March Madness 2023: A men’s final four unlike any other

(CNN) – This is a The final four A line-up like we’ve never seen before. And it should be an exciting season finale.

climaxNCAA Men’s College basketball The season is fast approaching, with only four final teams competing to be crowned national champions.

After a March Madness that produced surprises on every angle, not having a 1, 2 or 3 seed in the penultimate round is only fitting — the first time since seeding was introduced 44 years ago that has happened. .

Saturday’s Final Four begins with the tournament’s Cinderella team, No. 9 Florida Atlantic University (FAU), taking on No. 5 San Diego State before No. 5 Miami plays No. 4 University of Connecticut.

Other than UConn, none of the other three teams have been on this tour; For the first time in 53 years, the Final Four had three first-timers.

No. 9 FAU vs. No. 5 San Diego State

FAU has been the story of the tournament so far.

Before it began, 237 schools in the country could claim an NCAA Tournament victory in their history. FAU was not one of them.

A basket with 2.5 seconds left in the opening round against Memphis led to wins over No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson and No. 4 Tennessee before an Elite Eight clash with No. 3 Kansas State.

Free throws by Owls guard Michael Forrest helped clinch a 79-76 victory over Kansas State and the first Final Four berth in school history.

They are only the fifth team since 1979 to reach the Final Four after entering the tournament without a win.

Despite a four-game winning streak with 19 points, FAU guard Alijah Martin says the players don’t feel like your typical underdog team.

“We don’t feel like we’re Cinderella,” Martin said. “We feel like we’re supposed to be here doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.”

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In the Final Four, FAU will face San Diego State, which earned its first Final Four appearance with a closely contested 57-56 victory over No. 6 seed Creighton on Sunday. Goes by way of San Diego State.

Bluejays quarterback Ryan Nembhardt was called for a foul on Aztecs quarterback Darrion Trammell with 1.2 seconds left in the game. Replays showed Nemhardt’s left hand on Trammell’s right thigh as he jumped to attempt the shot.

Trammell would be awarded two free throws, missing the first but giving the Aztecs the lead on the second.

In a dream run to the semifinals, San Diego State defeated No. 1 seed Alabama in the Sweet 16 round — never before had won a Sweet 16 game, never won a No. 1 seed, never fallen to a top-ranked opponent.

The team thrived on its excellent defense, holding Creighton to 2-for-17 shooting from behind the three-point arc, including 0-for-10 in the second half, just two days after holding Alabama to 3-for-27.

“We’re taking the next step and that’s something we’ve always talked about and I’m sure there were people who doubted we could do it, but we never doubted it for a second,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said.

No. 5 Miami vs. No. 4 UConn

The other side of the bracket also features two teams that many didn’t see reaching this stage.

Miami is the third team this year to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.

Led by Jim Larranaga, 73, in his 12th year as head coach, the Hurricanes entered the tournament in poor form, going 3-4 in January and suffering a home loss to Florida State.

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But since the tournament began two weeks ago, Miami has been nearly unstoppable, outscoring its opponents and winning its first three games by a combined 37 points.

In the Elite Eight, Miami faced No. 2 seed Texas – a formidable foe coming off a stellar season.

But a key 37-17 run over the final 13 minutes against the Longhorns helped the Hurricanes to a famous 88-81 victory and seal their spot in the Final Four.

For Larranaga, who remembers many seismic shocks over the years, positivity at the start of the year is vital as they move through the tournament.

“It’s the same excitement, just a fun attitude because you just love it when your players accomplish the goal they set before the season,” Larranaga said.

“What we said on the first day of practice is we have to start visualizing now what we want to achieve and work on it every day. And that’s what these guys have done.”

UConn, despite being the fourth seed, was looking to continue its disappointing streak in March Madness, having lost in the first round the previous two years.

However, since the first reports, the team has been lights out. The Huskies won their first two games by an average of 19.5 points before knocking off No. 3 seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight by 28 points.

The biggest win was the biggest in the Elite Eight in 31 years.

As the only team left in the competition with a title, the pressure is on UConn’s shoulders to use experience and legacy to once again hoist the national championship trophy for the fifth time in school history.

But even with that expectation, forward Adam Sanogo says they’re still proving a point to their doubters.

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We have something on our shoulders, said Sanogo. “Every time we play basketball, we try to prove people wrong.”

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