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Dominant UConn becoming title favorites is biggest storyline entering Final Four


It has been pure dominance. One blowout after another. Four top-flight head coaches getting overwhelmed.

Through four games, Connecticut doesn’t just look like the best team in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t feel close. The Huskies, under-seeded as a No.

4, have defeated their four opponents by an average of 22. 5 points. Dan Hurley and Co.

have overwhelmed Rick Pitino and Iona, Randy Bennett and Saint Mary’s, Eric Musselman and Arkansas, and Mark Few and Gonzaga. The second halves have been bludgeonings, a combined score of 174-107. On average, that’s 43.

5-26. 7. UConn is the betting favorite by a wide margin, and it really should be.

It is deep, loaded with elite talent, physical and well-coached, one of only two teams in the country ranked in the top 12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Houston is the other. Shooting guard Jordan Hawkins is a projected NBA first-round pick.

There isn’t a better center combination than Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan. Gifted wing Andre Jackson Jr. can dominate without scoring.

The Huskies made Gonzaga and Arkansas, two of the more talented teams in the country, look like NIT teams by comparison. They are 13-2 since the end of January, and those two losses were by a combined five points to Big East regular-season and postseason-champion Marquette and Creighton, which reached the Elite Eight. Entering the tournament, I felt UConn was one of the most interesting teams in the dance because of its wide variance.

It had looked like a title contender in some stretches and went through a prolonged team-wide slump in early January, losing six of eight games. Nobody knew at the time it would cruise to Houston, and be the overwhelming storyline of the Final Four. The Big East was one of the big winners in March, even with Creighton’s heartbreaking loss.

For the first time since the creation of the new league nine years ago, it produced two Elite Eight teams. Sixty percent of its tournament teams — Connecticut, Creighton and Xavier — reached the second weekend. It will wind up with 15 tournament units — every tournament game equals a unit — which are worth approximately $2 million apiece paid out over six years to the entire league.

Most conferences split it evenly among their members; the Big East gives larger shares to its more successful teams annually. That’s a whopping $32 million. Big East teams have gone 10-4 in this tournament.

Compare that to the Big Ten, which went 6-8, or the SEC, which went 7-6. Even the powerhouse Big 12 only went 9-6. Then, factor in that two of the conference’s biggest brands — Georgetown and St.

John’s — made major hires by landing Ed Cooley and Pitino, respectively. The Big East may wind up with the national champion this year, and the league is only getting better. It is also set to cash in, as the league nears the end of its 12-year television deal with Fox that pays it roughly $40 million per season.

Commissioner Val Ackerman has plenty of leverage in the upcoming negotiations. At the age of 73, Jim Larrañaga is headed back to the Final Four, 17 years after getting there with Cinderella George Mason. The team he beat in the Elite Eight that year: Connecticut, which No.

5 Miami will meet Saturday night. The well-rounded Hurricanes rallied from 13 points down in the second half to get past No. 2 Texas on Sunday.

With two wins, Larrañaga, a Bronx native who attended Archbishop Molloy High School, would become the oldest coach to win a national championship. Miami had gone through three straight losing seasons, before winning a combined 54 games the last two years. The opinions have varied between the unexpected runs of No.

5 San Diego State and No. 9 Florida Atlantic, two mid-major programs in the Final Four for the first time. Some find them dull.

I’m in the other camp. These teams reaching the sport’s biggest stage is what makes the NCAA Tournament great, and this year’s edition is the first one of its kind without a No. 1, No.

2 or No. 3 seed. Let’s be clear: These aren’t Cinderella teams.

Both schools were nationally ranked this year. San Diego State has won at least 20 games in 17 of the previous 18 seasons. Florida Atlantic has won 35 times this year, an incredible accomplishment.

These teams are what makes this tournament great. Anything can really happen in March. The Owls had never won a tournament game before this year, and now they are two wins away from an absolutely stunning national championship.


From: nypost

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