Taking stock of just how impressive UConn's national championship success has been
Now, I'm not a UConn fan. Didn't grow up as one and, now as a beat writer, I try to be as objective as possible in covering the team. But it's hard not to be impressed by what the program has accomplished, with national titles in 1999, 2004, 2011 and 2014 (and let's not forget a trip to the Final Four in 2009, as well).
Think about it. Only five programs have won more national titles than UConn: UCLA with 12, Kentucky with eight, and North Carolina, Indiana and now Duke with five. But it's taken Duke 25 seasons to win its five; it had won four in a 20-season span. Indiana's span of championships stretches from 1940 to 1987 -- 48 seasons. The Hoosiers best stretch was three titles in 12 seasons (1976-1987).
North Carolina won two titles in five seasons but its best four-title stretch spanned 28 seasons. Remember, before winning in 1982 with a roster stacked with Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins, Dean Smith had the reputation as a coach who could never win the big one.
Kentucky once won three titles in four seasons (1948, '49 and '51) and four in 11 seasons ('48, '49, '51 and '58) but that was an entirely different era -- one in which famed coach Adolph Rupp never recruited a black player. In the more modern era (let's say post-1966, in which Texas Western's all-black starting five beat Rupp's Wildcats for the title), UK never won four titles in a 16-season span. It won two in three years and three over a 17-season span, but that's as close as we get.
Only UCLA's incredible run of seven straight titles and 10 in a 12-season span dating from the mid-60s to mid-70s tops UConn's run. And that was a whole different era, as well, one in which fewer teams reached the NCAA tournament and (like the UConn women nowadays) most of the nation's great players gravitated to John Wooden and Pauley Pavilion.
UConn has one more national title than Kansas, a blueblood program founded by James Naismith himself, and Louisville, the program that got picked for the ACC over UConn in part because of its great basketball heritage. It's got two more than Michigan State, which spawned Magic Johnson and Tom Izzo (who, believe it or not, has actually lost games in the NCAA tournament).
And how about the storied basketball programs that have only one national title to their names: Syracuse, Georgetown, Arizona, Maryland, Villanova, and more football-oriented schools like Michigan and Ohio State.
Heck, the team Duke beat Monday night, Wisconsin, had only been to one prior national championship game -- in 1941, before Jim Calhoun had celebrated his first birthday.
It goes on and on. Let's name a few schools that, when you hear their names, you think, "Pretty darn good basketball program.":
Wake Forest: Tobacco Road occupant along with Duke, Carolina and NC State and alma mater of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul, to name just a couple. It's been to one Final Four (in 1962) and never played in the national championship game.
Purdue: Big Ten stalwart smack dab in the middle of basketball heaven, Indiana. Rick Mount. Gene Keady. The Boilermakers have been to two Final Fours (1969, 1980) and one national championship game, losing to UCLA in '69. (Though they were crowned the 1932 national champs by the Helms Athletic Foundation, seven years before the Big Dance!).
St. John's: Great Big East program of the 1980's. Chris Mullin. Louie Carnesecca. Walter Berry. Ron Artest. New York City's biggest Division 1 hoops program has been to two Final Fours, and finished as national runners-up once. In 1952.
Pittsburgh: Another former beast of the Big East, one that always gave UConn regular-season fits in recent years. The Panthers have been to exactly one Final Four. In 1941, months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Virginia: Another AAC "powerhouse" that spawned Ralph Sampson and was a media darling for much of this season before sputtering out in the Round-of-32. Two Final Fours, never played in the national championship game.
Georgia Tech? Two Final Fours, one national championship game in 2004 (you know how that one ended). Texas? Yeah, more of a football school, but Kevin Durant's alma mater has been to three Final Fours and just one (2003) since 1947. The Longhorns have never played in the national championship game. Notre Dame? Again, a football school, but no pushover in hoops. One Final Four, way back in 1978. Zero national title game appearances.
Even some of the teams that have garnered a reputation in recent years as being NCAA tournament upstarts really haven't accomplished a whole lot. I didn't even realize until it was pointed out this March that Gonzaga still hasn't been to the Final Four. VCU's 2011 run from the "First Four" to the Final Four was exciting, but it hasn't done much otherwise.
Now there are a few outliers. Florida won two titles in a row in 2006-07; NC State's got a pair of titles (1974, '83), as does Cincinnati (way back in 1961-62). And you've got to respect Butler getting to consecutive national championship games in 2010 and '11 and falling a Gordon Heyward desperation 3-pointer away from winning one of them.
But try this on for size: Providence (for you younger fans) actually does have a pretty impressive college basketball history. The Friars spawned Dave Gavitt, who formed the Big East; Jimmy Walker, Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes, and coaches like Gavitt, Rick Pitino and Rick Barnes. They went to the Final Four in 1973 (losing to Bill Walton's Bruins, with Marvin Barnes sidelined by injury) and 1987 (behind Pitino and an overachieving guard named Billy Donovan).
Yet the Friars haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1997. In that span, UConn has won four national titles, been to five Final Fours, and won 41 NCAA tournament games.
Let that roll around your tongue for a while as you realize just how fortunate you've been as a Husky fan since 1999.