UConn Makes Case for Best Men’s College Basketball Program with 5th Title in 24 Years

UConn Makes Case for Best Men’s College Basketball Program with 5th Title in 24 Years

Connecticut celebrates its fifth title in 24 years

Connecticut celebrates its fifth title in 24 yearsJamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

HOUSTON — We have a national champion. And in a sight that has become perhaps a little too familiar to an entire generation of men’s college basketball fans, it was the Connecticut Huskies celebrating under another shower of blue and white confetti after a 76-59 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs.

“We had four national championships coming in,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley told Jim Nantz on the stage after the game. “We’ve been striving for number five. Now we’ve got our own!”

And before they left the stage to go dap up Kemba Walker, Geno Auriemma and other UConn greats with rings, the whole team held up five fingers to make sure the whole world knows how many titles this program has won.

Before we go any further here, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: UConn is not a dynasty.

Prior to plowing through this year’s field like the most efficient John Deere tractor ever manufactured, the Huskies had won precisely one NCAA tournament game in the past eight years combined.

There were no back-to-back titles.

There were three different head coaches (Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie and Dan Hurley) along the way, and only three players (Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander) who got multiple rings.

For as frequently as they’ve featured prominently in “One Shining Moment” over the past 2.5 decades, it’d be difficult bordering on disingenuous to try and put this 24-year run up on a pedestal alongside what UCLA did from 1963-75, or what the UConn women did from 1999-2016.

Rather than a dynasty, this UConn program has been more like a brood of cicadas, lying dormant for a few years at a time before rising up in March, making a whole lot of noise while devouring everything in its path.

This particular brood was feeling extra ravenous, too.

San Diego State made things quite interesting midway through the second half of the title game, becoming the first team in the tournament to be within single digits of UConn at the under-eight media timeout.

When the Aztecs trimmed the deficit to 60-55 with a little over five minutes to go, you could cut the tension in NRG Stadium with a knife.

But UConn’s Jordan Hawkins—incessantly chomping on his chewing gum; two days removed from swearing off calamari forever—calmly quelled SDSU’s spirited push with a cold-blooded three-pointer.

From there, they pushed the lead back out to their usual comfort level, becoming the first champion in the six-round era of the NCAA tournament to win each of its games by a margin of at least 13 points.

UConn's Jordan Hawkins

UConn’s Jordan HawkinsCarmen Mandato/Getty Images

“This group just had a lot of confidence from how we played the majority of the season,” said Hurley. “We knew we were the best team in the tournament going in, and we just had to play on our level.”

We had already covered heading into the title game where this single-tournament run ranks among the most impressive of all-time.

Now we have to consider where Connecticut ranks among the greatest programs in the history of the sport.

In the more than eight decades of NCAA tournaments, UConn’s five national championships puts the program in a three-way tie with Duke and Indiana for the fourth-most all-time.

But in the past quarter century, the Huskies stand alone atop the world of men’s college hoops.

All five of Connecticut’s national championships—1999, 2004, 2011, 2014 and 2023—have come in the past 25 years.

No other program has five titles during that time. Heck, no one else has even won four natties since 1999, and the only non-UConn schools with three are Tobacco Road’s blue bloods: Duke (2001, 2010 and 2015) and North Carolina (2005, 2009 and 2017).

Quite the bragging right for Dan Hurley to bring with him on that offseason recruiting grind.

What’s wild about Connecticut being the most frequent kings of March/April, though, is that the Huskies weren’t actually supposed to win any of those titles.

Dan Hurley

Dan HurleyJamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Certainly by the time they faced San Diego State Monday night, most were expecting the Huskies to secure another trophy. Before the tournament began, though, they weren’t among the favorites to win it all.

Which is nothing new for them during this run.

UConn has never—title year or not—finished a season at No. 1 in the AP poll. It didn’t even spend one week at No. 1 this year, in 2010-11 or in 2013-14.

The Huskies have won it all as a No. 2, a No. 3, a No. 4 and a No. 7 seed. And the lone time they did win it all as a No. 1 seed, that 1999 victory over Duke was the biggest point-spread upset (9.5 points) in a national championship since at least 1985, per Boyd’s Bets.

But that’s what we love about this tournament, right?

You don’t have to be the best for the entire season. To win a title, you just have to be the best in March (and for a few days in April). And Connecticut has figured out how to save its best for last like no other program in the sport.

Here’s the fun part, though: Connecticut might actually be the best team entering next season, hoping to become the first repeat champion since the 2006-07 Florida Gators.

Assuming Adama Sanogo, Donovan Clingan and others come back for another year, ESPN’s Jeff Borzello has the Huskies at No. 1 in his way-too-early top 25 rankings for 2023-24.

So if you don’t already view Connecticut as the best modern-day program in men’s college hoops, that’s OK.

Maybe a sixth national championship in 2024 will help change your mind, though.

Kerry Miller covers men’s college basketball and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.

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