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  • Writer's pictureSean Vowells

Each Team's Path to the Final Four

Midwest Regional Champion: Miami

The Miami Hurricanes entered the NCAA Tournament with a record of 25-7 having just been handled by Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals. The Canes took the ACC Regular Season title with a record of 15-5 in conference, beating out Pittsburgh and Clemson by one game. Miami’s offense has always been near the top of Division I in efficiency, per Kenpom, but it is their defense that has been inconsistent. As of now, the Canes rank 5th in Offensive Efficiency and 104th in Defensive Efficiency. The defensive numbers was the reason Miami recieved a 5 seed on Selection Sunday.

In the Round of 64, Miami faced the winners of the Missouri Valley, Drake. Many of the experts highlighted this matchup as a potential spot for an upset. Drake was in control in this game, leading by 7 points at the last media timeout. Miami turned up the pressure and turned Drake over multiple times, coming back and winning the game 63-56. In the Round of 32 Miami faced Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana. The Canes got out to an early lead in the first half, leading by as many as 14. Early in the second half, Indiana fought back and got themselves a 4-point lead. Miami went on a huge run down the stretch to beat Indiana 85-69. In the Sweet 16, Miami were set to face the region’s #1 seed, Houston. The Cougars were 33-3 on the season coming into the game, with a top 5 defense, which didn’t matter in the end. Miami put up 89 points against Houston and advanced to the program’s second straight Elite 8. In the regional final, Texas were in control against Miami leading by up to 13 in the second half. The Canes finished strongly down the stretch, getting many key stops, to beat Texas 88-81 to advance to the Final Four next week in Houston.

East Regional Champion: Florida Atlantic

The Florida Atlantic Owls entered the NCAA Tournament at 31-3 having just won the Conference USA conference tournament. With this record, FAU was given a #9 seed by the committee on Selection Sunday. The Owls knocked off #8 seed Memphis in the Round of 64 on a last second shot, to many people’s surprise. They faced #16 Fairleigh Dickinson in the Round of 32 and knocked them off 78-70. They took a solid lead early but relinquished their lead and had a 7-point deficit in the second half. FAU finished the game strongly to advance to the program’s first Sweet 16.

Florida Atlantic faced off against #4 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden. The Owls took care of business, winning by the score of 62-55. The Owls then knocked off #3 seeded Kansas State in the Elite 8 by the score of 79-76 to advance to the Final Four. Florida Atlantic is very solid on both sides of the ball, which is how the mid-major school was able to make a run in the Tournament. They rank 17th overall on Kenpom, which includes 24th in Offensive Efficiency and 29th in Defensive Efficiency.

West Regional Champion: UConn

No team has looked as impressive as UConn in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Many experts, including me, believed the Huskies deserved a better seed than the 4 that they got. They were slated to face #13 seeded Iona, led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, in the Round of 64. The Huskies trailed by 2 at halftime, but outscored the Gaels 50-24 in the second half to win handily. The Round of 32 game against #5 seeded St. Mary’s was very similar. UConn led by just 1 at the half and then turned it on in the second half. They outscored St. Mary’s 39-25 in the second half to advance to the Sweet 16. The theme continued in the second weekend, UConn smoked Arkansas 88-65 and then destroyed Gonzaga 82-54 to advance to the program’s first Final Four since 2014, when they won the national title.

UConn’s depth combined with their ability to play on both sides of the ball makes them a difficult matchup for anyone. It seems like their size and athleticism really wears teams down as the game gets deep into the second half. The game plan against UConn is to slow the game down, limit the possessions, and keep them out of transition.The center tandem of Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan has not been stopped since the Huskies lost to Marquette in the Big East Tournament.

South Regional Champion: San Diego State

The San Diego State Aztecs entered the NCAA Tournament with a 27-6 record after having just won the Mountain West Conference Tournament. They were given a 5 seed by the committee, which many thought was harsh due to the Aztecs’ extremely strong metrics. They faced #12 Charleston in the Round of 64 and held them off by the score of 63-57. The Cougars were a trendy upset pick as most 12 seeds are. San Diego State faced #13 Furman in the Round of 32 and took care of business, beating them 75-52. In the Sweet 16, they faced #1 overall seed Alabama, who were many people’s favorites to win the entire thing. San Diego State upset the Crimson Tide by the score of 71-64. The Tide struggled from the 3-point line, shooting just 3/27 from behind the arc. The Aztecs then beat #6 seeded Creighton in the Elite 8 and advanced to the program’s first ever Final Four.

The Aztecs participated in the Maui Invitational in Feast Week in November, but did not impress. They knocked off an Ohio State team that proved to be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. They were beaten handily by Arizona and Arkansas in the next two days. All of their quality wins in the regular season were in the Mountain West Conference, which makes their run to the Final Four even more surprising.

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