The NCAA Men’s Final Four begins Saturday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
This year, the national semifinals feature a reemerging basketball powerhouse and three teams making the trip for the first time. It is also the first time no team in the semifinals is better than a four-seed.
UConn is the only remaining team that has won an NCAA title. The Huskies are back in the Final Four for the first time since winning the national title in 2014 and the sixth time overall. The Huskies have won four national championships, with the last three coming in Texas.
This year’s UConn team tied for fourth place in the Big East and earned a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament. It has beaten Iona, Saint Mary’s, Arkansas, and Gonzaga to get to this point. Adama Sanogo leads the team in scoring and rebounding, while junior guard Jordan Hawkins — the team’s second-leading scorer — has led the way in the tournament and was named Most Outstanding Player in the West Region.
Miami is heading to its first Final Four after winning the ACC regular season championship and earning a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The program went completely extinct during most of the 1970s and 1980s but now has a chance to establish itself 38 years after returning.
The trip will be head coach Jim Larranaga’s second to the Final Four and first since leading George Mason to the national semifinals as an 11-seed in 2006. The Hurricanes beat Drake, Indiana, and Houston before a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Texas to clinch a Final Four berth on Sunday. Jordan Miller had 27 points on a perfect shooting day and is one of four Miami players averaging at least 13 points per game this season.
“I’m hoping … that they’ll be able to channel their emotions in the right direction, because they know this is a challenge to get to the Final Four,” Larranaga told reporters of his team Friday. “There have been a lot of great players and a lot of great teams that have never reached this point in their playing career or coaching career. So you’ve got to appreciate every opportunity you get.”
Florida Atlantic has enjoyed a historic season with 35 wins so far and Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. The Owls spent four weeks ranked in the Top 25 this season and earned the nine-seed in the East Region.
FAU knocked off Kansas State in the Elite Eight to win the East Region after beating Tennessee, Fairleigh Dickinson, and a surging Memphis team. The Owls are the fifth team to reach the Final Four in the same season in which they earned their first NCAA Tournament win.
Michael Forrest was the star of the last game, but Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin, and Vladislav Goldin have helped carry the team all season.
“I never thought or dreamed this,” head coach Dusty May said as he met with the media on Friday. “It was always just do the absolute best job you can do, get to the tournament and see what you can do once you get here. Our guys proved all year long they belonged on this stage.”
San Diego State is one of the Mountain West Conference’s premier programs, winning 16 conference titles since 1999. They became the first Mountain West team to reach the Final Four after winning a thriller over six-seed Creighton in the South Region.
The Aztecs’ journey also includes surviving an upset bid from the College of Charleston, blowing out an upset-minded Furman team, and taking down number one overall seed Alabama. Defense has been the Aztecs’ calling card, as they have held their opponents to shooting just 34.1% from the floor and 17% from three-point range this postseason.
“There are going to be games where the shot doesn’t go in as much as we’re open,” head coach Brian Dutcher explained during a press conference Friday.
“How are we going to win those games? We’re going to win them with our defense. It’s just setting a mindset. If we don’t hit a number offensively, we’ll do defensive drills. And say this is not a punishment. This is how we’re going to win when no one else can. And so hopefully we can make some shots here where we won’t put so much stress on our defense. But our defense, it travels. It plays 40 minutes every game.”
Florida Atlantic (35-3) and San Diego State (31-5) will get things started at 5:09 p.m. CT on Saturday, while UConn (29-8) takes on Miami (29-7) at 7:49 p.m. CT.
San Diego State is 2-0 all-time against FAU, while UConn is 17-8 against Miami.