While there was a world where Gonzaga wasn’t in the Final Four this year, I never pictured a world where we saw FAU, Miami, San Diego State, and UConn. Outside of the Huskies, the other three teams have never played in a Final Four before this year. If you added up the pre-tournament National Tournament odds for these squads, it would add up to the third highest in the tournament’s history. And finally, if you added up the seeds of all these teams (9,5,5,4), you would have the second highest in tournament history. All that to say, this is a crazy Final Four and one that almost nobody could have predicted when we started the Big Dance two weeks ago.
Regardless, we are here to break down the Final Four and crown our National Championship winner. The clear favorite is UConn, whose program has a rich history in this round, but as Jerome Tang said about Kentucky, it doesn’t matter about tradition if you don’t have the guys on this team. We are set for an incredibly fun final few games down the stretch.
No. 9 FAU vs. No. 5 San Diego State
What’s funny about this matchup is that both teams had really tough Round 1 games that were almost lost. The Owls had to face Memphis, and that game went down to the wire. Meanwhile, San Diego State seemed to struggle against Charleston but pulled away at the end. Now, both teams find themselves two wins away from being crowned the national champion.
These two teams could not be more different. San Diego State leans heavily on defense and can shut down the best offenses in the country, as we saw against Alabama. The Owls run fast; they will outscore and outlast you, which makes this such an intriguing matchup.
Big Key: If San Diego State can get the Owls away from the three-point arc, they can win. SDSU has held opponents over the last five games to just 16.9 percent shooting from three, which happens to be 201 percent better than the NCAA average. That is a wildly low number, and I’m not sure FAU, who ranks 22nd in three-point percentage in the country, can crack that.
Prediction: I’ve got the Aztecs here. As they say, defense wins championships, and that’s what SDSU has. It should be an exciting game, but something must be noted for their size and ability to clean up on the glass.
San Diego State 64, FAU 59
No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 Uconn
The Miami Hurricanes are led by Jim Larranaga, who just happened to be the head coach of George Mason in 2006 when he led them to the Final Four, which was one of the great Cinderella stories in Tournament history. While it isn’t as much of a stretch that his 5-seed Hurricanes are sitting here, it is still a nod to the past.
UConn is led by Dan Hurley, who has a rich basketball family with a legendary high school coach in his dad, while his brother is a former Duke star who now leads the Arizona State basketball program. The Huskies are hoping to win their first National Championship since 2014. They’ve won the Big Dance four different times since 1999. UConn ranks top 10 in both defense and offense, according to KenPom. They are the only team left in this tournament that can say that.
Big Key: Can UConn stop the guards from Miami? The Hurricanes have Isaiah Wong, Nijel Pack, and Jordan Miller, who have been killing it in this tournament, making it a nightmare to try and create a defensive plan. If the Huskies can somehow limit their possessions, they have a great chance at moving on to the final game.
Prediction: There is something to be said for a team that is rated so highly in offense and defense. UConn has the guys, and they have shown it since January when they had a come to Jesus team meeting and have been one of the best teams in the nation since.
UConn 77, Miami 70
National Championship – San Diego State vs. UConn
This is hypothetical, but this would be an incredibly fun National Championship to watch. You have a historically great program in UConn facing off against a San Diego State team that had never even made it to the Elite 8 before this year and had to take down the number one seed in the tournament to get to this point.
UConn is still my pick because of how well they can play both sides of the ball. The Huskies average 79 points on offense while limiting opponents to 68 points a game. I think this would be a fantastic game to watch as a West Coast team tries to finally win another title game.
FINAL: UConn 68, San Diego State 63