By Hocine LOUKKAF on 3/28/2023
While Houston has dreamt to host his home team, we will watch the most unpredictable Final Four ever, with three teams making their first appearance at that level. Let’s take a look at which team could be the new NCAA champion in a week.
Florida Atlantic (35-3) vs San Diego State (31-6)
Probably the most uncommon NCAA semi-final ever, San Diego State has become the first Mountain West Conference team to reach the Final Four while it has been the first time Florida Atlantic has won a game in the tournament, making its road to the Final Four an even more incredible success.
After reigning on Conference USA with only two losses, the Owls and their coach Dusty May had a tough matchup in the first round against Memphis as they won with a clutch lay up before ending Fairleigh Dickinson’s Cinderella run, and then defeating two consistent top 10 teams this year, Tennessee and Kansas State. Over these games, sophomore guards Alijah Martin (12.5pts in the tournament) and above all Johnell Davis (17.2pts 7.2rbds in the tournament) have been the offensive dynamo of the team while C Goldin may have had his best game of the season with 14pts 13rbds and 2bl against Kansas State. He could be the X factor against San Diego State as nobody matches his height in the Aztecs roster but at the same time, the Owls lack some depth inside if Goldin was to be in foul trouble.
San Diego State first game may have looked easy on the paper but the Aztecs struggled against Charleston as the game was still tied with 3:30 to go. The game against Furman was far easier and allows the team to prepare for the matchup against Alabama, the #1 team in the country, that they won by forcing the Crimson tide to shoot (3/27 3pt) and basically preventing them from entering the paint (20 FG made inside the 3pt line, 8bl for SDSU). The game against Creighton was also a thriller as Tramell hit the a clutch free-throw with 1.2s left to win the game. Coach Dutcher doesn’t necessarily have a star but he has a solid roster to count on including the later Tramell (15.3pts and 7/15 combined 3pt over the last three games), Mensah (6pts 7.6rbds 3.3bl over the last three games) and a solid bench that has provided an average 23pts over the tournament’s four games.
Prediction : San Diego State. A tough one because FAU has the tools to beat the Aztecs. What could make the difference is the battle in the paint. Can Goldin dominate or will the more athletic SDSU big men get him out of the game, that could determine the winner of this first semi-final.
Miami (29-7) vs UConn (29-8)
Two Big Conference teams, which lost in their Conference semi-final, will matchup for the last spot in the 2023 championship game as Miami will try to get his first championship ever while UConn is clearly the most experienced program of this Final Four.
With two losses over their last five games before the March Madness, including a loss against a poor FSU team, the Hurricanes almost got swept in the first round as they were trailed by 2 against Drake with 2:30 to go. Then, they may have had the toughest road to the Final Four beating Indiana and top seed Houston by respectively 16 and 14 before getting the best of Texas. With a very thin bench, Miami mainly counts on a strong starting five as, for example, Wong and Pack combined for 46pts (13/23 FG, 8/12 3pt 15/15 FT) against Houston while against Texas, Poplar recorded 16pts 6rbds 4as on 6/7 FG as Jordan Miller made history with a perfect 7/7 FG ans 13/13 FT, good for 27pts. These guards couldn’t be as efficient as a team without their inside rock, Norchad Omier, who has averaged 11.3pts and 13.2rbds during the tournament.
With four titles over their five participations in a Final Four, the Huskies look like the favourites to win it all. The fact that they won every tournament’s game by at least 15pts and an average margin of 22.5pts makes it even more understandable. A bit like Miami, UConn relies mainly on a strong starting five with Sanogo (20pts 10.2rbds in the tournament) and Hawkins (44pts combined on 9/19 3pt in the last two games and 16/31 3pt since the start of the tournament) as the main offensive weapons, well surrounded by Karaban (12 and 11pts in the last two games), Newton (6as per game over the tournament’s first three games) and glue guy Andre Jackson Jr (7pts 8as 7.7rbds and only 1.3to over the last three games). Clingan (5pts 4rbds 2.7in 12min the last three games) is the main contributor from the bench where, except him, only guards see some playing time.
Prediction : UConn. The Huskies have destroyed their opponents and have such a complete starting five with an outstanding rim-protector coming from the bench. Miami may lack depth and will need to be hot from outside (and keep Ormier out of foul trouble) to reach the championship game.
San Diego State vs UConn
Prediction : UConn. The Aztecs may try to harass the Huskies with their agressiveness, but UConn has too much talent and size to be dominated with the potential best player of the tournament, Adama Sanogo, , the best shooter, Jordan Hawkins, the most versatile, Andre Jackson Jr and a potential pro rim-protector coming from the bench, Donovan Clingan. Any other team beating the Huskies would be probably the biggest upset since NC State and Villanova winning it all in the early 80s, and maybe since Texas Western in 1966 if FAU was to be the next champion.