The first men's Final Four without a top three seed in history

April 1, 2023
After yesterday’s women’s semifinals, tonight belongs to the chaotic men’s Final Four — the first without a top-three seed — in history.
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The first men's Final Four without a top three seed in history

💥 The background

The 2022–23 men’s basketball regular season was one for the books, with upsets of top squads galore. Not a single team remained undefeated after January 3rd, and the game’s parity’s been apparent throughout March Madness, too, with many high seeds tumbling in season-ending losses.

So, it’s no surprise that the men’s Final Four reflects this absurdity. Between No. 4 UConn, No. 5 Miami, No. 5 San Diego State (SDSU) and No. 9 Florida Atlantic (FAU), only UConn has ever advanced to the semis, and the last time they did so was nine years ago.

  • And while UConn has claimed four nattys, no No. 5 or 9 seed has ever won the tourney. Only one No. 4 seed has, and that was Arizona back in 1997.

To say anything can happen is an understatement. So let’s get into the teams, shall we?

🐕 No. 4 UConn Huskies — West Region champions

How they got here: Though they fell short in the Big East’s regular-season and tournament, the Huskies — in their sixth trip to the Final Four — are the clear remaining favorites. UConn’s been decisively dominant against their Madness opponents, outscoring them by an average of 22.5 (!!!) points per game.

  • Their biggest upset? Last weekend’s beatdown of No. 3 Gonzaga: The Huskies’ 82–54 dub was the Zags’ worst-ever tourney loss. Yikes.

Players to watch: While junior forward Adama Sanogo remains the Huskies’ season leader in both points and rebounds, sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins is on fire this tourney — his back-to-back 20-point games earned him the West Regional’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP) award.

Key to success: UConn’s defense is nothing to scoff at, but offense is the name of their game. Not only did the Huskies outscore their four tourney foes 123–54 from beyond the arc, but they trailed for just 47 seconds in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds combined. Miami better beware — they may not be the only ones storming tonight’s court.

  • Fun fact: Three of UConn’s four national titles were earned in the state of Texas, and this year, the dogs could two-step to their fifth Big Dance trophy. *howls*

🌀 No. 5 Miami Hurricanes — Midwest Region champions

How they got here: At the end of January, Miami turned up the heat, winning eight of their last nine regular-season games for a share of the ACC season title. The Hurricanes fell to Duke in their conference tournament, but have been impressive in the NCAA tourney — Miami’s the only squad to have knocked out three top-four seeds.

  • Their Elite Eight victory was especially shocking: The ’Canes rallied from a 13-point deficit by outscoring No. 2 Texas 37–17 in the last 13 minutes to snag the 88–81 victory. Minds (and brackets)? Blown.

Players to watch: Damn near all of them. Junior guard Isaiah Wong leads Miami in points and assists and is the ACC Player of the Year, and sophomore guard Nijel Pack won the Midwest Region MOP honor. Plus, they are just two of the five Hurricane starters to score double-digits against both No. 1 Houston and No. 2 Texas last weekend. No weak links.

Key to success: Given Miami will face UConn tonight, their hope hangs on their defense. The good news for the Hurricanes? They’ve already forced 43 turnovers this tourney, which happens to be a weakness of the Huskies.

☀️ No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs — South Region champions

How they got here: San Diego State has the distinction of being the only preseason Top 25 team still dancing, which is even more spectacular considering they've never advanced past the Sweet 16 before. But the Aztecs are the reigning season and tourney champs of the Mountain West with only one loss since January 31st.

  • Still, they needed luck to advance past No. 6 Creighton in the Elite Eight. With the game tied, the Aztecs benefited from an arguably soft foul call that sent them to the line with 1.2 seconds left. Their lone drained free throw was the game’s decider.

Players to watch: Despite a slow season start, Aztec leading scorer senior guard Matt Bradley shot 43% from beyond the arc in conference action, while junior guard Lamont Butler leads the Aztecs in both assists and steals. However, it was senior Darrion Trammell, the Creighton game-winning free-throw hero, who captured the South Region’s MOP.

  • The five-foot-ten guard, whose stature left him with zero college offers out of prep school, also sank 21 points to help the Aztecs defeat the overall No. 1 seed, Alabama, last weekend. If this is a Cinderella story, Trammell’s the main character.

Key to success: As much as UConn is about overwhelming offense, San Diego State is about elite defense. Case in point? The Aztecs have stifled their March Madness opponents’ offense — three of their four foes failed to crack 60 points. Look for SDSU to try and prove that “defense wins championships” later today.

🦉 No. 9 Florida Atlantic Owls — East Region champions

How they got here: By the slimmest of margins. The Conference USA regular-season and tournament champs edged all of their Madness opponents by a mere 19 combined points, which tracks for a team that’s never won a March Madness game before this year. FAU embodies the idea of “survive and advance.”

  • But count the Owls out at your own peril. In three of their four tournament games, FAU trailed by at least six points midway through the second half before battling back to big dubs over teams like No. 3 Kansas State and No. 4 Tennessee.

Players to watch: The sophomores rule this squad. Center Vladislav Goldin and guards Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis all average over 10 points per game, and Goldin also uses his seven-foot-one frame to snag rebounds and make epic blocks.

Key to success: Grit. The tough teamwork that took them this far is what could shift them from fairy tale to championship contender. They’ll have to keep their heads rotating to do so, though — the Owls hoop in a 2.9K-seater home court, which means tonight’s 72K crowd could be overwhelming.

📺 How to watch

Houston, we have a Final Four. Lace up those dancin’ shoes because No. 9 Florida Atlantic and No. 5 San Diego State get the party started at 6:09 p.m. ET, followed by No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 UConn at 8:49 p.m. ET.

  • Catch all the action from tip-off to final buzzers airing on CBS in the U.S. and TSN in Canada. To the moon, baby.