We are down to four.
Houston beckons for the Final Four, as Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, Connecticut, and Miami have emerged as the last four teams standing. With FAU and San Diego State squaring off in one of the two games, fans are guaranteed to see a school in the National Championship Game for the first time in their history, as this is the first Final Four for both the Owls and the Aztecs.
How do the writers at SBNation rank these teams heading into the Final Four? Here is how they stack up in our eyes, as voted on by our writers.
4. Florida Atlantic Owls (9-seed)
Florida Atlantic is a true Cinderella by almost every definition. The Owls play in a non-power league in Conference USA. Their home arena looks like a high school gym. It’s a program had never won a game in the men’s NCAA tournament entering this season. It’s tempting to want to put a glass slipper on the Owls, but they’ve simply been too good for that type of distinction from the very start of the season.
The Owls have proved they belong on this stage every step of the way. They won at Florida for their first W of the season, then went 18-2 in conference play, winning the league in regular season and then earning the auto-bid by winning the conference tournament. This team always seemed way too good for a No. 9 seed at 31-3 entering the tournament, and it’s played out for the whole country to see on the sport’s biggest stage. Who would have thought Florida Atlantic of all schools would be hearing its name in chants at Madison Square Garden as they knocked out power conference mainstays Tennessee and Kansas State on their way to the Final Four?
Florida Atlantic brings it on both ends of the floor. They have excellent guard play led by Johnell Davis. They hit the glass hard and can protect the rim with 7’1 big man Vlad Goldin. They have a five-year senior in Michael Forrest who hit big shots in New York City. They have shooters everywhere, but don’t necessarily live and die with them. FAU has simply been really good all season. This run is no fluke. — Ricky O’Donnell
3. San Diego State Aztecs (5-seed)
In the end, a hard-fought game between two teams came down to a foul shot.
With just seconds left in a tie game, Darrion Trammell drove from the top of the key and lofted a jumper that would have given San Diego State the lead. The shot bounced off the iron, but Trammell’s drive drew a whistle for a foul on Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard, for his left hand on Trammell’s hip.
The senior missed the first but hit the second, giving the Aztecs the lead with 1.2 left. Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman, a high school quarterback, inbounded and the lefty launched a throw towards the Bluejays’ offensive end, but the ball careened out of bounds. Ater a review, it was determined that the game was over, and San Diego State was into the Final Four for the first time in school history.
Defense has been the calling card for the Aztecs all season long, and it was again on Sunday. San Diego State makes everything tough for their opponents on the defensive end, sticking on screens, contesting every shot, and closing out on shooters all over the court. Creighton averaged 77 points per game this season and were ranked 21st in the nation in KenPom’s offensive efficiency, and the Aztecs held them to just 56 points on Sunday. The Bluejays shot 35.8% from three-point range this season, but the Aztecs and their ability to contest shots held Creighton to just 2-for-17 from three-point land on Sunday.
The Aztecs certainly got some big plays on the offensive end in the win. Trammell put 12 points on the board, while fellow guard Lamont Butler led the Aztecs with 18. San Diego State also got huge plays down the stretch from forward Nathan Mensah in the closing minutes, including a few tough contests on the defensive end, and a big bucket to give the Aztecs the lead.
However, to get a sense of how imposing their defense was this weekend, keep these numbers in mind:
San Diego St held opponents to 11.4% shooting (5 for 44) from 3 this weekend. That's the lowest ever in regional weekend for a team that advanced to Final Four.— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) March 26, 2023
Up next? FAU in the Final Four. San Diego State will face another tough offense in the Owls, who ranked 25th in offensive efficiency this season. But if their run to the Final Four is any indication, the Aztecs will be up to the challenge. — Mark Schofield
2. Miami Hurricanes (5-seed)
With a defense that ranks outside the top 100 nationally, the Hurricanes are one win away from competing for a national championship thanks to an absolute onslaught of points. Down 13 with 12 minutes to go against Texas’ stifling defense, Jordan Miller had the greatest game of his season, scoring 27 points on 100% shooting. In fact, all five of Miami’s starters scored in double figures; not necessarily due to the same hot shooting Miller displayed, but a knack for finding the free throw line. As a team Miami is shooting a staggering 23 free throws per game in the NCAA Tournament, allowing them to slow the game down as needed and score easy points.
Speaking of points: Miami is scoring 81.2 points per game this tournament, against an extremely difficult lineup of teams. Things don’t get any easier, as they now face the only other team that’s scored more than them this tournament.
It’s a fantastic full-circle moment for Head Coach Jim Larrañaga, who is heading back to the Final Four for the first time since his Cinderella run with 11-seed George Mason in 2006. That magical run featured an all-time classic overtime win in the Elite Eight against, who else, the UConn Huskies. — Adam Ward
1. UConn Huskies (4-seed)
The Connecticut Huskies always had the talent for this type of run in March Madness, but they weren’t necessarily supposed to be here. Head coach Dan Hurley had led the program to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances coming into this season, but was still look for his first March Madness win. UConn started the year just outside the preseason top-25 in the AP Poll while being picked to finish fourth in the Big East. It felt like this UConn team would miss Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole, two of their top-three scorers from last year.
While it wasn’t always smooth sailing during the regular season on their way to a No. 4 seed in the tournament, there’s no doubt UConn is playing its best ball at the right time. The Huskies enter the Final Four at 13-2 in their last 15 minutes, with those two defeats (to Creighton and Marquette) coming by a combined five points. Meanwhile, no one has been able to touch the Huskies since bracket play started: over their first four wins in this tournament, they’re winning by an average of 22.5 points per game. Suddenly, the Huskies are the No. 1 in the country, according to KenPom.
Junior center Adama Sanogo has felt like the most dominant player in the tournament his year. At 6’9, 245 pounds, Sanogo was always an excellent interior scorer and rim protector, but has now added an improved jump shot and passing ability into the equation. Andre Jackson has been another key player on this run, with Hurley finding better ways to utilize his skills has opposing defenses have played off him and dared him to shoot. Jackson — a monster athlete with tremendous playmaking ability — no longer feels like a liability in the halfcourt offense. Jordan Hawkins might be the most dangerous movement shooter in the country, while freshman forward Alex Karaban has been rock solid in his 3-and-D duties. UConn doesn’t really have a traditional point guard, but they’ve proven they don’t need one. This team has it all, and will come to Houston as the favorite to win the whole thing. — Ricky O’Donnell