Final Four Newcomers: Grab Your Name Tag at the Door
Everyone’s heard of UConn. All these other guys? They’ll need name tags at the Final Four.
When they travel to Houston next week to play for the national title, Florida Atlantic and San Diego State will be making their first appearances at the Final Four. If the unfamiliar names — to say nothing of the seeds — are any indication, fans might look back on 2022-23 as the season when true parity finally sank deep into the bones of America’s favorite basketball tournament and turned March Madness into a total free. -for-all, all the way to last weekend.
There will be no No. 1 seed at the Final Four for the first time since 2011. Instead, there will be a 9 seed in Florida Atlantic, a 5 seed in SDSU and a 4 seed in UConn, which has won its four tournament games by an average of 22.5 points and comes in as a prohibitive favorite, at 11-10 according to FanDuel Sportsbook, to win it all.
No. 2 seed Texas and No. 5 seed Miami, with one Final Four appearance between them, were playing for the last spot later Sunday. The winner will face UConn next Saturday. The other matchup pits San Diego State against FAU, in a not-so-classic 5-vs-9 matchup. (San Diego State, a 57-56 winner over Creighton on Sunday, opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite.) Who saw that coming?
In the past, some of this upheaval in the brackets could have been pinned on the single-elimination format and the tournament selection committee, which might have overvalued its top seeds — including first-round loser Purdue and seven-loss defending-champion Kansas — while clearly underrating others.
No team got more undervalued than UConn, which had 25 wins coming in, a No. 8 standing in the NET rankings — which looks at quality wins among other factors — and the still-developing potential of junior Adama Sanogo, who has averaged 20 points and just a touch under 10 rebounds in four tournament games.
But all the other factors upending college sports — namely, NIL deals and the transfer portal — played a role here, too.
FAU is Exhibit A. The Owls got three key players, including 7-foot-1 Russian center Vladislav Goldin, from the portal. All moved to the campus in Boca Raton, Florida, after less-than-successful stays at big-conference schools. No one was quite sure how coach Dusty May would blend all these new faces from different places. Turns out, he did pretty well.
“We already had a good chemistry last year, and the pieces that we added just complemented everything we had going on,” said Bryan Greenlee, in his second year at FAU after coming over from Minnesota.
A longtime power in the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State was 30-2 and heading for a high seed in 2020 when the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years later, the Aztecs are two wins away from the title. Their top two scorers, Matt Bradley and Darrion Trammell, are also products of the transfer portal. SDSU made it this far behind a defense that held top-seeded Alabama to 32% shooting in the Sweet 16 and held the Bluejays to 11% from 3-point range in Sunday’s win.
Asked what to expect from the Aztecs in Houston next week, coach Brian Dutcher said, “I would think pretty good defense, to start with.”
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