Opinion Sports

UConn Repeats as National Champions: Where Does it Stand in History?

UCONN’s Gampel Pavilion Stadium. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Dan Hurley and the University of Connecticut (UConn) repeated as national champions of NCAA Division 1 college basketball, a feat not many can boast. UConn’s second straight win  marks only the ninth time in D1 college basketball history a team has won back-to-back national titles. 

This year’s championship win cemented Hurley into the conversation of best current college coach. UConn as a program tied the University of North Carolina for the third most national titles at six. 

What’s been so impressive about UConn’s past two tournament runs is that they haven’t played any close games en route to the title in either tournament. Between the 2023 and 2024 March Madness tournaments, the closest game the Huskies played was against Alabama in this year’s Final Four, in which they still beat them by 14 points. 

The other amazing part of this two-year run is that UConn only brought back two of their five starters from last year’s team: guard Tristen Newton and forward Alex Karaban. Each of the other three starters from the 2022-23 team are playing in the NBA. This year’s starting center Donovan Clingan was a bench player his freshman year but prospered into a star this year as a sophomore. Guard Stephon Castle was a freshman this year and guard Cam Spencer transferred from Rutgers to UConn for his final year of college eligibility. That alone displays part of Hurley’s greatness; he can develop players, recruit out of high school and recruit from other colleges. 

For the sake of an even playing field, I’m only going to compare this repeat to the other two that have occurred in the modern era, otherwise known as 1985 and on. My reasoning behind this is because that’s when the bracket was expanded to 64 teams. UCLA’s run with John Wooden is certainly the most impressive of all time, as they won 10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. But UCLA also benefited from a much smaller bracket, regions being divided by geographic location, etc. The game has evolved tremendously since then, so it’s hard to compare eras. 

The first team to repeat as national champions in the modern era was the Duke Blue Devils, who won it in 1991 and 1992 under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. These were the teams that featured college stars Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley, the current head basketball coach at Arizona State University and brother of Dan Hurley. 

The knock on Duke would be that they returned four of five starters and eight players total from ‘91 to ‘92. But in the ‘91 tournament, they took down the University of Nevada Las Vegas, a team that was the reigning national champs and was undefeated 34-0 heading into their Final Four game against Duke. 

The following year, Duke went 34-2 overall to claim the No. 1 overall seed and proceeded to beat the Michigan Wolverines by 20 points in the championship. It was a dominant season, not too far off from what UConn just did. Not that Duke could control this, but they played a No. 6 seed Michigan team that I can safely say wasn’t nearly as good as the No. 1 seed Purdue team UConn beat this year. Also, Duke played at least two close games in each of their tournament runs and even played an overtime game in 1992. 

Because of how little roster turnover there was and the ease with which UConn has won these past two tournaments, I think UConn’s run has been more impressive than Duke’s was.

The only other team to repeat as national champions since 1985 is the University of Florida in 2006 and 2007. The teams were coached by Billy Donovan and featured relevant NBA players like Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer. They won as a No. 3 seed in ‘06 and a No. 1 seed in ‘07. 

Donovan assembled an amazing, well rounded team, but the seven biggest contributors of the ‘06 squad decided to run it back in ‘07, so they were essentially the same team. You can’t blame them for returning because it paid off, but I simply think what Hurley has done with UConn is more impressive. 

In an age where the best players are one-and-done and coaches have to not only recruit from high schools but the transfer portal as well, it’s one of the hardest periods in college basketball to win back-to-back national titles. Hurley lost some of his best players to the NBA and yet, through awesome recruiting and player development, assembled, as standings would tell us, an even better team this year. This UConn run is as impressive as any with exception to UCLA’s decade of dominance.