A national champion has been crowned. The Uconn Huskies celebrated their 76-59 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs amidst yet another deluge of blue and white confetti, a sight that has become perhaps a little too familiar to an entire generation of men’s college basketball fans.
UConn head coach Dan Hurley told Jim Nantz on the stage after the game, “We had four national championships coming in.” “We’ve been striving for number five. Now we have our own!”
Before leaving the stage to present Kemba Walker, Geno Auriemma, and other UConn legends with championship rings, the entire team held up five fingers to let the world know how many championships this program has won.
UConn is not a dynasty, so let’s get this out of the way before we continue.
Prior to plowing through this year’s field like the most effective John Deere tractor in history, the Huskies had won exactly one NCAA tournament game in the previous eight years. There were no consecutive titles.
Along the way, there were three distinct head coaches (Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, and Dan Hurley) and only three players (Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, and Tyler Olander) who received multiple championship medals.
Given how frequently they’ve been featured in “One Shining Moment” over the past 2.5 decades, it would be difficult to the point of dishonesty to compare this 24-year run to what UCLA did from 1963 to 1975 or the UConn women did from 1999 to 2016.
This UConn program has been more like a swarm of cicadas than a dynasty, dormant for a few years before emerging in March and consuming everything in its path while making a lot of commotion.
This particular litter was experiencing an unusually intense case of hunger. Midway through the second half of the championship game, San Diego State became the first team in the tournament to be within ten points of UConn at the under-eight media timeout.
When the Aztecs cut the deficit to 60-55 with less than five minutes remaining, the tension in NRG Stadium was palpable.
UConn’s Jordan Hawkins, who was constantly chewing gum and had sworn off calamari two days prior, quelled SDSU’s spirited comeback attempt with a cool three-pointer.
As a result, they became the first champion in the six-round history of the NCAA tournament to win every game by a margin of at least 13 points.
Hurley stated that this team’s confidence stemmed from the preponderance of the season’s play. “We entered the tournament knowing we were the best team, so we just had to play at our level.”
Prior to the championship game, we had discussed how this single-tournament run rates among the most remarkable of all time.
Now we must contemplate where Connecticut ranks among the sport’s finest institutions throughout history.
UConn’s five national championships place the program in a tie for fourth place with Duke and Indiana after more than eight decades of NCAA tournaments.
In contrast, the Huskies have dominated men’s collegiate basketball over the past quarter century.
1999, 2004, 2011, 2014, and 2023 are the years in which Connecticut won each of its five national championships.
During that time, no other show has five titles. Heck, nobody else has even won four natties since 1999, and the only non-UConn institutions with three are Duke (2001, 2010, and 2015) and North Carolina. (2005, 2009 and 2017).
Dan Hurley possesses an impressive bragging right for his offseason recruiting efforts.
The fact that the Connecticut Huskies have won the most March/April championships despite not being expected to do so is incredibly surprising.
Monday night, when the Huskies confronted San Diego State, it was widely anticipated that they would win another championship. Before the tournament began, they were not among the favorites to win the entire competition. Which is nothing new during their current run.
No championship year or not, UConn has never completed a season at No. 1 in the AP poll. It did not even spend a single week at No. 1 in 2010-11 or 2013-14.
The Huskies have won the championship as a No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, or No. 7 seed. Boyd’s Bets indicates that the 1999 victory over Duke was the largest point-spread upset in a national championship game since at least 1985.
But that’s precisely why we adore this tournament, right? You need not be the greatest throughout the entire season. To achieve a championship, it is sufficient to be the greatest in March. (and for a few days in April). And no other program in the sport has found out how to save its finest for last like Connecticut.
Here’s the exciting part, though: Connecticut may truly be the best team heading into next season, hoping to become the first team to repeat as champions since the 2006-07 Florida Gators.
Jeff Borzello of ESPN has the Huskies at No. 1 in his way-too-early top 25 projections for 2023-24, assuming Adama Sanogo, Donovan Clingan, and others return for a second season.
If you don’t already consider Connecticut the greatest men’s college basketball program in the modern era, that’s fine. Perhaps a sixth national championship in 2024 will convince you otherwise.