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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Moments ‘til Madness: A new era of college basketball

What to learn from our back-to-back national champions.

"Moments 'Til Madness " Column Graphic
Graphic by Gretta Goorno

There it is, folks. The 2023–24 NCAA men’s basketball season is officially over. Just like every year, we had incredibly talented teams, captivating storylines and an abundance of exhilarating games. But still, this year looked very different.

The best example of this is our national champions, the University of Connecticut Huskies. After what was already a commanding title run in the 2023 tournament, coach Dan Hurley followed it up with an even more impressive and dominant tournament performance in 2024. Most would say that isn’t too out of the ordinary, as UConn had won it the year before, so how hard can it be to run it back?

When the University of Florida completed the incredible achievement of going back-to-back in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Billy Donovan brought back his top-seven leading scorers for their second championship, making the task quite a bit easier. But, for Hurley and the Huskies, it wasn’t that simple. After their 2023 title, three crucial starters left for the NBA, with one being Adama Sanogo, the 2023 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Furthermore, they lost senior Joey Calceterra, one of their important bench pieces. This left Hurley with a big hole in the roster and a lot of points to make up for in the offseason. Reloading was the only option and that’s what he did. Picking up four-star transfer Cam Spencer from Rutgers and enrolling their five-star first-year Stephon Castle, UConn had two new starters this season. But still, not many believed this would be enough to make it back to the title game. The Huskies placed sixth in the preseason AP Poll and had a lot to prove. Soon, though, people began to realize that this team was a legitimate contender.

By Week 11 of the poll, UConn was back on the top of the sport. While it didn’t stay that way the whole season, this squad was certainly one of the favorites to win it. By Selection Sunday, the Huskies were the No. 1 overall seed, and everyone knows what took place after that. With the highest total tournament game point differential on record of 140 points, Hurley accomplished something that very few coaches or teams have ever done: winning two consecutive national championships.

Obviously, Hurley is a great coach and knows how to win big games, but I think there’s more to see here. Before the 2010s, bringing back close-to-full rosters wasn’t a rarity. But with the introduction of the one-and-done path and the transfer portal, roster turnover is absurdly low. UConn’s 2024 season gave everyone the new blueprint to success in college hoops: the transfer portal. While Cam Spencer was their only newcomer from the portal, I believe he might have been the most important player on that team. Without him, I can’t imagine they could’ve made it to that title game. But they’re not the only ones who saw this. Teams like Houston University, the University of Tennessee, the University of North Carolina and more all took advantage of the portal and ended up as top seeds in the tournament. Not to mention, we saw the antithesis of this with the University of Kentucky. Coach John Calipari, who left after this season, had always created rosters with an emphasis on high-level freshmen talent and look where that got them: a first-round exit as a 13-point favorite and a coaching role to fill.

The new recipe for national championships is here.