Connecticut won the NCAA men’s basketball championship on Monday night. It is the Huskies’ fourth national title in the last 16 seasons.
That’s an amazing accomplishment. Especially since some wondered if UConn was a one-coach wonder.
Some schools are like that, you know. Kansas State football hasn’t done anything since the 1930s, other than with Bill Snyder in charge. Same with Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer. Some might claim the same thing with Oklahoma State basketball, which since the early 1950s hasn’t done much at all lest Eddie Sutton rides the pine.
And so it was with UConn and Jim Calhoun. When Calhoun was hired at Connecticut in May 1986, the Huskies had all of four NCAA Tournament victories in their history: 1956, two in 1964 and 1976. Those victories had come in the old NCAA Tournament, which in many ways was a regional tournament. Those four Huskies’ victories? They came over Manhattan, Princeton, Temple and Hofstra.
Then Calhoun arrived. By 1988, UConn won the NIT. By 1990, UConn was in the NCAAs and reached the East Regional final, losing to Duke 79-78. The Huskies were there to stay. They won NCAA titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
But Calhoun retired two years ago, UConn’s academic progress rating was so abysmal that Connecticut was barred from the 2013 NCAA Tournament, UConn was out of the Big East in the conference realignment frenzy and novice coach Kevin Ollie was running the program with little confidence from analysts that Connecticut could stay a major player on the national stage.
Then came this remarkable six-game run to the 2014 NCAA title. Victories over Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky. Not an easy game in the bunch.
And now Connecticut is a two-coach wonder and suddenly has four NCAA championships. That’s an incredible. Here’s how incredible:
* Georgetown and Syracuse, the great bellcows of Big East basketball, have combined for two NCAA titles. One each. Connecticut has twice as many as the Hoyas and Orangemen combined.
* The Big East was formed with Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, Connecticut and Boston College. Villanova and Pittsburgh soon joined them. Discounting Connecticut, those Big East pioneers have combined for three NCAA championships in their histories. UConn has four all by itself. When the Big East reformed last year and broke away from the schools that played major college football, it left behind the best basketball school.
* Kansas, with its glorious history from James Naismith to Phog Allen to Ted Owens to Larry Brown to Roy Williams to Bill Self, has three NCAA championships in its history. UConn has four.
* Connecticut has more NCAA titles than Michigan State and Michigan. Combined. The Spartans have two, the Wolverines one.
* Connecticut has more NCAA titles than does Louisville, which has had two fabulous eras under Denny Crum and Rick Pitino.
* The traditions of Indiana and North Carolina are phenomenal, going back into the 1940s and 1950s, with great coaches long before icons like Bobby Knight and Dean Smith. IU and UNC each have five NCAA titles. Only one more than Connecticut.
* Duke has a history that extends to greatness long before Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils went to NCAA title games under both Vic Bubas and Bill Foster. Then Coach K came along and built college basketball’s greatest program. And in Krzyzewski’s 34 seasons, Duke has won four NCAA titles. The same number won by UConn in the last 16 years.