NCAA Tournament: Madness Marches On to 8 Elite Storylines for Most Fantastical Final Four Ever


March 27

Here are eight storylines coming out of the Elite Eight:

(1) F-A Who? FAU! We’ll forgive you if you’re a college hoops casual and unfamiliar with the Owls from Boca Raton. Before this season, Florida Atlantic had made one NCAA Tournament appearance and had never won a game in March Madness. Now, they’re in the Final Four! Madness indeed.

(2) Stop me if you’ve heard this before…for the first time in the “seeding era” of the NCAA Tournament, no No. 1 advanced to the Elite Eight. The highest seed at the Final Four will be 4th-seeded Connecticut, marking the first time no No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seeds are in the Final Four

(3) UConn is back. From 1999-2014, the Huskies made five Final Fours and won four National Titles. The latter came in their first season in the AAC. Over the subsequent six campaigns, they made the NCAA Tourney once. Back in the Big East, UConn has made it to the Big Dance over the past three seasons and is now back in the Final Four with a chance at a fifth Natty.

(4) Standing in UConn’s way will be Miami. Before last season’s run, the Hurricanes had never made the Elite Eight. Not only did the ‘Canes make it back, but the ACC program is going to Houston for their first Final Four—an improbable run for the football school in a basketball conference. 

(5) San Diego State joins FAU and The U as a first-time Final Four team. The Aztecs, who had never made the Elite Eight before now, were 30-2 and headed towards a top-two seed in 2020 when COVID hit. With another 30-win season under Brian Dutcher, the Aztecs have made history.

This season marks the first time since 1970 that three programs will make their Final Four debuts.

(6) Michigan State’s Tom Izzo was the only head coach in the Sweet 16 with a National Championship. The 2023 edition of the NCAA Tournament will yield a first-time champion headman as the sport looks for new sultans of the sidelines.

With Mike Krzyzewski (five), Roy Williams (three), Jay Wright (two), and Jim Boeheim (one) all retiring over the past two years, there are only five active coaches with Natties, two (Bill Self and Rick Pitino) with multiple titles. That first number will grow to six on Monday night.

(7) The year of the portal continues into the Big Dance. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Miami’s courtship of Nijel Pack for a reported $800,000 NIL deal over two years. Big man Norchad Omier was another portal addition last offseason, and Jordan Miller the season prior. That’s three of Miami’s four best players. 

Four of San Diego State’s five leading scorers started their college careers elsewhere. FAU’s Vladislav Goldin (14 points, 13 rebounds in Elite Right) came over from Texas Tech. UConn didn’t add any stars, but critical role players Tristen Newton and Donovan Calcaterra were portal transfers. 

(8) People would argue sure there are winners in the transfer portal, but how about the losers? Do you know who lost Pack? Kansas State. Pack led the Wildcats with 17.4 points per game last season, and without him, they did OK, coming within three points of joining Pack in the Final Four.

Coming from Florida, Keyontae Johnson led four incoming transfers this season who joined Markquis Nowell, a 2021 transfer from Little Rock. Sure, the portal may taketh, but it also giveth. It’s here to stay. If it means spreading success around college basketball, that’s a good thing.

Thumbnail photo via Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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