It’s been a long time since March Madness had a Final Four that looked like what we have in 2023. This year, only one blueblood program has made it to the final weekend. Not since 1970 have as many as three schools been to the Final Four for the first time.
The 2023 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament Final Four is sort of a story of “That Guy You Know and Three Guys You’ve Hardly Heard Of.” Which is why Saturday's games will be riveting for college basketball fanatics like the folks who love to visit BallIsLife.
Let’s take a look at the NCAA Tournament history of each of the four schools in our Final Four: Connecticut, San Diego State, Miami (FL), and Florida Atlantic University.
What’s great about having not one, but two premier college hoops programs? When one loses, the other can carry the banner. UConn’s prestigious women’s team was knocked out of their tournament in the Sweet 16 in a shocking loss. But the men are here once again in the Final Four, keeping hopes alive for Huskie Nation.
UConn is making its fifth appearance in the Final Four this century. The school won men’s titles in 1999, 2004, 2011, and 2014. The Huskies have a fantastic tradition of not only excellent tournament teams, but also of great players.
Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor , and Rick Hamilton are three of the legendary players to wear the blue and white of the Huskies. In 1999, “Rip” Hamilton scored 51 points in the Final Four to lead the school to its first title, defeating Duke.
The Huskies have been a No. 1 seed in March Madness five times: in 1990, 1996, 1999, 2006, and 2009. This year’s team is a No. 4 seed, and back in ‘14 when the school won its most recent title, they were a No. 7.
Before this season most people likely knew of SDSU because of its' most famous alum: Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who also played basketball for the Aztecs.
That’s changing, as SDSU has nearly matched its all-time total of NCAA tournament wins this March. The Aztecs are built for winning, it’s just that they typically do it in the Mountain West Conference, a group of schools mostly west of the Grand Canyon who do not have a national television contract. If you want to see SDSU and MWC games, for the most part you have to drive to the arena.
Twice before, in 2011 and 2014, the Aztecs reached the Sweet 16, only to be defeated. But the program has been racking up wins and conference titles in recent seasons that are impressive no matter where they happen.
The Aztecs won 27 games in the regular season this year, including a 15-3 mark in the MWC. In fact, SDSU has been a prolific team in recent history: the school’s 338 wins since 2010-11 rank fifth in NCAA Men’s Division 1 basketball.
Now, that success is translating to the tournament and elevating SDSU to a new level where it can compete against regional rivals UCLA and USC.
Would you believe that for more than a decade Miami didn’t even have a basketball program? From 1971 to 1985, the school didn’t compete on the hardwood. Which makes it astounding that the Canes are now a national presence in the sport.
Miami has made the Sweet 16 five times (2000, 2013, 2016, 2022, and 2023). This season marks the second consecutive March that they have reached the Elite Eight, but this is the first Final Four appearance. Head coach Jim Larrañaga has changed the culture on campus, building a program that can compete with any school in the country. In the last seven tournaments, MIami has been invited five times. It’s beginning to feel as if the Orange, Green, and Black are the premier hoops school in the state.
Most intriguing about this weekend: if the Canes knock off UConn, and FAU keeps their Cinderella journey going, the two Florida schools could meet in the national championship game on Monday, April 3. Only about 50 miles separate the two schools on the eastern shore of The Sunshine State.
Someone once said, “Tradition is now.” Well, if that’s true, the Owls have it made. Before this season, the school had never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. We’d say they established a new tradition by winning not one, not two, not three, but four games to get to the Final Four.
Head coach Dusty May might sound like a stage name, but he’s comfortable on the big stage of college hoops. The former Indiana player has taken FAU from a mediocre 17-16 record in his first season four years ago, to 35 victories and a spot in the Final Four.
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