The UConn Huskies, despite not being in the Final Four in nine years, is the only familiar feeling longtime college basketball fans will have in Houston this coming weekend. The other three participants–Miami, San Diego State, and Florida Atlantic–are all making their first appearance in NCAAB’s premier event.
As we prepare for a very unique Final Four, let’s take a look at the power rankings going into the final weekend of play in the college basketball season.
The UConn Huskies (29-8) are a significant favorite to win the national championship at NRG Stadium in Houston next Monday night. All of the major sportsbooks have the Huskies sitting at -125, including at FanDuel.
We have them in the top spot because they were one of the best teams in the nation at the beginning of the season and appear to be again at the end. The Huskies started the season by beating tournament No. 1 Alabama by 15 points in the Phil Knight Invitational. After getting up to No. 2 in the polls amid a 14-0 start, the Huskies then slumped during Big East play, dropping six of their next eight games.
They recovered by winning nine of their last 10 before falling to eventual champion Marquette in the Big East tournament. Now in the NCAA tournament, the Huskies’ smallest margin of victory was 15 against St. Mary’s in the second round. This past week, they crushed 8-seed Arkansas and 3-seed Gonzaga by over 20 points each.
Against the Bulldogs on Saturday night, a seven-point halftime lead was up to 21 after just five minutes into the second half. UConn is just the 10th team in NCAA Tournament history to win their first four games by at least 15 points. Their defense is on fire, and Adama Sanogo is averaging 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds in the tourney.
The Canes shared the ACC regular-season title with Virginia but only earned a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes took no shortcuts in winning the Midwest Region, as they beat 1-seed Houston, 2-seed Texas, and 4-seed Indiana on their way to their first Final Four. After only scoring 63 points against Drake, Miami has put up at least 85 in their last three wins. They’re led by ACC player of the year Isaiah Wong’s 16.2 points per game and point guard Nijel Pack’s 13.8 PPG, giving them arguably the best backcourt remaining.
Miami vs. UConn Final Four Best Odds
San Diego State Aztecs
The best odds for the San Diego State Aztecs (31-6) stand at +400 at Caesars Sportsbook. This is a team that was 1-5 against NCAA Tournament teams during the regular season and was a popular pick to fall to 12-seed Charleston in the opening round. The Aztecs survived and advanced with a six-point win over Charleston and then had no trouble with 13-seed Furman. San Diego State’s statement win was a 71-64 triumph over top-seeded Alabama in the Sweet 16 round. After sinking a free throw with 1.1 seconds remaining, Darrion Trammell was emotional after the win.
San Diego State will be bringing the best team in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency since Feb. 1 to Houston. They held Alabama to 3-for-27 from 3-point range on Friday and then kept Creighton to 2-for-17 from long distance. Defense typically doesn’t slump, so the Aztecs could easily cut down the nets in their first trip to the Final Four.
The Florida Atlantic Owls (35-3) were ranked No. 25 in the pre-tournament AP Top 25 poll. They, however, earned a 9-seed in the tournament due to their soft schedule and lesser competition in Conference USA. But FAU has backed up its strong record–along with a bit of March Madness luck along the way. In a matchup with AAC champion Memphis, the Owls won on a last-second shot. They then took advantage to beat 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson after the Knights knocked off 1-seed Purdue in the opening round.
FAU then beat a strong Tennessee team in the Sweet 16 before holding off Kansas State despite 30 points from point guard Markquis Nowell. The win impressed Wildcats head coach Jerome Tang, who congratulated the Owls after winning the East Region at Madison Square Garden.
The Owls are 2-point underdogs against San Diego State (6:09 p.m. Saturday). They have a best value of +625 to win the national championship in their first trip to the Final Four. FAU could be the most battle-tested of the teams remaining. The Owls have come from behind in the second half to win three of their four tourney games so far. Johnell Davis (17.2 points per game) and company keeps its composure through adversity, and they could be the sentimental favorite in Houston.
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