College Basketball
Which two teams could be sneaky threats to UConn's repeat title hopes?
College Basketball

Which two teams could be sneaky threats to UConn's repeat title hopes?

Published Mar. 26, 2024 4:34 p.m. ET

UConn appears prime to become the first men's college basketball team to win back-to-back titles in 17 years following two dominant victories to open the 2024 NCAA Tournament. 

After winning both the Big East regular-season and tournament titles, top-seeded UConn made quick work of 16th-seeded Stetson in the first round, winning 91-52. Two days later, UConn put up a dominant defensive performance against Northwestern, winning 75-58 after allowing just 18 points in the first half. 

While the Huskies have won their first two games by a combined 56 points, they're still four wins shy of lifting their sixth title in program history. UCLA head coach Mick Cronin shared on "The Herd" that he thinks one of UConn's biggest challengers might be a team in their own region. 

"Eye-test-wise, a team that I've seen have great guard play, really good guard play. They don't have a great offense, but they're good enough. They have a couple of big guys, so they've got 10 fouls, is Iowa State," Cronin said.


Cronin pointed to the Cyclones' ability to play clean on the offensive end while also being able to perform well in lower-scoring battles. 

"They don't turn it over. They do things that give you a chance [to win]," Cronin said of Iowa State. "They're not going to be an easy out. They're a problem for everybody because you can't score easily against them, period. And they're good enough on offense. They're all experienced and tough. But when you go to play a game, you've got to be able to dance to every song they play. It's just like a dance contest. You're not going to win every game running up and down, like all these games with 100 points. When you play Iowa State, you're going to have to win 65-60.

"[Some teams] can't dance when they play that slow song. They don't know how to do it. They can put you in the meat grinder." 

Iowa State had one of the most impressive defensive résumé's in the country this season. The Cyclones are fourth in points allowed (61.3 per game), 12th in opposing field goal percentage (40.2) and second in turnovers forced per game (17.3). Furthering Cronin's point, Iowa State's 10.5 turnovers per game is 70th in the country. Iowa State also ranks 70th in the country in field goal percentage (46.5).

Still, UConn is elite on both ends of the court. The Huskies ranks fifth in field goal percentage (49.8) and eighth in opposing field goal percentage (39.5). If UConn proves to be too much for San Diego State in its Sweet 16 matchup and Iowa State in a potential Elite Eight game, Cronin believes there's another non-No. 1 seed who can hang with the Huskies. 

"The analytics would tell you there's two teams left in top-10 offensive and defensive efficiency," Cronin said. "There's only two in both, UConn and Arizona. Arizona's ninth and ninth."

With Caleb Love leading the way, Arizona has one of the most prolific offenses in the country. The Wildcats rank third in scoring (87.6 points per game) and 14th in field goal percentage (48.8).

Cronin, whose UCLA squad lost to Arizona in both games this season, said there are some flaws though with the Wildcats, adding "they've had some head-scratcher games."

"They're streaky," Cronin said. "They're a team that if they get put in the halfcourt, they get frustrated. They don't practice that way, it can get them frustrated."

Still, Cronin believes that Arizona would be favored against one-seeded North Carolina if the two teams meet in the Elite Eight. If both UConn and Arizona win out, the two squads would meet in the Final Four.

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