Prior to today, there was one thing Dan Hurley and the UConn Huskies have in common: basketball royalty.
Hurley comes from a family of basketball coaches, with Dan’s father Bob carving out a legendary coaching career at St. Anthony High School and winning 26 state championships and four national titles with his efforts. Dan’s brother Bobby was an All-American point guard with Duke Blue Devils who served as assistant to Dan in his stints in Wagner College and the University of Rhode Island before embarking on his own head coaching career with the University of Buffalo and Arizona State University.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are a national powerhouse at both the Men’s and Women’s divisions, and the championship runs of the Men’s Team rivals those of popular bluebloods like the Duke Blue Devils and the Kansas Jayhawks. UConn has also been a hotbed for talent in the NBA and in leagues overseas.
In recent years, though, the Huskies have been in a slump. Prior to this year, UConn’s last US NCAA Tournament was back in 2016. Enter Hurley, whose stints at Wagner and Rhode Island earned him the reputation of being a program builder.
Now both Hurley and the Huskies have another shared commonality: a US NCAA championship.
UConn bucked an early 10-6 deficit by being patient and stingy on the defensive end, patiently finding the best shot possible and giving the San Diego State Aztecs fits. Rather than a shootout, those in attendance bore witness to a slugfest that saw one protagonist wear out the other. In fact, both teams combined to attempt 47 free throws, further emphasizing how it was truly a grind-it-out affair.There were naturally a lot of ways to describe the Huskies’ win, but what was oft-repeated was how this was a coaching masterclass from Hurley and a great display on both ends of the floor from the UConn players on the biggest stage.
So dominant were the Huskies that they won all their games by double-digits. Try as opponents might, UConn found a way to respond and that’s what championship teams do. Moreover, the US NCAA Tournament was built to be like a marathon, where the strongest (and not the fastest) survive.
With the win, the Huskies’ 2023 NCAA title now gives them as many titles as the Blue Devils and the Jayhawks COMBINED. If you go back to as far as 1999, UConn has five Men’s Basketball national championships, which would be the most within that span of time. Other teams speak of pedigree and while the Huskies are up there with the best of them, only a few can speak of the results they have been able to produce when given the opportunity.
What makes the US NCAA Tournament March Madness is the allure of rooting for the underdog. However, there’s that side of being in awe of a dominant team in the midst of a run that will inevitably culminate in a title. The Huskies’ title run may have happened in 2023, but it was the culmination of a “rebuilding” effort put forward by Hurley. Milestones came with each passing year and as time went by, familiarity and experience made for fewer losses and greater gains.
UConn has been a relatively patient group as their coaches have had relatively long leashes. Their last five head coaches have been given at least five years with the team, with Jim Calhoun spending nearly three decades with the Huskies. A championship would obviously remove any doubts about Hurley’s job security and given a strong recruiting class coming in for next season, UConn will remain in the hunt for consecutive titles.
The UConn Huskies have been the biggest winners of March Madness thanks to excellent coaching and determined (and undeterred) players, among other things. Their success was a product of biding time, and all that work may lead not just to one championship, but the start of greater things to come.