(Image via abc13.com)
Staff Writer: Colton Almeida
The long journey to the Final Four is over. At the start of the season, a total of 363 Division I teams competed to reach the 68-team tournament known as March Madness.
Now, we are left with just four.
The Connecticut Huskies, Miami Hurricanes, San Diego State Aztecs, and Florida Atlantic Owls will play for the championship in Houston.
The semi-finals took place on Saturday, April 1st, with UConn taking on Miami and SDSU taking on FAU.
The winners will compete for the title tonight, Monday, April 3rd.
In what has shaped up as one of the strangest Final Fours we have ever seen, it’s worth taking a look back at how each team got here.
Connecticut Huskies (#4 Seed, 29-8)
Connecticut was the only Final Four team I accurately predicted.
My National Champion selection, Huskies, have dominated play so far this March.
UConn started the season at a blistering 14-0 pace.
They slipped up midseason and ended up entering the tournament with a respectable 4-seed in the crowded West region. The region saw defending champion Kansas alongside powerhouses UCLA and Gonzaga.
The Huskies first met Rick Pitino and his Iona Gaels in the Round of 64. Connecticut actually trailed at halftime but pulled away comfortably to win 87-63. In the Round of 32, they outclassed St. Mary’s en route to a 70-55 victory.
A pummeling of Arkansas in the Sweet 16 led them to take on Gonzaga in the Elite 8.
Once again, UConn was barely challenged as they dominated the Bulldogs 82-54.
Connecticut is, by far, the favorite at this point. Led by Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, the Huskies are a well-rounded team with a strong bench presence.
While they are the definite favorite, in this tournament, nothing is a given.
Miami Hurricanes (#5 Seed, 29-7)
The Hurricanes played incredibly well during ACC play, but I’m not sure even Miami fans had them in the Final Four. Elite guard play has gotten them to this point, with Isaiah Wong, Nigel Pack, and Jordan Miller all playing fantastic basketball.
Norchard Omier, a transfer from Arkansas State, has also been a key piece for Miami in the frontcourt.
In the Round of 64, Miami was about to win a tough one versus Drake, 63-56. Drake led for much of the game, but a late run by the Hurricanes sealed a first-round win.
The team rolled past Indiana, then found themselves matched up against 1-seeded Houston. Miami proceeded to score 89 on what was one of the best defensive teams in the country.
They then took down Texas in the Elite Eight thanks to a large comeback.
While not many people expected to see Miami here, it’s likely time to stop doubting these guards that continue to excel under long-time coach Jim Larrañaga.
This will be Miami’s first Final Four appearance in program history.
San Diego State Aztecs (#5 Seed, 31-6)
The Mountain West has finally done something in March. A conference notorious for recent tournament struggles has a representative in the Final Four.
The Aztecs thrive off of good defense and ugly games. They love to muck it up as much as possible and are comfortable in low-scoring rock fights.
The road to this point for SDSU consisted of 12-seeded Charleston, 13-seeded Furman, top-seed Alabama, and an under-seeded Creighton team.
The matchup against Alabama sticks out as the obvious, most impressive victory.
The number one overall seed in this year’s tournament was up nine in the second half, but the Aztecs kept pushing and were able to complete the comeback upset over the Crimson Tide.
The Aztecs will grind games out like no other. Darrion Trammell and Matt Bradley are their premier scorers, with Lamont Butler, Aguek Arop, and Nathan Mensah all serving key roles.
I had San Diego State reaching the Sweet 16, and that was about it. But this team has surpassed all expectations and is participating in their first Final Four in school history.
Florida Atlantic Owls (#9 Seed, 35-3)
I mean, who saw this coming?
The Conference-USA residing Florida Atlantic Owls are in the Final Four. This program had never even won a tournament game entering this year.
Head coach Dusty May has to be absolutely applauded for the job he’s done with this Owls team. They were picked to be 5th in the C-USA, and not many predicted a deep tournament run.
FAU nearly lost in the first round to Memphis. A controversial jump-ball call gave Florida Atlantic a chance. They prevailed in that one, then edged past tournament darling Fairleigh Dickinson.
A grudge match win against Tennessee led them to the Elite Eight and a showdown with red-hot Kansas State. A back-and-forth battle ended with a 2-point FAU victory.
Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin, and Bryan Greenlee have all excelled. 7-footer Vladislav Goldin has also been incredibly important to this team down low.
This Final Four will have three representatives that have never been there before.
We are also guaranteed a first-time Champion coach, as none of the four have previously won.
We do have a fairly heavy favorite in UConn. However, in a tournament that has not one, two, or three seeds left, any one of these four schools could be the last one dancing on April 3rd.
In the end, the scores came down to:
Miami Hurricanes 59 – Connecticut Huskies 72
Florida Atlantic Owls 71 – San Diego State Aztecs 72
This means we will be seeing Connecticut Huskies Vs. San Diego State Aztecs in the final faceoff tonight at 9:20 PM EST.