Nearly half a year has passed since the University of Connecticut's Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr., and their fellow teammates clinched the school’s fifth-ever men’s national title. Under the guidance of Coach Dan Hurley, the UConn Huskies triumphed in the NCAA tournament, displaying their prowess by winning six consecutive games with an average margin of victory of 20 points.
This remarkable performance has sparked a debate, prompting us to ponder the level of dominance exhibited by this year's champions compared to the illustrious history of 83 previous men's national champions. As we prepare for the 2023-24 season, we look back at some of the most dominant runs from past victors.
Before diving into the historical analysis, we must clarify that we are evaluating tournament runs rather than ranking the national champions themselves. Our definition of "dominant" is centered on a team's ability to secure decisive victories against formidable tournament opponents.
To ensure a fair comparison, let's begin by drawing a line at the year 1985 when the tournament field expanded to 64 teams, providing more context for assessing the dominance of these runs in the context of NCAAB odds.
Prior to 1985, when basketball had its own quirks, college basketball had unique and varying tournament formats. Nevertheless, it's worth acknowledging the achievements of early champions, such as Oregon in 1939, which secured three tournament wins with an average margin of 15 points. Other notable performances included Indiana in 1940, Oklahoma A&M in 1945, and Kentucky in 1948 and 1949. These champions set the stage for the evolving landscape of college basketball.
Starting in 1950, the introduction of the Simple Rating System (SRS) provided a more structured assessment of team performance. SRS, akin to today's KenPom, helped evaluate teams during this period. Here are some noteworthy tournament runs during these 35 seasons:
Led by Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), this UCLA squad recorded an average margin of victory of 23.8 points. However, SRS data suggests that their opponents were collectively weaker compared to other pre-modern era champions.
N.C. State was only truly tested once in this tournament, a double-overtime win over UCLA. Led by David Thompson, they displaced dominance against some considerable competition.
Indiana's revival after a shaky start culminated in an average tournament margin of victory near 23 points.
The Buckeyes, led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, won every game by at least 17 points, showcasing their dominance.
Despite facing intense competition, including avenging a regular-season loss to Houston, the Bruins nearly won every game by double digits, a rare feat.
Now, let's explore the dominant tournament runs in the modern era of college basketball, starting from 1985 when the field expanded to 64 (and eventually 68) teams.
Despite unique challenges, Baylor won its games by an average of 15 points, facing tough opponents like Villanova, Houston, and Gonzaga. Their 16-point victory over No. 1 Gonzaga in the national championship was one of the best performances by any team in a national title game.
Kentucky’s record-setting margin of victory was bolstered by impressive wins over Utah and UMass, earning them the nickname "The Untouchables." They coasted to a national title under Rick Pitino, beating Syracuse in the final.
Tom Izzo's Spartans achieved six double-digit victories, continuing a trend of Big Ten dominance. They blew out Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators in the national championship.
Duke won every game in this tournament by double-digits, including big wins over Maryland and Arizona in the Final Four. Some experts say Mike Krzyzewski’s 2021 team was his greatest ever.
UConn's dominance is exemplified by six wins with a total margin of 120 points. The only asterisk here may be that the lowest seed UConn faced the whole tournament was Gonzaga at No. 3. They coasted through the Final Four and national title, playing two No. 5 seeds, Miami and San Diego State.
Jay Wright's team was never challenged, coasting to the national championship game, where they beat Michigan by 17 points. Their biggest win came in dominant fashion over No. 1 Kansas in an extremely-hyped Final Four matchup.
Led by Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, the Tar Heels exhibited remarkable consistency, winning six games with an average margin of 20.2 points against a challenging bracket.
As we reflect on UConn's impressive 2023 postseason performance, it's evident that they join the ranks of dominant champions in NCAA history. Their accomplishment, with an average 20-point margin of victory, stands alongside remarkable runs from the past. From the pre-modern era to the modern era, these champions have left their mark, showcasing their dominance on college basketball's grandest stage.