It's been almost six months since Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr., and their teammates secured a fifth national title for UConn. Dan Hurley's group won its six NCAA tournament games by an average of 20 points, marking the Huskies' run as one of the most dominant performances in March Madness history.
Now that we've had ample time to reflect on UConn's stellar 2023 postseason, we can perhaps address the big question: Just how dominant was that run compared with those recorded by the 83 previous men's national champions?
First, a quick clarification. We're ranking runs here, not national champions. We've already done that. In this same spirit of clarity we will define "dominant" roughly as "recording decisive tournament wins against strong tournament opponents."
Right, so let's start by drawing a dividing line at 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams. Before that, national champions played anywhere from six to five, four or even just three tournament games.
It was a wild era, one when the tournament expanded no fewer than 13 times. Differing field sizes makes direct comparisons tricky even within the era, much less to more recent times. Nevertheless, the question must be posed. In this pre-modern epoch -- where shot clocks were reserved for the NBA, all makes from the field earned two points and the tournament field expanded 13 times -- which national champions posted the most dominant runs?
Peering into long-ago brackets, 1939-84
An honorary certificate of merit goes out to the very first Division I men's national champion. In 1939, Oregon won its three tournament games by an average of 15 points.
How amazing was that exactly? Hard to say. Equally impressive -- if also somewhat mysterious in evaluative terms -- were runs posted by Indiana in 1940, Oklahoma A&M in 1945 and Kentucky in 1948 and 1949. Well done, all of the above!
Then, at midcentury, things become at least a tiny bit more transparent. The Simple Rating System (SRS) at Sports-Reference.com kicks in as of 1950. As a schedule-adjusted measure of a team's overall scoring margin, SRS functions a bit like KenPom for the decades before KenPom.
With that in mind, here's one ranking of the best tournament performances over the ensuing 35 seasons: