The 2023 NCAA Tournament has arrived at the Final Four in Houston. It’s one of the more remarkable and least expected Final Four ever. It’s the first Final Four – since the NCAA Tournament began to be seeded in 1979 – with zero teams seeded one through three. There are no top-three seeds in this Final Four, a sign of the balance and parity in college hoops this year. Let’s look at different X-factors for one of the most unique Final Fours we will ever see.
Final Four Best Player: Adama Sanogo, Connecticut
It is hard to argue against Adama Sanogo, the big man at the heart of UConn’s steamrolls through the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have won their first four NCAA Tournament games by 15 points or more, three of those games by 23 points or more. There has been zero drama in any of these UConn wins in March Madness. Sanogo has been playing like a dominant big man in these four games, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds with one blocked shot.
That’s pretty impressive, and it has forced opponents to try to hit perimeter shots if they have any hope of taking down the Huskies. No team has been able to knock down 3-pointers with great consistency. Iona did so for one-half, but only one-half. It couldn’t hit 3-pointers for 40 minutes or even 30, just 20. That’s why UConn hasn’t been touched by any of its first four opponents in this NCAA Tournament. Sanogo is a beast, and it will take a mighty effort for anyone to slow him down.
Best Defense: San Diego State
The Aztecs relied thoroughly on their defense to get here. They held Alabama to just 64 points in the Sweet 16. Alabama averaged 81.8 points per game for the full college basketball season. San Diego State held Creighton to 56 points in the Elite Eight this past Sunday. That’s more than 20 points below Creighton’s season-long scoring average. This is an incredible defensive team. Guys simply do not give up layups or dunks.
The Aztecs do not get beaten off the dribble. They are able to stop penetration with great consistency, which means no one has to provide help defense. The original man-to-man defender is able to stop the ball, so no one has to worry about his defensive assignment or leaving a shooter to double-team or trap a ball-handler. SDSU is able to handle 1-on-1 assignments all over the floor. It’s a tremendous lockdown team.
Best Coaching: Miami
The magic of Jim Larranaga is once again on display. The man who took George Mason to 2006 Final Four, one of the great feats in the history of college basketball, has now taken Miami to two straight Elite Eight – the only two Elite Eights in school history – and then to the first Final Four in school history. Larranaga has taken George Mason and Miami to the only Final Fours in the histories of those two programs. He is by far the most credentialed coach at this Final Four – not that the others aren’t really good (they are), but “Coach L” sets the highest standard of them all.
Best 3-Point Shooting: Connecticut
The Miami Hurricanes have a good season-long 3-point percentage (just under 37), but UConn has hit 44 percent or more of its 3-pointers in three of its four NCAA Tournament games. The Huskies are hitting perimeter shots, which extends defenses and makes it just about impossible for opponents to handle the Huskies’ dominant big men in man-to-man situations near the basket.
Final Four Odds to Win National Championship
|San Diego State Aztecs||+380|
|Florida Atlantic Owls||+500|