This March, there sure was madness.
A year removed from seeing four “blue bloods” in the Final Four, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament delivered a complete flip in 2023, as Florida Atlantic, San Diego State, Miami and UConn are headed to Houston for a chance at a national championship.
The craziest part? The highest seed is No. 4.
Indeed, this is the first Final Four since seeding began in 1979 to not feature a top three seed, as fourth-seeded UConn earns the distinction as the national semifinals’ best seed. While the Huskies look to capture their fifth national title in 24 years, five-seeds San Diego State and Miami will join ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic to try and cut down the nets in each school’s first trip to the Final Four. It’s the first time since 1970 that three teams are making their debut at the same Final Four.
However, these facts don’t even scratch the surface of the history that this year’s tournament made. In the 2023 tournament…
- A 16-seed beat a 1-seed for just the second time ever (2018: UMBC beat Virginia)
- A 15-seed made it to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year
- No 1-seeds made it to the Elite Eight for the first time ever (and all but one of the 2-seeds)
Not to mention this year’s Final Four has its own share of history:
- Second highest sum of seeds (23; highest is 26 in 2011)
- First Final Four without an AP All-American
- First Final Four to feature a team from the current Conference USA or Mountain West
After millions of brackets got busted, here’s all you need to know about the 2023 Men’s Final Four.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 28, 2023
9 FAU vs 5 San Diego St: April 1, 6:09 p.m. ET; SDSU -2.0
For just the second time ever, two teams from non-major conferences will match up in the Final Four. San Diego State and Florida Atlantic are looking to become the first national champion from a non-major conference since 1990 (UNLV). Their journeys to get here defied all the odds.
The biggest underdog out of the bunch, Florida Atlantic won its first tournament game in program history this season, making it all the more improbable that they made the run to the Final Four. In fact, they were down with five seconds left in their first round game against Memphis, escaping with a win after a questionable jump ball call led to the Owls taking the lead.
However, FAU making it this far shouldn’t be a surprise to college basketball fans. Their 35-3 record is the best in the country and they dominated the Conference USA (who is 18-2 this postseason and already won the CBI and NIT tournaments), winning the regular-season and conference tournament titles. They were No. 25 in the AP Poll and No. 22 in KenPom entering the tournament, both of which showing they are a lot better than their No. 9 seed suggests.
The Owls are known for their depth. Nine players average more than 15 minutes a game and they rank second in the country in bench points. In the age of the transfer portal, FAU developed their talent, resulting in only one transfer among their top five scorers.
That transfer is 7-foot-1 center Vladislav Goldin, who came from Texas Tech. His 6.6 rebounds per game leads an FAU team that sits 16th in the country in rebounds per game (39.1) despite no other starter above 6-foot-4. C-USA Sixth Man of the Year Johnell Davis is the catalyst on offense, averaging almost 14 points a game on nearly 50% shooting.
Head coach Dusty May used to be a student manager at Indiana. Now, he’s leading his team through the Final Four.
A 9 seed.
A home arena with 2,900 seats.
A coach who started as a ball boy.
A mix of high school players, four-year transfers, and JUCO players.
Dusty May says his team isn't a Cinderella.
FAU is just really good at basketball — and headed to their first-ever Final Four. pic.twitter.com/PiWD99gxhP
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) March 26, 2023
For San Diego State, defense is their bread and butter. They’ve only allowed tourney opponents to make 17% of their threes and their 62.9 points allowed per game is good for 24th in the country. Led by Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Nathan Mensah and his 1.7 blocks per game, the Aztecs led every major defensive category in the conference on their way to regular season and MW tournament titles.
Offensively, the Aztecs are efficient but don’t score a lot. They rank 44th in adjusted offensive efficiency but 183rd in points per game, running a nine-man rotation led by senior guard Matt Bradley (12.5 PPG). In the tourney, Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell has proved to be an x-factor, averaging almost 13 points a game to help take down No. 1 overall seed Alabama and a red-hot Creighton team last weekend.
Before this season, SDSU was 0-3 in the Brian Dutcher era in the NCAA Tournament. They were 30-2 in the 2020 season that saw the tourney cancelled. Their conference was 5-17 in the tournament before this year. Now, they’re playing for a national championship.
— San Diego State Men's Basketball (@Aztec_MBB) March 27, 2023
5 Miami vs 4 UConn: April 1, 8:49 p.m. ET; UConn -5.5
If any powerhouse exists among these four teams, it’s UConn. Coming into the tournament as one of the top 10 teams on KenPom, the Huskies were still chosen as a 4-seed and responded by beating every team they’ve played in the tourney by an average of 22.5 points a game.
UConn’s strength is its size. Their top six scorers are all above 6-foot-5, and the leader of that crew is 245-pound forward Adama Sanogo, who averages 17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and one of the best at defending the three, so any team will have fits dealing with their approach.
Besides a 2-6 stretch to begin the new year, UConn went 23-2, beating every team not in their conference by double digits. Because of this and the production from All-Big East guard Jordan Hawkins, UConn are the favorites to win it all.
"UConn's Back." pic.twitter.com/9AAca3jAZh
— UConn Men's Basketball (@UConnMBB) March 29, 2023
In contrast, Miami sends out a balanced starting lineup that has seen four players average 10 or more points a game. They run four guards and each get their own shine, but senior guard Jordan Miller did put up a game-high 27 points on a perfect 7-7 from the field and 13-13 from the free throw line in the Elite Eight win.
To Miller’s right is Isaiah Wong, the ACC Player of the Year and the team’s leading scorer. He’s also joined by Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack and Arkansas State transfer Norchad Omier, the anchor of the guard-heavy lineup who averages 13.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game.
Miami had arguably the hardest path to Final Four, going through popular upset pick Drake and a talented Indiana team before taking down the top two seeds in their region — Houston and Texas. They’re active on the defensive end and hit their shots, with all five starters averaging a steal or more per game and the team shooting 48.6% from the field this season. They also hit 78% of their free throws — good for 11th in the nation.
Led by head coach Jim Larrañaga — who took George Mason to the Final Four back in 2006 — the Hurricanes will not go down without a fight.
These are the moments. pic.twitter.com/SCd1OLm1O6
— Canes Men’s Basketball (@CanesHoops) March 27, 2023
What do you think of this year’s Final Four? Who do you think will win? Let us know by leaving a reaction at the bottom of this post or by tweeting us @celebsecrets.