UConn remains the men’s college basketball powerhouse that doesn’t make any sense

With a 76-59 win over San Diego State that never really felt in doubt, the 2022-23 Connecticut Huskies completed one of the most dominant national championship runs in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The numbers, and I’m guessing you’ve seen some of them by now, are staggering.

The first stat is the simplest: UConn is the first team in the history of the tournament to win six games by 13 points or more. A 72-59 Final Four win over Miami, which also never really seemed to be in jeopardy, was technically the toughest test the Huskies faced during March Madness.

If that weren’t enough, UConn also became the first national champion in history to win all six of its games by double figures while also holding all six of its opponents to 65 points or fewer.

We could go on here, but the gist is all you need. Connecticut was Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote: Sure, there were some other other people doing some good and cool things at times, but … come on.

Everything about UConn’s run to the program’s fifth national championship screams “dominant No. 1 seed that looked like a national champion all season long.” And yet, that isn’t remotely the case here.

San Diego State v Connecticut

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In addition to being the first team in 12 years to start a season unranked and end it on top, Connecticut’s commanding three-week steamroll through the NCAA tournament actually snapped a streak of four consecutive No. 1 seed national champions. The Huskies, meanwhile, became just the second No. 4 seed to ever cut down the nets, joining the 1996-97 Arizona Wildcats.

No college basketball team owned its non-conference opponents more, as UConn won all 17 games it played against non-Big East foes, and won all 17 of those games by double digits. In conference play, however, the Huskies went 13-7, tied for fourth place, and got bounced by Marquette in the Big East tournament semifinals. Those two facts make them just the fifth national champion ever that didn’t win either a regular season or postseason league championship.

Those eight losses that UConn finishes the season with? The most by a national champion since … UConn lost eight in 2014, which was the most since … UConn lost nine nine 2011. After that, you have to go all the way back to Kansas’ “Danny and the Miracles,” which lost 11 games before its surprising run to the 1988 national championship.

If you’re sensing a trend here, there’s a reason.

Connecticut’s all-time profile as a top-tier college basketball program isn’t just unique, it’s in its own galaxy. It also doesn’t seem to make a damn bit of sense.

While most of college basketball’s top programs tout at least a couple of national championships from an era where only a handful of teams played in the NCAA tournament or when the sport wasn’t fully integrated, UConn is the opposite. Virtually the entire history of the program — which now includes a perfect 5-0 record in national championship games — is limited to 1990 and beyond.

Before 1999, UConn had never played in a Final Four. Since then, the Huskies have made it to the sport’s biggest stage six times, and cut down the nets on all but one of those trips. Their five national titles are two more than any other program over the same time span, and Monday night’s win made them the first program to employ, in succession, three coaches who all won national championships (only three other schools — Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina — have won titles under three different head coaches, period).

Still, there are plenty of people who will argue that UConn has not been the best men’s basketball program of the 21st century, and those arguments aren’t without some merit.

Seven times in the last 14 years, Connecticut hasn’t even made the NCAA tournament. In five consecutive seasons from 2016-17 through 2020-21, the Huskies failed to win more than 19 games. They finished with a losing overall record in the first three of those seasons.

UConn has not been a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance since all the way back in 2009. They are the only program to win a national championship as a non-top 2 seed since third-seeded Florida captured the 2006 national title … and again, they’ve done it three times.

And about those three championships: They’ve all come against super bizarre fellow national finalists.

In 2011, UConn took down 8th-seeded Butler in a game where the Bulldogs shot the lowest percentage of any team in NCAA tournament history — not just national championship game history, but any game in the history of the NCAA tournament. Three years later, the 7th-seeded Huskies took care of 8th-seeded Kentucky in a super strange clash of the not-so-titans. Then there was Monday night, where Danny Hurley’s team kept San Diego State from becoming the first 5-seed national champion ever, and the first non-power conference champion since 1990.

Hell, even the 2004 team played a third-seeded Georgia Tech squad that was a surprise finalist to most.

The ‘99 upset of top-seed Duke was legit, though, and it was spectacular. First half Ricky Moore forever.

While Connecticut still doesn’t rank as a top 25 team in the history of the sport if you’re just going off of all-time wins, no program has been more visible on the first weekend in April to teenagers and 20-somethings than the Huskies. Contrast that with the fact that there are 48-year-olds reading this right now (thanks, by the way) who have only seen UCLA win one national championship, and 28-year-olds who have never seen it happen.

The ultimate question here is what do we make of this program that has been to 11 fewer regional finals than Kansas and 11 fewer Final Four appearances than Duke, but now has as many (Duke) or more (Kansas) national championships than both? Shit, I don’t know. But if there’s a bizarre college basketball season that seems to be hurdling out of control towards a bizarre NCAA tournament, I know they’re my pick.

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