The Greatest Team in Men’s College Basketball Isn’t Like Duke or Kentucky. It’s Better.

The UConn Huskies are dynastic through whatever lens you prefer. For the moment, they’re the best program in college basketball by a mile. They drew and quartered a very good Purdue team in the national championship game Monday night, 75–60, to win their second crown in a row. Last year’s team was nearly as dominant, cruising past every team it faced in March Madness and beating an overmatched Cinderella, San Diego State, by 17 in the title game. This year’s program gave the same treatment to Purdue, which wasn’t just the other team on the floor but pretty clearly the second best in the country. Almost everyone thought UConn was better. The Huskies were 6.5-point favorites. The sport’s most popular projection model said they should win by 3. Of course, the margin in the end was 15.

UConn is also a longer-term dynasty, though. The zeitgeist doesn’t regard the Huskies as a big bad bully the same way it does Duke and Kentucky, but the results are the results. This makes six national titles in 26 years under three different coaches. Just in this century (an arbitrary endpoint that lops off a late-’90s UConn title), the Huskies have five titles to Duke’s and North Carolina’s three, Kansas’ two, and Kentucky’s one. They are kind of boring, in that sports is a star-driven enterprise, and even this version’s fantastic Tristen Newton and Donovan Clingan do not light up the internet. But their efficiency is mesmerizing. A lot of college basketball teams look like a mess, especially if you’re used to watching the high-level athletes of the NBA. UConn is more like a seamless symphony at all times. The Huskies do not face adversity because they are too good to get close to trouble. “They are too good” sums up the situation well.

They are also a model. Really, they are the model. They’ll never recruit like Duke, and neither will any of the hundreds of teams that wish they could be like UConn. Going forward, they probably won’t even recruit like Arkansas, which seems poised to bring John Calipari over from Kentucky. The Huskies are a durable war machine that attracts good signing classes—often in the top 10—but not amazing ones. Your school will never be like UConn. There can only be one of those. But any power-conference team can get good enough to make a Final Four run sometime, and it’s never been more clear that UConn is the team to try to fake. The best program in college basketball is also the best window into the modern game.

Getting the right balance of players is hard. Sign the best high schoolers, as coaches have historically tried to do, and you’ll have a hard time building continuity. You’ll have to coach your way out of inexperience, and if you’re like Calipari, your fan base will eventually lose patience when you don’t. Sign a bunch of four-star prospects and the occasional five-star, and you’ll have the chance to build a long-term core. But you might lose those players anyway. The transfer portal yearns for them. Other teams will want them, and if you bring in transfers, your existing players will get antsy about their status. Rely too much on transfers and you’ll stunt the development of your own players and create a different kind of continuity problem.

Coaching basketball is hard. Drawing up plays is hard. But calibrating a championship roster is UConn coach Dan Hurley’s year-round job, and nobody does it better. UConn’s nine-man rotation this year had three seniors, a junior, two sophomores, and three freshmen. The Huskies relied on three transfers and took some advantage of liberalized NCAA eligibility rules. (Newton, their best player, started three years at East Carolina and then two at UConn.) One of their freshmen, Stephon Castle, will probably bounce off to the NBA, where his performance at UConn has made him a rising draft prospect. When he leaves, UConn will simply replenish, as the Huskies did last year after three players went to the NBA with college eligibility remaining.

Some of that help will come from players not currently on the roster, but most of the Huskies’ reinforcements (if Hurley’s tenure to date is any guide) are already on the roster. Every program in college sports is at risk of becoming a blank slate every year now, but UConn doesn’t feel that way as long as Hurley is around. For that same reason, Kentucky could make a run at hiring him after years of doing things a different way under Calipari. Why wouldn’t it?

Hurley, though, is a perfect cultural fit for his surroundings. His legendary predecessor, Jim Calhoun, is a famous curmudgeon who walked Big East sidelines with a dour demeanor for decades. Hurley is a bit cheerier, a bit more of a fit for the optimistic attitude young people prefer today. But he still spends all game screaming at officials and animatedly bouncing around. Formerly the head coach at Rhode Island, he gives off the right level of endless grievance to appeal to a bunch of New Englanders.

If you were drawing up a road map to be really good at coaching college sports in the 2020s, you would put Hurley on the outer fold. He’s a cultural fit, but he hasn’t let that make him a snob about how he runs the program. UConn does not rely too much on any one roster-building strategy; it always has room for both a big-time transfer or two and a handful of high-upside freshmen. The Huskies’ X’s and O’s are incredible too, as evidenced by all the open shots they get and how well they plan on defense. On Monday the challenge was to beat National Player of the Year Zach Edey, a 7-foot-4 center. But Hurley saw the challenge as stopping everybody else, and that’s what UConn did. Edey got 37 points, but his teammates combined for 23. Purdue, the best 3-point shooting team in the country for much of the season, attempted all of seven shots from beyond the arc on Monday night and made one. The looks just weren’t there.

It is mind-boggling how easy UConn made this all look. At halftime, Purdue was barely in the game, when the margin was six but felt like 12. In fact, only one UConn opponent in either of the past two tournaments has been what one would call “in the game” at any point after halftime. Alabama was reasonably close in this year’s Final Four (tied with 12 minutes left) but did not maintain a serious threat—and lost by 14. UConn trailed San Diego State 2–0 in the first minute of the Sweet 16. That was a bigger lead than three of the Huskies’ other tournament foes ever got, because they led for a combined zero seconds. Alabama led by 5 nine minutes into the game before gradually falling away. Purdue had a 2-point lead with eight minutes left in the first half before lagging and never getting close again.

Last year was the same story. In the past two NCAA tournaments, nobody stayed within 12 points of this team. It’s the sort of overwhelming force that would, if this were women’s basketball, prompt talk radio hosts to wonder whether UConn is ruining the sport by sucking out all the drama. And those pundits wouldn’t even be wrong, except UConn is so much better than everyone else now that its casual walks to the national championship have become captivating. This is what it looks like when a team figures it all out.