As the 2022-23 men’s basketball season unfolded, it became apparent that the sport’s landscape featured numerous teams that could be considered very good but few if any that were truly elite. With this realization came myriad projections that the coming NCAA tournament had the potential to be the most wide-open and unpredictable in some time. It’s safe to say that has proven to be the case.
Welcome then to the Final Four that no one without a flux capacitor saw coming. It’s not just that the quartet features three first-time semifinalists, though that’s certainly a major contributor to the utterly random feel of the past two weekends. The last foursome standing also features just one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament, and that one is a 4. It also has the second highest seed total, 23, in the history of the expanded field.
For what it’s worth though, all four of the remaining teams were ranked in the final coaches poll heading into the tournament. So while all of them had won enough games over the course of the year to earn recognition, we nonetheless have a pair of matchups slated for Saturday in Houston that were probably not on anyone’s radar. Here’s a look at the matchups.
No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic
Time/TV: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET, CBS.
Why watch: Regardless of outcome, one of these teams will be playing for the title for the first time, a remarkable achievement for any program operating in the current collegiate structure that affords myriad advantages to the major football conferences. Basketball is different, we know, but seeing new teams with realistic championship aspirations is refreshing. The Aztecs have been building toward this season’s success as frequent Mountain West contenders. The Owls’ 35-win campaign might appear to have been more out of the blue, but this group’s year has certainly not happened by accident. Both teams feature nine-deep rotations and can mix and match lineups as the game flow warrants. San Diego State’s top scorer Matt Bradley (12.5 ppg) has been relatively quiet in the postseason. That might need to change, though his backcourt mates Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler have produced when needed. FAU also relies on its guard tandem of Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin for the bulk of its offense, but big man Vlad Goldin has also been a major contributor during this run.
Why it could disappoint: If you like free-flowing basketball with end-to-end action, this might not be the game for you. It’s no secret that San Diego State’s ability to lock down on defense is the biggest reason it is here. The Owls can defend as well, so a winning score in the 60’s seems likely.
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No. 4 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Miami (Fla.)
Time/TV: Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET, CBS.
Why watch: This stage is not new to UConn as an institution, but the Huskies haven't been are seeking the program’s fifth title under three different head coaches. UConn has won the title in four of its previous five Final Four appearances. But standing in the way are the Hurricanes, who have taken the next step after reaching the Elite Eight a year ago. Miami isn’t the biggest team but features a wave of scoring guards, any one of whom is capable of heating up. ACC player of the year Isaiah Wong is usually at the eye of the storm as it were, but Jordan Miller and Nijel Pack can also fill it up, and Wooga Poplar also made some big shots in the Hurricanes’ comeback win against Texas in the regional final. The Huskies, who have yet to lose to any team outside the Big East this season, can go big or small with depth at every position. The inside-out duo of Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, usually the first scoring options, have been getting plenty of help.
Why it could disappoint: The blowout potential is real in this one. UConn has dominated its first four March Madness opponents by an average victory margin of 22.5 points, with only second-round victim Saint Mary’s managing to get closer than 20. Sanogo and rim protector Donovan Clingan will pose matchup problems for the smaller Hurricanes. Miami has proved it is never out of a game, but staging another rally against the deep Huskies will be difficult even for this scrappy bunch.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Final Four matchups: UConn-Miami and San Diego State-Florida Atlantic