Another UConn national title is starting to feel inevitable in 2024 men’s NCAA tournament

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Billy Donovan should feel uncomfortable.
This has nothing to do with anything happening in Chicago, and everything to do with things happening in Boston.
Thursday night, the UConn Huskies put on absolute show inside TD Garden, pasting San Diego State by 30 in a rematch on last year’s national championship game that Danny Hurley’s team won by 17. While, 12 months later, there are a handful of different parts on both teams, the dominant performance was the latest piece of evidence added to a case that has been mounting over the last few months: A UConn national championship feels even more inevitable in 2024 than it did in 2023.
No team in men’s college basketball has pulled off back-to-back national championships since Donovan’s Florida Gators did the trick in 2006 and 2007. With an unprecedented level of roster turnover in the game thanks to NIL and the new transfer portal rules, the common thought recently has been that repeating success is more difficult now than at any other point in the sport’s history.
And yet here UConn is, three wins away a return trip to the promised land.
The scary thing, at least so far, is just how easy the Huskies have made this look.
A year ago, UConn became 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 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.
Everything about UConn’s run to the program’s fifth national championship seemed to scream “dominant No. 1 seed that looked like a national champion all season long.” And yet, that wasn’t remotely the case.
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 made them just the fifth national champion ever that didn’t win either a regular season or postseason league championship.
The eight losses that UConn finished 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.
A year later, and the Huskies have been a more traditional powerhouse.
UConn has the best overall record of any team in the country at 34-3. They won the Big East’s regular season title and then dominated the league’s postseason tournament. On Selection Sunday, they were named the NCAA tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, a distinction which hasn’t resulted in a national championship since Louisville went all the way in 2013.
On paper, the only overwhelming similarity between this year’s UConn team and the national champions from a year ago is how dominant both were/have been so far in March Madness.
UConn’s 30-point win over San Diego State on Thursday night was the largest margin of victory in a Sweet 16 game since 2017. The Huskies have won their three games in the Big Dance by an average of 28.7 ppg. They’ve trailed in the tournament for a grand total of 28 seconds.
“We suck at winning close games,” Hurley joked after his team’s latest beatdown. “You’ve got to go with the alternative.”
What Donovan had going for him at Florida 17 years ago is a near impossibility in today’s college game. His top five scorers from the 2006 national title team — Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Walter Hodge — all decided to run it back for another year in Gainesville.
Hurley was fortunate enough to return three key contributors from his national title squad, but his two leading scorers — Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins — are both currently playing in the NBA. Without a key transfer addition in Cam Spencer and a freshman in Stephon Castle who has played beyond his years, a repeat likely wouldn’t be on the table.
While their toughest tournament games still likely lie in front of them, what UConn has done already in the Big Dance has bucked recent history.
Four reigning national champions teams since 2011 have earned No. 1 seeds the year immediately following their title — Duke in 2011, Villanova in 2017, Baylor in 2022 and Kansas last season. Only one of them even made it out of the tournament’s opening weekend. In fact, UConn is the first reigning national champion to advance to a regional final since … Florida went back-to-back in 2007.
None of this feels like a fluke. UConn has been a step better than the rest of the country since the season tipped off in November. They aren’t perfect, but their combination of depth, experience, next-level talent and coaching in Hurley leaves them with less boxes unchecked than any team in the country.
Illinois has the offense and a superstar talent in Terrence Shannon to beat the best in the Elite Eight. Alabama, should they advance past Clemson, has the offensive firepower to run anyone out of the gym on any given night. Purdue and Houston are right there behind the Huskies in terms of lack of weaknesses, and the Boilermakers also happen to have the best player in the country.
A UConn run to a second straight national championship is not inevitable. Watching the Huskies on Thursday night, though, it certainly feels that way.

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