Huskies not mid-major caliber but National Title still comes as storybook surprise

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Monday’s NCAA National Championship game was as unlikely as they come. It featured the highest combined seeding of any championship game in NCAA Tournament history. It had the absence of household college basketball names like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Doug McDermott. It also capped off what many believe was the most thrilling and unpredictable tournament in recent memory.

In many regards, it felt like a Cinderella story of sorts, but only if you forgot the fact the two teams — programs in the top 30 for all-time wins — had won championships within the last three years. But even so, Connecticut’s 60-54 victory over Kentucky was a storybook conclusion to an astonishing run.

It was a stretch that included wins over No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan State — all just to punch a ticket to the title game.

No one outside of the state of Connecticut could have predicted such a finish. This was a team that fell to Houston and Southern Methodist in back-to-back games in December before falling to the latter a second time in February. A group that escaped with wins against five teams that would not make the “Big Dance.” A program that wasn’t eligible to compete in the postseason last year due to academic futility.

None of that mattered once Connecticut took the court on March 20 in their NCAA Tournament opener against Saint Joseph’s. Four Huskies scored in double figures that game, including senior point guard Shabazz Napier with 24 points.

Two days later, Napier one-upped his second round performance with 25 points to lead Connecticut past Villanova. But even that and the widespread upsets around college basketball weren’t enough to convince America that the Huskies were for real.

Iowa State and Michigan State still stood in front of the Huskies. Junior forward DeAndre Daniels would help lead Connecticut past the Cyclones with 27 points, but it was all Napier against the Spartans. The 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pound guard scored 25 points to send the Huskies to the Final Four. It was just the second time in history that a seventh seed made it to the National Semifinal.

At that point, heads finally started to turn. Millions of brackets had been busted thanks to Connecticut. They’d get upset one final time, much to the disgust of Florida fans everywhere, when the Huskies put a bite mark into the Gator offense, holding Florida to a season-low of 53 points.

Connecticut’s undefeated mark in National Championship games would remain perfect after Monday. For the final time in his career, Napier led the Huskies with 22 points, finishing the tournament with a total of 127 points (36 percent of Connecticut’s scoring) and a much-deserved Most Outstanding Player award.

So no, the Huskies aren’t a mid-major. They aren’t quite a Cinderella team either. But when sports fans look back at this 2014 NCAA Tournament, they’ll remember a run that will forever be cemented as one of the most surprising in NCAA history. The team may say they weren’t surprised, but they’ll take the glory any way it comes.

Tate Steinlage is a sophomore in mass communications.

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