Uconn 1 Scaled

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Men’s college basketball’s master plan was on display again Monday night, but the confetti flakes floating around were a distraction. Connecticut won another national championship, its second straight, which is a very difficult thing to do. But the footprints and spores leading to a much happier humanity in April were there, for any coach or manager who cared to look. This is what wins now. It’s complex and intense and really, it’s not that hard to figure out.

Purdue was also right there behind the stumbling blocks that took the floor at State Farm Stadium. There may be a lifetime’s worth of entertainment in West Lafayette End, but there should be no regrets about the architecture. What the Boilermakers did to earn a chance at an upset is more or less what any program in this sport has to do. I don’t just work on one team. And what else is new when UConn is a team?

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When UConn sees Purdue in the title game, it goes backwards

“Pure dominance,” Huskies senior Hassan Dayara said amid the excitement of the 75-60 win and the program’s sixth national championship. “Offensively. Defensively. Our relationship with each other. This team is amazing.”

It is, but it’s a high-quality adaptation of an old movie we’ve seen before. National titles in men’s college basketball aren’t won by player development or young talent or a command that is sealed by a transfer portal. They won by doing it all. In due course, and perhaps in the order mentioned above. Before kickoff Monday, Connecticut and Purdue reaffirmed what Kansas, Baylor, Virginia and Villanova told us earlier. What could the Jayhawks or Gonzaga or Dayton have added, but four years ago the plague of postseason losses.

More substance than schtick. The shiny new thing was tossed in a shoebox and into the closet.

Why pursue anything other than this design? Why not fool yourself into thinking you’re the smartest person in the room, when you’re probably the only one in the room? This is the way, and it has been for some time, and it will be in the future.

“I think we should all just shut up,” Huskies coach Dan Hurley said a day before the back-to-back titles, “and stop trying to help people who don’t know what they’re doing.”

This is where we realize you have to be good with, and not just with, the prequels.

“I see somebody come in here and interview bad players all the time,” Boilermaker coach Matt Painter said aptly on the eve of the championship. But there was one five-star recruit on the rosters of the two teams playing Monday. Meanwhile, they’ve played a combined 27,063 minutes between 10 starts in Division 1. There’s the downright good and the absurdly good.

Purdue has what might be an all-time great example of patient player development, a third-year forward fresh off his freshman year, two sophomore guards with more than a few scars and a fifth-year transfer who is the pick of the net.

“A lot of people who are picking from the portal, if they’re getting a lot of guys, they’re trying to get the best talent,” Painter said. “One has to get six or seven guys – there’s no way six or seven guys are going to be successful. It’s impossible, right?”

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Around Zach Eaday and Braden Smith, Purdue had the right mix of rosters – to beat all but one team. (Grace Hollar/USA Today)

Yukon? A lot of innovation from year to year, but more than enough similarities.

The title-winning engine was led for the second time in as many years by former transfer guard Tristan Newton, who was in his second year with the program. He also started his freshman season as a benched third-year forward, a sophomore and freshman first-round pick and a fifth-year transfer guard who was plucked from the portal.

“Talented young players coming back to your program who can enhance the culture,” Hurley said, adding that he’d rather not release the non-secrets. “Then strategic portal boosts that can put you over the top.”

The whole concept is not new, which makes it even more impressive when other programs are not trying to copy it. Yukon in 2010 2023 features grown veterans (Andre Jackson Jr., Adama Sanogo), developmental transitions (Newton), rising sophomores (Jordan Hawkins) and promising youngsters (Donovan Clingan, Alex Karaban).

Kansas in 2022? Grown veteran stalwarts (Ochai Agbaji, Christian Brown, David McCormack), talented secondary (Jalen Wilson) and veteran transfer (Remy Martin) round out the mix.

Baylor in 2021? A grown star (Jared Butler) in his third year in the program (Macio Teague and Davion Mitchell), a talented youngster (Adam Flagler). Virginia’s championship team was all juniors and one sophomore. Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges have been weathered couches, holding the youth around them.

Of course, after putting it all together, mind games remain. Role definition is the task of getting there with more mines than a safe passage on the road.

Everyone should want to do what they are told to do, and not give up when they don’t like what they are hearing.

Obviously there is a method to that.

“They are brutally honest,” Karaban said.

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Very early men’s top 25: Duke, Gonzaga and Houston start ahead for 2024-25.

UConn’s starting power forward was a consensus top-50 recruit. He joined the Huskies as a mid-season enrollee in 2022. He didn’t play a single minute. “They wanted my offensive talent, but they were honest with me. Defensively, you have to be better,” Karaban said. He had the fourth most tackles as a redshirt freshman on a national championship team. Entering Monday, he had the third-most hits for UConn. He’s not going anywhere except to an NBA franchise.

Satisfaction by degree, not by proclamation. “We don’t kiss kids a– during recruiting,” Hurley said. “We don’t kiss them when they’re in the yard. We bring great value to our players because we are old school and push them to improve.

In the locker room on Sunday afternoon, two players sat in the tents, happy to be here and never thinking we’d be like this. Ethan Morton started 29 games and played 880 minutes for Purdue last season. He made zero starts and logged just over 500 minutes this year. Caleb Furst dropped from 18.4 minutes per game to 9.2 in the first grade.

“It hurts me not to play,” Painter said, before explaining that it will pay off to make decisions for Purdue’s improvement. Easy and fair to say. When you’re human, it’s not easy to assimilate without doing anything for the betterment of Purdue. It’s especially challenging when a player is expected to be able to read the part during the year when there isn’t as much descriptive dialogue about it.

And as long as no one is willing to speak, there is no rust. “I tell people this a lot,” Morton said. “If they don’t want to buy what you want them to do, they’re going to be in a bad situation.”

Both of these programs and their coaches understood that, although UConn had one important part of the plan – small guards who couldn’t see or pass big guards, basically – Purdue couldn’t carry it.

That’s why the Huskies were able to hug and party with 36 seconds left in the game. Painter has removed the intentional fouls. He knew for sure what he had suspected for a while: He made the program a team capable of beating every program except the one on the other bench.

That’s why Hurley has one rule for his son, Andrew, who plays basketball in waning moments, when the shot clock is running and UConn is willingly taking the offense: Turn the ball. Andrew Harley forced the pops. Exclamation point, for those who care to notice, though how can anyone not?

And the Boilermakers will have to reckon with the presence of the 7-foot-4 colossus after he graced the floor for two straight years. It won’t be the same without Zach Idey, who scored 37 points on Monday. They couldn’t be. But they still need to age properly, and that aging complements a top-15 recruiting class that ends this summer. It is a different version of the same scheme. “You’re the first team in school history to win back-to-back (Big Ten) championships since 1976, and you get an eyelash from winning it all. ” said the painter.

Feel free to try to do it another way. Both of these programs, or the last few champions who opened their eyes on Monday, will be glad to be here again one day.

(UConn’s Alex Karaban, Stephon Castle, Donovan Clingan and Tristan Newton. Top photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)