Last Monday night, the Connecticut Huskies knocked off the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 to win their second National Championship in four years. In fact, both teams had already won a championship this decade: UConn in 2011, Kentucky in 2012.
Given that information, it seems relatively normal and expected that the two found their way back to the title game in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, right?
Well, not exactly.
Kentucky, despite being ranked number one in the nation in the Associated Press pre-season poll, finished the regular season 24-10, and was given an eight seed in the tournament. What was once considered the greatest freshman class of all-time turned out to be a bit of a disappointment throughout the regular season. However, star forwards Julius Randle and James Young, along with twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, put it all together when it mattered. After taking care of Kansas State, the young Wildcats handed top seed Wichita State its first loss of the season. Next, Calipari's squad surprised in-state rival and Midwest Region favorite Louisville behind the post play of Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson. Kentucky continued their improbable run by taking down a pair of two seeds from the Big 10 in Michigan and Wisconsin, both ending on a late, game-winning three pointer by Aaron Harrison.
Having started the season with such promise, it does not seem all that incredible that the Wildcats had the success that they did in the tournament, but given their youth and how they finished the regular season, they proved a lot of doubters wrong and shocked a lot of college basketball fans.
The UConn program has been through a tremendous amount of adversity since Kemba Walker graduated in 2011.
As a result of recruiting violations and 'failure to create an atmosphere of compliance,' according to the NCAA, coach Jim Calhoun was suspended for three games during the 2011-'12 season. Calhoun eventually retired due to the effects of the scandal, along with health issues.
Many players saw the sanctions, which included a one year postseason ban, as a reason to leave the school. Forward Alex Oriakhi transferred to Missouri without having to sit out for a season, and guard Jeremy Lamb and center Andre Drummond declared for the 2012 NBA Draft.
Star point guard Shabazz Napier, however, remained loyal to his university, and reaped the benefits: a second National Championship, as well as a well-deserved Tournament MOP Award. Napier averaged 21.2 points per game throughout the tournament.
UConn started its journey by edging out 10 seed Saint Joseph's in overtime before rattling off four straight upsets against two-seed Villanova, three-seed Iowa State, four-seed Michigan State and top seed Florida, respectively. All four wins came on the back of Napier and forward DeAndre Daniels, who averaged 16 of his own points per game to go along with 7.3 rebounds throughout the tournament.
Napier was astonishing once again in the finals, knocking down eight of his 16 shots, including four out of nine from beyond the arc, for 22 points. He also collected six rebounds, three assists and three steals en route to his second title.
As a whole, the tournament was unpredictable and crazy. Every year fans talk about how crazy that particular tournament is, but the truth is that every year we are provided with upsets, improbable finishes and, for lack of a better term, pure madness.
That said, there's no denying this tournament's uniqueness.
Only four teams seeded seven or higher have ever made the championship game; two of them were this year.
As a result, Kentucky and UConn made for the highest combined seeding in the history of the NCAA Championship game. The previous highest came in 2011 between eighth-seeded Butler and, of course, third-seeded UConn.
UConn was the second highest-seeded team to win a National Championship in NCAA history (Villanova as an eight seed in 1985).
UConn also became the first team to win a title after finishing its regular season with a loss by 30+ points, according to Mike Rutherford of SB Nation. Rutherford also pointed out that for the first time since 2006, none of the previous year's Final Four constituents made it back to the Final Four.
Most incredibly, since the committee started seeding teams in 1978, this year was the first that there were no one, two or three seeds in the championship game. That goes to show how impossible this tournament has become to predict.
Only 19% of ESPN.com brackets were still perfect after the first game of the Round of 64 when Ohio State was upset by in-state opponent Dayton. In fact, Dayton, an 11-seed, found its way to the Elite Eight, also knocking off powerhouse Syracuse and fellow lower-seed Stanford. The Flyers were the first 11-seed to advance to the Elite Eight since Virginia Commonwealth snuck into the Final Four in 2011.
The first day of the Round of 64 produced four overtime games, the most on any single day in tournament history, two of which saw regulation come to an end mere minutes apart, both with the score knotted at 70. Through the first three days of the tournament, including the First Four, five of the 20 games provided us with five extra minutes of basketball.
It wasn't just how the games were ending, though. It was also about who emerged victorious from these games.
Three double-digit seeds found their way into the Sweet 16, tied for the third most of all-time. Additionally, all four one seeds lost to teams seeded four or lower.
The top teams simply aren't dominating anymore. In fact, 2009 was the last year that multiple one seeds made the Final Four.
One last interesting thing to point out about this year's championship game is that both teams were recently removed from a scandal surrounding the program or the head coach.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari was involved in a recruiting scandal during his tenure at Memphis, while UConn was still recovering from a scandal involving former coach Jim Calhoun. The fact that both Calipari and the UConn basketball program were able to land on its feet not long after these hardships is impressive, although not all that surprising. At the end of the day, both programs are prestigious and strong, and have the tools to overcome any obstacle they face.
There are two things we can take from this year's tournament: never count out a well-run basketball program, and don't expect to fill out a perfect bracket.
Here's some advice: Next year, don't even bother trying. Maybe refrain from filling out a bracket altogether. Seriously, do yourself a favor. Just sit back and enjoy the madness.