The 2023 NCAA Tournament has reached the game’s biggest stage, the Final Four. The schedule is set, with No. 5 seed San Diego State, the South Regional champions, playing No. 9 seed FAU, the East Regional champions, in the first game at 6:09 p.m. ET and then the No. 4 seed UConn, the West Regional champions, playing No. 5 seed Miami, the Midwest Regional champions, at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET.
Before the first game even tips off we already have a historic Final Four. This is the first Final Four since 1970 with three of the four teams making their debut in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals. FAU, San Diego State and Miami are all “first-timers” to the Final Four club, though Miami head coach Jim Larranaga previously reached this stage with George Mason in 2006 and San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher got to the Final Four multiple times as an assistant for Steve Fisher at Michigan.
It’s also the first time since seeding began in 1979 that no teams from the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed lines have made it to the Final Four and just the fourth Final Four with no No. 1 seeds (1980, 2006, 2011).
But those are just the big-picture angles to Saturday’s semifinals. Let’s get into the storylines to know heading into the Final Four action from Houston.
UConn is a No. 4 seed according to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, therefore not ranked that much higher than 5-seed Miami, its national semifinal opponent, or No. 5 seed San Diego State. But the oddsmakers have the Huskies far ahead of the field in terms of the odds to win the national championship, listing UConn as a favorite not just against Miami but against the field. As of Friday night, the Huskies were listed at -130 — better than even odds — to win the national championship, while the next-best options on the odds board were San Diego State at 4-1 or Miami at 5-1, according to Caesars Sportsbook. If you only focus on the seed lines this national championship is wide open, but the opinion of the oddsmakers, power ratings and predictive metrics all suggest UConn is in another class compared to the competition. This is a team, after all, that has been ranked in the top six nationally at KenPom.com since January, started the season 14-0 with 13 double-digit wins and enters the Final Four with a 13-2 record across its last 15 games. Computers don’t decide champions, but the projections heavily favor UConn to win it all and that’s a lot of pressure to carry into a national semifinal against a dangerous Miami team.
When Larranaga, the only head coach in this Final Four with any previous Final Four experience as a head coach, took the Miami job, it was not off-base to suggest that a successful mid-major coach had just taken his retirement gig. The Hurricanes had previously recorded just four NCAA Tournament wins in program history, and did not find itself as a real competitor in an ACC landscape that included multiple active and future Hall of Famers. But Larranaga quickly made a splash, winning an ACC Championship early and then adding a regular season title here in 2023. Now at 73, Larranaga is responsible for the most successful era in Miami basketball history. He’s recorded 11 NCAA Tournament wins, reached the Sweet 16 four times and the Elite Eight now two years in a row. Along the way he’s adapted his roster management to consider the transfer portal, NIL and the changing landscape in college basketball.
FAU has the longest betting odds to win the national championship and it’s trying to become the first team ever to even advance to the national championship game after making the Final Four as a No. 9 seed or worse. The historical precedent in the NCAA Tournament says Cinderella runs like this come to a close in the national semifinals, but FAU is not beholden at all to historical precedent. It doesn’t even have that much history of its own, founding the men’s basketball program in 1988 at the Division II level before making the jump to D-I in 1993. Holding historical precedent as the reason why FAU can’t win one, or two games in the Final Four ignores everything that the Owls have been here in the present.
FAU has played 38 college basketball games this season and won 35 of them, with the only three losses coming in true road environments by 13 points or less. The Owls may be from Conference USA but they’ve got a 2-1 record against the SEC and just took down the third-place team from the Big 12. This is a team that’s played seven games against top-50 teams at KenPom and won six of them, so there’s absolutely a path for FAU to rattle off two more victories against quality competition. That said, accomplishing that feat would make FAU one of the most unlikely champions in college basketball history. It could happen, but it’s not the projected outcome.
Check out the full TV and streaming schedule for the Final Four below.
Saturday, April 1
NRG Stadium — Houston
|6:09 p.m.||(9) FAU vs. (5) San Diego State
Jim Nantz / Bill Raftery / Grant Hill // Tracy Wolfson
|CBS (watch live)|
|8:49 p.m.||(4) UConn vs. (5) Miami
Jim Nantz / Bill Raftery / Grant Hill // Tracy Wolfson
|CBS (watch live)
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