5 reasons this year's Final Four is craziest in modern tourney history
The transfer portal, an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, and the implementation of NIL.
There are many reasons why this season of college basketball is one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. That also makes it extremely fitting that the Final Four for the 2023 NCAA Tournament is arguably the craziest since the event expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The dust has cleared following the Elite Eight, and all that remains is the incredibly random quartet of UConn, Miami, San Diego State, and Florida Atlantic. Only 37 brackets out of 20 million entered in the ESPN Tournament Challenge predicted this Final Four, according to ESPN.
Here are five reasons why this year's Final Four is the craziest in tourney history.
FAU vs. San Diego State almost unprecedented
While Miami and UConn are mild surprises on one side of the bracket, the Final Four contest between FAU and San Diego State is virtually unprecedented. The No. 9 Owls began this year's March Madness with an all-time record of 0-1 in the tournament and now enter the Final Four with the best winning percentage in tournament history at .800. The matchup with the Aztecs is just the second-ever in the Final Four to not feature at least one major conference school.
The schools are also both making their debut trip to the Final Four, a matchup that's only happened twice in the last 50 years of the NCAA Tournament.
Should both FAU and Miami win their games on Saturday, the two programs would then play in a historic final due to proximity. With just 57 miles separating the two campuses in South Florida, they would be the closest schools ever to meet in the national championship game.
Preseason polls got it wrong
Creighton's loss to San Diego State meant that no teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Preseason Top 25 poll would make the Final Four. It's just the third time that's happened since the poll began in 1961.
It wasn't just the top of the poll that was off, as only San Diego State at No. 19 was ranked in the top 25 heading into the year. UConn and Miami both received some votes but not enough to find themselves in the poll. FAU first cracked the poll in Week 11 at No. 24 after starting the season with a 16-1 record.
UConn led the way among the Final Four in the last AP Poll of the season at No. 10, with Miami following at No. 16, San Diego State at No. 18, and FAU at No. 25.
3 teams making first trip
With four national titles since 1999, UConn is arguably the most successful basketball program of the last 25 years. While the Huskies have struggled since their last national championship in 2014, seeing them in the Final Four for the sixth time doesn't come as much of a surprise. The other three finding their way to the national semifinals is an absolute stunner.
For the first time since 1970, three of the four schools in the Final Four are making their debut in that round. In that tournament 53 years ago, only 25 teams were in the field, and national juggernaut UCLA easily made the Final Four. The three schools that were there for the first time were St. Bonaventure, New Mexico State, and Jacksonville. Unsurprisingly, it was the Bruins who won the title, their fourth in a row under John Wooden.
Miami came close to making the Final Four just one year ago before bowing out in the Elite Eight, while San Diego State's closest trips to the Final Four have been two losses in the Sweet 16. As mentioned above, FAU had never won an NCAA Tournament game until this year's event.
History in the seeding era
There's plenty of griping over seeding when the bracket comes out on Selection Sunday, but this year presented the craziest bit of evidence yet that some mistakes may have been made. For the first time in the seeding era, there are zero teams seeded better than No. 4 in the Final Four.
UConn and FAU, in particular, were two of the teams that could be most upset with their seeding. All eight of the Huskies' losses came in Big East play, arguably the toughest conference in college basketball. UConn posted non-conference wins over No. 1 overall seed Alabama, as well as Power 6 wins over Iowa State, Oregon, Oklahoma State, and Florida. The Owls were utterly dominant all season, losing just three games heading into the NCAA Tournament, yet, somehow, were given a No. 9 seed.
Lack of top-end talent
While there are certainly a host of talented players in the Final Four, none were heavily-touted prospects coming out of high school. Not one player on any of the rosters was featured in the McDonald's All-American Game.
The Final Four also won't feature a player on any of the three AP All-American teams for the first time ever. Only Isaiah Wong of Miami was the winner of his respective conference's player of the year award heading into March Madness.
According to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, UConn has the top NBA prospect in the Final Four with Jordan Hawkins - who's projected toward the back end of the first round. The Huskies' Donovan Clingan, Miami's Jordan Miller, and UConn's Andre Jackson Jr. round out the top four prospects.
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