Is UConn beatable? Here’s how the 3 other remaining Final Four men’s teams stack up

On the eve of his crew’s Elite Eight conflict with Illinois, UConn head coach Dan Hurley stumbled over a sequence of tweets from a little-known former Illini participant.

Sean Harrington, now an ESPN analyst, wrote on X that UConn “has not needed to take care of a crew as athletic and bodily” as Illinois. He added that Terrence Shannon Jr. “would be the finest participant on the ground” and that UConn “doesn’t have an excellent reply for him.”

To most coaches, criticism from a profession backup guard who final performed for Illinois 21 years in the past can be straightforward to disregard. To Hurley, even the slightest disrespect is gasoline for him and his gamers, extra ammunition to struggle in opposition to complacency.

Hurley talked about Harrington’s feedback with out prompting on Saturday night time after UConn clinched a return journey to the Ultimate 4 with a 77-52 mauling of Illinois. Calling what Harrington stated “simply asinine,” Hurley instructed reporters in Boston, “You are going in opposition to beasts and monsters each night time within the Huge East, and the Huge East ready us for groups like Illinois.”

Tales like that exemplify why UConn will arrive in Phoenix later this week as an awesome favourite to repeat as nationwide champions. The Huskies don’t simply have a whole rotation of future execs and a system that maximizes their particular person skills. Additionally they have a head coach with a Michael Jordan-esque knack for inventing perceived slights and holding gamers hungry.

The following velocity bump in UConn’s street to back-to-back titles is an Alabama crew that has ridden surprising contributions from a trio of function gamers to its first Ultimate 4 look in program historical past. Looming on the opposite aspect of the bracket are fellow No. 1 seed Purdue and surging No. 11 seed NC State, each of whom clinched their spot within the Ultimate 4 with memorable Elite Eight victories on Sunday.

A 12 months in the past, UConn stormed by means of the NCAA match, successful all six video games it performed by at the least 13 factors. Solely three of the Huskies’ prime eight gamers from that crew returned, but they’re undeniably even higher this 12 months.

They’re 35-3. They’ve misplaced solely as soon as since Christmas. They’ve led by 30 factors or extra in every of their first 4 NCAA match video games. They fooled Illinois into believing it had an opportunity for almost 20 minutes on Saturday, solely to tear off a jaw-dropping 30 unanswered factors to bury the 29-win Huge Ten match champions.

UConn has been so dominant that the apparent query coming into subsequent weekend’s Ultimate 4 is that if the Huskies are inevitable. Under is a better take a look at the three challengers hoping to dethrone the kings of school basketball and an evaluation of how massive a menace every of them pose.

Alabama (25-11)

The way it bought right here: Defeated Charleston (13), Grand Canyon (12), North Carolina (1), Clemson (6)

Not even three weeks in the past, after a 102-88 SEC quarterfinal loss to Florida, Alabama coach Nate Oats challenged his crew to take extra satisfaction in its protection. The fast-paced, freewheeling Tide had surrendered 100 or extra factors in three of their earlier six video games.

“These guys are going to must resolve how unhealthy they wish to win within the NCAA match,” Oats stated. “If we do not change, we’re not going to be taking part in too many extra video games at this level.”

Alabama has solely been marginally higher defensively in 4 NCAA match video games, however the Tide have made up for it with an offensive onslaught. They’re capturing 41.4% from behind the arc and punishing opponents on the offensive glass and in transition. West regional MVP Mark Sears has been the fixed, however totally different function gamers have stepped up in assist of him every night time — even an 18-year-old freshman who ought to nonetheless be a senior in highschool proper now.

It’s troublesome to examine Alabama providing a lot resistance for UConn’s ultra-efficient offense on Saturday. Alabama’s perimeter defenders battle to drive turnovers or constantly keep in entrance of their man with out fouling and Nick Pringle doesn’t present sufficient rim safety to make up for it.

Nonetheless, the quantity of threes that Alabama shoots might be the equalizer — and an efficient method to neutralize Donovan Clingan’s rim safety. If the Tide are hitting from behind the arc and buying and selling threes for twos, possibly they will keep in putting distance.

Risk stage to UConn: Unlikely however not not possible.

NC State (26-14)

The way it bought right here: Texas Tech (6), Oakland (14), Marquette (2), Duke (4)

In early March, NC State wasn’t even thought-about a sensible menace to make the NCAA match after shedding seven of its closing 9 regular-season video games.

Now, the Wolfpack have nabbed a spot within the Ultimate 4.

The charmed run started with NC State successful 5 win-or-go-home video games in 5 days to seize the ACC match title and the league’s computerized NCAA bid. Then the Eleventh-seeded Wolfpack saved proper on successful, dispatching Texas Tech, edging Oakland in time beyond regulation and outplaying Marquette from begin to end.

The victory that can go down in NCAA match lore is Sunday’s 76-64 Elite Eight stunner to topple longtime ACC rival Duke. Large-yet-nimble heart DJ Burns prolonged his run within the NCAA match highlight, scoring 29 factors to spearhead NC State’s rally from a six-point halftime deficit.

Look, NC State doesn’t have the identical caliber of expertise as UConn. It doesn’t match up significantly nicely in opposition to Purdue both. And but how will you rely out a crew on this sort of heater? When you’re going to drag off a full Kemba, why not end it in opposition to UConn?

Risk stage to UConn: Depend out DJ Burns at your personal danger.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - MARCH 31: Zach Edey #15 of the Purdue Boilermakers celebrates their win against the Tennessee Volunteers during the Elite Eight round of the 2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at Little Caesars Arena on March 31, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Purdue (33-4)

The way it bought right here: Defeated Grambling State (16), Utah State (8), Gonzaga (5), Tennessee (2)

Shortly after his crew’s Chernobyl-level meltdown within the first spherical of the NCAA match final 12 months, Matt Painter grappled with a posh query: How do you repair what might not be damaged? Is there a tweak for a program that yearly cruises alongside from November till convention match time, solely to veer right into a ditch when the highlight shines the brightest?

Painter’s reply, after evaluating each facet of his program, was to withstand the temptation to overreact. He as a substitute tinkered on the edges, including Southern Illinois switch Lance Jones as a defensive specialist and secondary ball handler and exploring methods to maintain his gamers mentally and bodily recent coming into March.

That level-headed method final offseason paved the way in which for Purdue’s present redemption tour. The identical gamers who flopped within the first spherical in opposition to Fairleigh Dickinson have shed the label of March underachievers and brought Purdue to its first Ultimate 4 in 44 years.

A Purdue-UConn title sport can be a matchup of males’s school basketball’s two finest groups this season. May Zach Edey get Clingan in foul hassle? May Clingan decelerate the two-time nationwide participant of the 12 months? How would Hurley and Painter assault one another’s groups schematically?

Repeat versus redemption. That is the sport all impartial observers wish to see.

Risk stage to UConn: Important. This Purdue crew can be the title favourite many different years.

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