-two ranked high school players in the nation. They’re as good of a team as I’ve seen in the modern era.”

Duke is currently ranked number one in the FanRag Sports Preseason Top 25 and returns three players — Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, and Matt Jones — that averaged double-figures on last year’s team that won 25 games and lost to Oregon in the Sweet 16.

Pitino, now the head coach at Louisville, led Kentucky to a historic season in 1996 which culminated in a 76-67 win over Syracuse in the national title game.

“We just had our reunion in Miami (the 1996 team) and the hat said on the side said, “greatest team ever”, Pitino said.  “I think in modern times, that Kentucky team with a 24-point average of victory, averaging 94.1 points in a much tougher SEC — I think they were one of the best teams of all-time with eight players that played in the NBA and the 13th man on that team was Nazr Mohammed. That was a great basketball team, but I think Duke rivals that basketball team in terms of talent.”

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for theFanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan. 

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