We are down to just four teams left in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, and what a cast it is. This year's Final Four features three teams that have never made it this far, and the one that has hasn't made it here in nearly a decade. Quite the contrast from last year's Final Four, which featured four of the most-storied programs in college basketball history.
First Final Four since 1970 with 3 teams making their first appearance 🤯#MarchMadness #MFinalFour pic.twitter.com/xmDs2CAxzK
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 27, 2023
With the field set, we are going to attempt to rank the four remaining teams. Emphasis on the word “attempt,” because with how this tournament has gone, these rankings will probably be completely wrong in hindsight. Oh well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, let's just sit back and enjoy this crazy Final Four that almost no one saw coming.
Without further ado, let's get into the rankings.
4. Florida Atlantic Owls
In a tournament, and Final Four, full of Cinderella stories, Florida Atlantic is the biggest of them all. Before this season, the Owls had only made the NCAA Tournament once, losing in the first round in 2002. The Owls have been on a mission this season, though, and now they're just two wins away from pulling off the impossible.
FAU, the 9-seed in the East region, began its run with a thrilling 66-65 victory over 8-seed Memphis in the first round, arguably the best game of the round. The Owls then took out 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson, who was just coming off a massive upset of 1-seed Purdue, 78-70 in the second round. They then pulled off two massive upsets, defeating 4-seed Tennessee 62-55 in the Sweet 16 and 3-seed Kansas State 79-76 in the Elite Eight.
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FAU may lack the star power of other teams, but these players have balled out on the biggest stage. Sophomore guard Johnell Davis leads the way for the Owls, averaging 17.3 points per game during the tournament. Others like Alijah Martin and Vladislav Goldin have made key contributions of their own, helping the 35-3 Owls continue to defy the odds.
The Owls have been underdogs all season, and still are in the Final Four. However, they've thrived in this role, and are a legit threat to win it all.
3. San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, but being this deep in the tournament is unfamiliar territory. Prior to this season, the Aztecs hadn't won a tournament game since 2015, hadn't made the Sweet 16 since 2014 and had never made the Elite Eight. Now, they've made history with not just their first Final Four, but the first in the Mountain West Conference.
San Diego State is the FIRST team in the history of the Mountain West to reach the Final Four. https://t.co/VJhCFDVKQI
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 26, 2023
SDSU, the 5-seed in the South region, kicked off its run with wins over two mid-majors, first defeating 12-seed Charleston 63-57 then crushing 13-seed Furman 75-52. In the Sweet 16, the Aztecs ousted Alabama, the top overall seed in the tournament, 71-64 in shocking fashion. Then in the Elite Eight, they beat 6-seed Creighton 57-56 in a nail-biter, but not without some controversy.
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The name of the game for the Aztecs is defense, and that's been on full display in this tournament. In four games, the Aztecs have held opponents to 34.1% shooting from the field and 17% on three-pointers. In the last two games, they've only allowed five three-pointers combined on 44 attempts.
Head coach Brian Dutcher has led his team to new heights this season, and he's only two wins away from winning an improbable title. The Aztecs and Owls will face off to see which non-power conference team will play for the championship.
2. Miami Hurricanes
A traditional football power, Miami is now finding unprecedented success in basketball too. The Hurricanes made their first Elite Eight last year as a 10 seed, but fell to eventual-champion Kansas. This time around, they left no doubt that they belong in the Final Four.
Miami, the 5-seed in the Midwest region, had to come back for its first win of the tournament, defeating 12-seed Drake 63-56. The Hurricanes responded nicely, though, beating 4-seed Indiana 85-69 and 1-seed Houston 89-75. They showed their persistence again in the Elite Eight against 2-seed Texas, trailing by as many as 13 points but coming back to win 88-81.
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The Hurricanes' roster is full of dangerous scorers, with Nijel Pack and Isaiah Wong each having two 20-point games in the tournament. Jordan Miller also had a monster game in the Elite Eight, scoring 27 points and going perfect from the field and the line. They can tighten up defensively when they need to as well, as they showed in their comeback against Texas.
On March, 26, 2006, Jim Larrañaga made history by leading George Mason to its first Final Four in school history. On the same day 17 years later, he did the same for Miami. This team has persevered through so much in the tournament, and is on the verge of even more history.
1. UConn Huskies
While the other three teams are making their first Final Four appearances, UConn is a veteran on this stage. The Huskies have made five previous Final Fours and won four national championships, most recently in 2014. Even though it's been nearly a decade since their last title, the Huskies are playing like a championship team again.
UConn, the 4-seed in the West region, has been the most dominant team in the tournament bar none. The Huskies have won each of their games by at least 15 points, with three coming by more than 20. Even 3-seed Gonzaga, a traditional power with 23 straight tournament appearances, was no match for UConn in an 82-54 beatdown in the Elite Eight.
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There's two players to know for UConn, Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins. Sanogo has been dominating down low, while Hawkins is a sharpshooter in the backcourt. The Huskies' defense has also been solid, especially in the win over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
With how the Huskies have been playing, it's no surprise that they're the team to beat in the Final Four.