Final NCAA power rankings: UConn gold
The NCAA tournament certainly was full of surprises in 2014, and the Connecticut Huskies saved a real shocker for championship Monday. Just one season after being banned from postseason play, the Huskies became the first No. 7 seed to win a national championship, adding the Kentucky Wildcats to their list of tournament victims. UConn won its fourth national championship by knocking off a No. 2 (Villanova), a No. 3 (Iowa State), a No. 4 (Michigan State), a No. 1 (Florida) and a No. 8 (Kentucky) that was seeded too low.
So congratulations to the Huskies, who top our final Power Rankings for the 2013-14 season, an evaluation based on the postseason, as well as the overall body of work by each team you see here.
Guard Shabazz Napier introduced the world to the Hungry Huskies. The job UConn completed Monday night was part of a two-year plan put together by coach Kevin Ollie, who followed Jim Calhoun by leading UConn to its fourth national title. "This is what happens when you ban us," Napier said from the championship podium.
John Calipari won the 2012 title with a lineup full of future NBA players. He tried it again, starting five freshmen against UConn in the title game and trying to change the "one and done" culture to "succeed and proceed." The Wildcats had the size advantage but couldn’t match UConn’s backcourt quickness in the 60-54 loss.
The Badgers delivered a 30-win season and got coach Bo Ryan to the Final Four. A missed free throw and Aaron Harrison’s late 3-pointer for Kentucky kept them out of the championship game.
The Gators rolled to 30 consecutive victories, but bookend losses to UConn prevented Billy Donovan from carrying home another national championship trophy. Florida played poorly in the Final Four loss to the Huskies.
Sean Miller’s team was favored to reach the Final Four, so an overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight was a tough pill for Arizona to swallow. The Wildcats were never a complete team after Brandon Ashley was injured.
Blame this one on Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison as well. Harrison’s 3-pointer in the Elite Eight ended a solid season for the Wolverines. But Michigan did win its first outright league title in 28 years.
Sparty waited most of the season to get healthy and headed in the proper direction. When the Spartans got there, they became a favorite to win it all. But UConn had other ideas and a virtual home game in Madison Square Garden.
Any doubts about the Cavaliers were erased when they reached the Sweet 16 in the East Region. It really shouldn’t have taken that long — Virginia did win the ACC title and the conference championship, their first since 1976.
All the Shocker doubters probably felt vindicated when Wichita State was bounced from the NCAA field in the second round by Kentucky. Not so fast. This was a talented team with great chemistry and a full understanding of success.
Rick Pitino’s quest for consecutive championships ended — with a loss to Kentucky. That was an especially disappointing finish for a team that looked poised to make another Final Four run.
Coach Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones energized the program with a season that included the Big 12 tournament championship. The injury to Melvin Ejim during the NCAAs was a setback, and Iowa State’s season ended with a loss to UConn.
Steve Alford’s team came around in the second half of the year, including a win over Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament championship game. After two NCAA wins, there was no shame in exiting to Florida.
The Aztecs got everyone’s attention early with victories over Creighton, Marquette and Kansas. After a close call against New Mexico State in the NCAAs, the season ended with a 70-64 loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16.
It’s possible freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will be among the top three or four picks in the NBA draft. But Embiid’s back injury was disruptive late in the season, and the Jayhawks didn’t get out of the first weekend of the NCAAs.
The Flyers had a great run coming out of the Atlantic 10 and knocking out Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before losing to Florida in the Elite Eight. Coach Archie Miller showed the nation that his brother Sean isn’t the only bright, young coach in the family.
Remember when everyone thought coach Johnny Dawkins was on the hot seat? Well, Stanford beat UConn on the road in the regular season and then the Cardinal knocked off New Mexico and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Scott Drew was on the hot seat, too, and the Bears were on the ropes until they turned things around and finished 9-9 in the Big 12. After losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 tourney, Baylor crushed the hopes of Nebraska and Creighton in the NCAAs.
The Bluejays were a pleasure to watch and so efficient on offense. Doug McDermott wrapped up a brilliant career as the national Player of the Year. Creighton looks right at home in the realigned Big East but couldn’t make a run in the NCAAs.
Syracuse won its first 25 games and held the No. 1 spot in the polls for several weeks. The end of the season wasn’t as happy as the Orange lost six times in the last nine games and were upset by Dayton in the NCAA tourney.
The Vols turned the SEC into a three-team conference after all the early focus was on Florida and Kentucky. By the time the NCAA tourney came around, Rocky Top was a song no opponent wanted to hear. Coach Cuonzo Martin has a bright future.
Jay Wright’s squad won the Big East regular season by two games over Creighton. Despite a loss to Seton Hall in the conference tournament, the Wildcats received the No. 2 seed in the East. But Shabazz Napier and UConn kept them from the Sweet 16 in New York.
The Golden Gophers finished with 25 victories and won the NIT championship, closing out the season with an overtime victory over Florida State and a 65-63 win over SMU in the championship game. Richard Pitino has this team headed straight up.
It was a season of wild swings for coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Early losses left North Carolina frustrated, but the Heels pulled things together in the ACC regular season. Marcus Paige has developed into a clutch player.
Mercer’s 78-71 victory over Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament was the shocker heard around college basketball. Freshman Jabari Parker went out with a disappointing 14-point, seven-rebound performance.
The Power Rankings still strongly believe that the Mustangs should have been in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Larry Brown has brought excitement back to this program, and the trip to New York for the NIT finals won’t hurt one bit. Brown has a top recruiting class entering next season.