UConn isn’t unbeatable. No men’s college basketball teams are infallible, not since Indiana went 32-0 while hooping to the national championship in 1976.

I covered the 1985 Georgetown Hoyas, coached by John Thompson, a team that intimidated opponents and buried them with defense on the way to 35 victories.

And though Georgetown lost two games in the regular season, I didn’t think Villanova had a chance to take the Hoyas down in the ‘85 title bout.

Ah, but Villanova summoned a once-in-a-lifetime performance, winning the national championship with stunning accuracy. From the floor the Wildcats made 78.6 percent of their shots overall – including an incomprehensible 90% in the second half. And even then Georgetown fell by only two points, 66-64.

The memories of that shocking upset remain in my cranium. But even though I know better through my own experiences of watching the NCAA Tournament, I’m searching for UConn’s potential (and fatal) vulnerability and I just can’t find it.

In rolling through the tournament with the precision of a thresher, the Huskies reached the Final Four by winning four games by an average of 27.5 points. UConn won the national championship last year with a six-game binge that netted an average victory of 22.1 points. Despite losing three starters and five of their top eight scorers from that team, the 2024 Huskies are even more dominant in their unholy pursuit of a second straight natty.

“This is the best UConn team I have ever seen,” said former Huskies forward Donny Marshall, in an interview with Fox Sports. “From their unselfishness to their ability to score in the halfcourt or in transition, they have it all. One thing Coach [Dan] Hurley doesn’t get enough credit for is his play calling and schemes. We know he’s passionate and intense, and brings that out of the players. But he’s so great at managing a game, too. You can’t say that about most coaches.”

UConn has imposing and productive size in 7-2 center Donovan Clingan. A potential championship-game matchup against Purdue big man Zach Edey would be phenomenal. The Huskies have – in former Villanova coach Jay Wright’s opinion – the best set of guards in the nation. There are no real weaknesses.

In the KenPom national ratings, UConn is No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency, No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and is No. 13 in offensive rebounding. They protect the defensive glass and pull rebounds as well as any team. Their point distribution is impeccable. UConn can go over your defense with threes, power inside for twos, and force you into flurries of fouls for frequent trips to the free-throw line.

UConn has lost only one game this season when competing with a full squad. Earlier in the NCAA Tournament the Huskies made only 3 for 22 from three-point range and won by 17. They missed 17 of 20 treys against Illinois and won by 25.

That Illinois elimination was incredible and cruel; a 23-23 tie late in the first half was obliterated in a merciless 30-0 run that put the Huskies up 53-23. The withering 30-0 blitz required only 9 minutes and 8 seconds of game clock.

In the first 17 minutes that Clingan was on the floor in the Elite Eight showdown, UConn outscored the Illini 34-4. That’s crazy! And according to ESPN, the Illini went 0 for 19 from the field on shots contested by Clingan. In only 22 minutes of play, Clingan monster-mashed his way to 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals.

The prolific Illinois scorer – the gifted Terrence Shannon Jr. – made just two of 12 shots from the floor and scored eight overall. Before that Shannon had averaged 30.2 points in his previous seven games.

Forget about it.

“They are the best team I’ve ever seen,” said Providence coach Kim English, the former Mizzou star, via Fox Sports. “I’ve been in college basketball since 2008. They are potent, intelligent, selfless and run such a well-executed offense. They are tough as nails, connected and have a well-organized defense too. They are so relentless on the glass, and are as connected as a team can be. They really have great culture.”

UConn is on a mission to repeat as national champs, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since coach Billy Donovan led Florida to back to back titles in 2006 and ’07. Connecticut’s ongoing demolition project – 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament wins by at least 13+ points – is the longest such streak in the event’s history.

Since the expansion of the tournament bracket in 1985, the most unstoppable team through the first four rounds was Rick Pitino’s 1996 Kentucky Wildcats. As Sporting News noted, they won their first four tournament games by an average of 28.3 points. But Kentucky had more of a fight in the Final Four, beating UMass by seven and Syracuse by nine.

Can any team put a scare into UConn?

The Huskies are an 11.5-point favorite over Alabama in the semifinal matchup. The KenPom projection has a win probability of 78 percent for UConn.

The other contest pits Purdue against defiant underdog N.C. State; the Boilermakers have been installed as a nine-point favorite in that one. KenPom rates Purdue’s probability of beating the Wolfpack at 82 percent.

UConn can play any style. They’re rigid when opponents try to slow it down, and they can sprint and chase down shooters when the other side cranks up the tempo. Nothing seems to bother the Huskies. Not much, anyway.

Alabama is an interesting challenger. Coach Nate Oats is deep into analytics and has an offense that is heavy on three-point attempts and won’t take many two-point shots unless the attempt is at close range. Oats discourages the low-percentage mid-range jump shots. At KenPom, Crimson Tide has the No. 3 offense, is No. 10 in effective field goal percentage, and play at the ninth-fastest pace in land.

In a dream scenario Alabama would get UConn running around on defense and deliver a hard rain in a three-point deluge. In other words: 1985 Villanova. And maybe Alabama can get Clingan into foul trouble. But how likely is it to have the high-scoring scenario play out when Alabama has such a vulnerable defense?

Alabama will be on offense against a tough defense.

UConn will be on offense against a loose defense.

That does not favor Bama.

The Tide ranks 103rd in defensive efficiency and has been ravaged for 80 points or more 11 times in the last 14 games. That includes five instances of opponents scoring 92 points or more. Alabama is rather weak at keeping aggressive opponents from swooping in for offensive rebounds. An exploitable defense and bad form in boxing out on rebounds is no way to upset UConn.

Maybe the Alabama analytics department can come up with the ideal game plan for knocking down the colossus from Connecticut.

No offense, but I hope not. As a fan I just want to see UConn and Purdue slug it out on the final night of the college basketball season. Let there be anticipation and drama and two big men making the earth move.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb



Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.