Perhaps the only thing preventing Connecticut from eventually taking over the top spot in the UPS Team Performance Index was the season coming to an end.
In the culmination of a pair of road-to-the-title game runs few saw coming, the seventh-seeded Huskies bent but never broke against No. 8 seed Kentucky, holding on to win 60-54 on Monday night for their fourth national championship in 16 years. In the process, UConn moved up to a season-high 14th in the final Index.
Arizona was able to maintain its season-long hold on No. 1 due in large part to the Huskies' upset of Florida in the national semifinals. The Gators finished a close second, with Wichita State, Louisville and Virginia rounding out the top five.
In conjunction with STATS LLC, UPS has created a proprietary algorithm that gauges data covering the spectrum of a team's on-court performance. Highlighted statistics include effective field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage against, rebounding percentage, ball-handling efficiency and miscues.
After being combined with winning percentage and quality-of-opponent metrics, the numbers are normalized and an overall index is created for all 345 NCAA Division I teams. The scores are not meant to reflect a traditional power poll, per se, but measure a broad range of excellence and overall balance.
The UConn-Kentucky matchup marked the lowest-seeded title tilt in history, and looked to be a contrast in styles. With a final rebounding microindex score of 124.9 - which was the highest of any school in the 68-team field - the physically imposing Wildcats dominated the glass all season.
The Huskies, on the other hand, were led by the quickness of their stellar backcourt, and had the defensive and ball-handling numbers to prove it.
In the end, speed, shooting and experience won out over size, strength and youth. It also helped that UConn had the best player on the floor in Shabazz Napier, who ended his illustrious career at Storrs with a game-high 22 points and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four award.
"From the beginning, coach (Kevin) Ollie told us that we have a chance to be on top if we worked hard," Napier said. "He always told us that. We always knew that the words were: 'If we work hard.'"
Less than a month ago, the Huskies sat 27th in the Index the week before the tournament started - one spot behind the team they would eventually face in the national championship game - and almost 15 points behind top-ranked Arizona.
Even a six-game tourney run against some of the country's best competition would not be able to make up such a significant deficit. But while the UPS rankings are based on an entire season's body of work, there's little question as to who the best team is right now.
"Somebody told me we were Cinderellas and I was like, 'No, we're UConn,'" said Ollie, a Huskies' hoops alum who made quite a splash in his postseason head coaching debut. "This is what we do. We are born for this. We're bred to cut down nets. We're not chasing championships. Championships are chasing us."
With eight titles, the Wildcats - who finished the season at No. 16 in the Index - are no stranger to championships, either. After squeaking out last-second wins in their previous four games by a combined 11 points, the luck of this next-generation Fab Five finally gave out.
"Tough way to go out, but at the same time we proved a lot of people wrong," center Dakari Johnson said. "We just had a great season and obviously we would have wanted to be on the other end the last game. We just had a tremendous season and we shouldn't feel down."
A look at the final microindex leaders across all Division I schools showed Creighton leading the pack in offense, Southern in defense, Quinnipiac in rebounding, Louisville in ball-handling and Toledo in miscue discipline.
Kansas had the top quality-of-opponent strength, while 35-1 Wichita State - knocked out by the Wildcats in the round of 32 - had the highest winning percentage.
No team, however, was able to put it all together as efficiently as Arizona. Each one of its components was significantly above the average score of 100.0, ranging from a low of 106.1 in miscue discipline to a high of 128.3 in defense, which was good for second in the nation.
"I'm very proud of everything we accomplished," coach Sean Miller said after his team suffered a 64-63 loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. "And I think, again, when you have a season like we've had, it only sets the tone for future seasons like this."
The Badgers, who then went on to suffer their own one-point loss at the Final Four to Kentucky, finished sixth in the final standings, followed by Villanova, Michigan State, Gonzaga and Kansas.

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